Indiana Limestone: The Aristocrat of Building Materials

By Indiana Limestone Quarrymen’s Association



This book, being Volume I of the Indiana Limestone Library, is intended to have interest and to contain information in some degree for both architects and laymen. It does not, by any means, pretend to cover the subject of Indiana Limestone completely.

Meanwhile the Indiana Limestone Quarrymen’s Association will be glad to answer any specific questions or give any help in its power with regard to Indiana Limestone, its qualities, uses, etc. It will also be glad to furnish samples of the stone to illustrate any points which may be in question.

Ever since the days when it took one or two months in a sailing vessel to go to Europe, Americans, in constantly increasing numbers, have made the trip; made it mostly as a pilgrimage to the art and architecture of the Old World. They have worshiped at the shrines of sincere art and sincere craftsmanship.

Before the great Gothic cathedrals (largely built of limestone, by the way), they have stood in awe pointing out one to another the elaborate stone sculpture and tracery, the feathery spires and pinnacles; with knowing looks they have called the attention to the wonderful craftsmanship of the stone walls and buttresses, to the manner in which stones have been chosen, not for their absolute likeness in color, nor for their perfect similarity of texture, but for the infinitely delicate variety of both tone and texture which they show, thereby making even the plainest and most uneventful surfaces of walls interesting and attractive to the eye.

Having paid their esthetic respects, no doubt from the fullness of their hearts, to the works of the Old World masters; having had their holiday and turned “back to the plow,” as they say; they have (with a small but very rapidly growing class of exceptions) forgotten all the nobility and beauty which is possible to architecture and built their own buildings by radically different standards or by no apparent standards at all.

When they have used brick it has been because there happened to be a brickyard handy; when they have used stone it has been because there was a quarry nearer than the nearest lumber mill; when they have used terra cotta it has been because some clever salesman has talked them into a fleeting admiration for the Yankee ingenuity and American commercial sufficiency which has made a clever imitation of genuine stone out of burnt clay, shaped into a hollow shell and glazed like crockery.

At about the time of the Civil War a few of the excellences of Indiana Limestone as an architectural material came to the attention of a small public. From the time when the first carload was shipped to Chicago from Bedford, down to the present day, the use of Indiana Limestone in all the worthier sorts of buildings has increased by leaps and bounds until today a substantial proportion of all the monumental buildings of the country is built of it.

But one of the best qualities of the stone and the one which was largely instrumental in the calling attention to it, namely, its uniformity and easy working quality has, in a measure, proved to be to its detriment. Quantities of perfectly homogeneous fine grain stone being available, builders, in spite of the lessons of European architecture and despite the fact that several distinct kinds of Indiana Limestone are to be found in every quarry, have until late years made it a practice to insist upon absolute uniformity in tone, color and texture throughout a building. Although many wonderful buildings have been built in this way, the practice has tended to rob the stone of its distinction and increase the temptation to use factory-made substitutes in its place.

Happily this practice, except in cases where for special reasons uniformity is desired, is decidedly on the wane; and, through the new American demand for sincerity in artistic expression, which is only possible in a worthy and genuine material, Indiana Limestone, “The Aristocrat of Building Materials,” has come into its own.

Why we, living on an Earth which is nothing but one great solid rock covered with a thin skim of soil and water; why we, with the authority of the whole history of human civilization to lead us in the direction of stone for a building material, should permit ourselves, even temporarily, to be turned away from it or to express ourselves in it wrongly it is hard, to see. The only likely explanation seems to be the youth of the American nation and its youthful enthusiasm for commercial efficiency.

Many of us get even more enthusiastic over a clever imitation or a substitute that “will do” (if it is salable) than we do over the original, worthy, true and genuine thing on which the imitation is based. Of course this state of mind is wrong and with the zealous assistance of the sincere and able architects of the country it is rapidly giving way.


Limestone, because of its especially pleasing qualities, has always easily held the leadership among building stones wherever it could be had at all. The Pyramids are built of it. All Continental countries are filled with beautiful and historic examples of its use. Most of the great Gothic cathedrals are wrought from it. \Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and many other ancient buildings in London are of Limestone—Oolitic Limestone. They stand among the greatest and most beautiful of man’s works of building art, venerable and venerated—and Limestone they are built of.

Indiana Limestone

Yet the celebrated Portland Limestone of England, which is undoubtedly the best European building stone, is but a poor second to that great deposit which occurs in Lawrence and Monroe counties, Indiana, known geologically as the Indiana Oolitic Limestone. Although a great proportion of all kinds of buildings of any importance in the United States is of this material, its importance is but half-realized and comparatively few people even know it by name.

