Sunday, October 20, 2002

Indiana legacy set in stone

State's limestone quarries supply nation's builders

By Beth Rosenberg
The Associated Press

OOLITIC, Ind. - Most people have never heard of the tiny Indiana towns of Oolitic, Ellettsville and Stinesville.

But anyone who has visited the Empire State Building, the Pentagon or the U.S. Capitol has seen the stately gray limestone that generations of Indiana stoneworkers have painstakingly pulled from earth around these towns, and hand-crafted into the building blocks that form banks, state capitols and courthouses throughout the country.

The projects are as varied as the landscape. Crews renovating the Empire State Building are using replacement stone quarried by Indiana Limestone Co., which provided the original limestonein 1931.

The Pentagon, left with a gaping hole during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, was rebuilt with Indiana limestone.

And in Philadelphia, nearly 2 acres of the stone is being used to build the National Constitution Center - a 160,000-sqaare-foot center dedicated to the U.S. Constitution.

About 80 percent of the limestone quarried in the United States comes from Indiana, though there also are pockets of the rock in Tennessee, Alabama and Texas.

Indiana is rich in limestone from a shallow sea that dried up more than 350 million years ago. The limestone is the deepest and most uniform deposit in the country, said Jim Owens, executive director of the Indiana Limestone Institute of America, a Bedford, Ind.-based trade association.

In south-central Indiana, limestone has been an important source of jobs since before the Civil War and still provides a livelihood for hundreds of families.

The area's first quarry opened in 1827 in Stinesville, which still holds an annual Stone Quarry Festival every September.

After extensive fires in Chicago and Boston in the 1870s burned large parts of those cities, limestone was in high demand for its durability and because it tended to show the least fire damage of many commonly used building materials.

The country's largest limestone quarrying and fabrication company, the Indiana Limestone Co. based in nearby Bedford, is providing the stone for the Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

The company also has provided limestone for state capital buildings in Tennessee and West Virginia and the Indiana War Memorial. Current projects range from a courthouse in Jackson, Miss., that will house the state's Supreme Court to a bank in Rahway, N.J.

The company provided the stone for the Pentagon in the 1940s. But because of changes in technology, it was unable to do the repair work. That job fell to Bybee Stone Co., in neighboring Ellettsville.

It is estimated that it would take another thousand years of excavation for all the Earth's limestone to be used.

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