Note to readers: This is one in a series of essays leading up to the celebration of the Indiana Bicentennial in December 2016. The essays will focus on the top 100 events, ideas and historical figures of Indiana, beginning with the impact of the Ice Age and ending with the legacy of the Bicentennial itself.
It is one of Indiana’s best-kept secrets. Limestone quarried from three Indiana counties is responsible for some of America’s most impressive structures. It was used to build the Empire State Building, the Pentagon and the Indiana State Capitol. It bedecks the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, the Tribune Tower in Chicago and the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills.
According to the Indiana Limestone Institute of America, “Indiana limestone projects exist in every American city, in smaller towns and villages, in Canada and in every type of atmosphere.”
Here’s why. Although limestone is sedimentary rock that can be found anywhere there was an ancient sea, Indiana’s is considered some of the best for construction. It is more durable than other types, has a consistent neutral color and can be cut into large blocks or carved in fine detail.
Its superior quality may have something to do with the way it was pushed and tilted during the great upheaval that created the Appalachian Mountains. Whatever the cause, “the stone is remarkable in the uniformity of its texture and in its freedom from impurities and large fossils,” states a 1944 history of the Indiana limestone industry by Joseph Batchelor.
Deposits of Salem limestone, the official name used by geologists, protrude along a narrow belt from Greencastle to New Albany. Except for long-abandoned quarries at Salem in Washington County and Corydon in Harrison County, commercial production has occurred exclusively in Owen, Monroe and Lawrence counties.