Indiana Limestone is just the sum of all the qualities which an architect, an engineer and a prospective builder together could ask for in a building material. It is beautiful in color and in texture; it is extremely strong. It can be worked with great facility and perfection. Yet, even when finely carved, it is, from any practical standpoint, everlasting. It is abundant, and this with its workable quality makes it far from costly. Its fire resisting quality is high. It can be had in blocks of practically any size. Finally, it bears upon its face the stamp of the original, the true and genuine, product of the great unfaltering hand of Nature, which has placed it far above the power of man’s efforts to imitate. In beauty, and dignity, the first consideration in a building material, Indiana Limestone is beyond compare. First, it is to be had in various shades, all of which come out of nearly every quarry. Thus a choice of effects can be had.

Buff Indiana Limestone

A color which is widely used is the so-called “buff” Indiana Limestone. As in so many other cases, the common name describes “buff” Limestone but poorly. When it comes from the quarry it is what might perhaps be called a sort of buff, but on exposure to the air it quickly changes to a beautiful yellowish gray which never alters thereafter, except for the better, though exposed to all sorts of atmospheric conditions, for hundreds of years. Since, in our “young country,” Indiana Limestone has been used for building only about fifty years, this would seem at first sight a hard thing to prove. But it must be remembered that we are talking of civilization’s first building material, the “Rock of Ages,” part and parcel of Mother Earth. It is the naturally exposed ledges of Indiana Limestone, which have resisted the attacks of the elements for untold centuries, which prove the permanence of it in color as well as in form.

Gray Indiana Limestone

Buff Limestone comes from the upper part of the quarry. From the lower part comes the beautiful gray (sometimes called “blue” by the trade). When freshly quarried it is a rather dark bluish-gray, which changes on seasoning, that .is, exposure to light and air, to a silvery, hazy gray very pleasing to the eye. In the color, both of buff and of gray stone, there is an indescribable softness, a wonderful depth of tone which” belongs to Indiana Limestone alone.

Variegated Indiana Limestone

The rarer Limestone of mixed colors (the trade calls it “mixed stone”), occurs in the quarry only where the buff stone joins the gray. It is variegated in color, no two blocks being exactly alike, and so is capable of producing, when laid up in the wall of a building, an effect of infinite and beautiful variety, sometimes described as “vibrant.” Even the plainest unbroken wall may be rendered interesting by the effect of texture which the variegated stone gives. Properly handled by a skillful architect it can also be so used .as to convey the impression of dignified maturity in a new building.

Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson, architects, of New York, who are famous as creators of Gothic architecture, have so used Variegated Indiana Limestone in several famous churches with telling effect. Among these is the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago. There are many buildings built in America of the uniform buff and gray limestones for which a European architect, his imagination influenced by daily contact with buildings of venerable age, would have chosen the variegated stone. Its use where special effects are desired, is rapidly increasing in this country among thoughtful architects, especially for churches and public buildings (except those of classic design), although its comparative scarcity must of course preclude the possibility of its use becoming general.

An especially graceful manner of using the variegated stone is in the construction of residences. Here the variation of color and marking, while taking nothing from the dignity of the building, lends a homelike and livable atmosphere to it, compared with the more formal suggestions of the stone of uniform color. Variegated stone- makes homes of houses.

Special Varieties

In addition to the three main varieties of Indiana Limestone just described there should be mentioned the following which are in demand for special purposes.

1. A stone of occasional occurrence and of a rich dark and distinctly bluish color. 2. An extremely hard and nearly pure white variety of very fine and somewhat crystalline structure. 3. An extremely hard variety of gray, very useful for base courses, steps and similar, purposes. 4. Indiana Travertine, a variety of Indiana Limestone of special decorative possibilities which closely resembles the; much used foreign Travertine.


The structure of Indiana Limestone is very interesting geologically. The formation is called Oolitic from the Greek: òoion, egg, and lithos, stone, because the many little bodies of which it is composed suggest the roc or eggs of fish. In the Lower Carboniferous age Indiana was the bed of an ocean which abounded in small shell-bearing animalculae, mostly bivalves and univalves, and of hundreds of different species. Dying as they did by hundreds of thousands of millions, their shells, mostly smaller than pinheads, and some of microscopic size, formed on the sea floor a great massive bed of carbonate of lime over 97% pure. To examine any piece of Indiana Limestone with a powerful glass is to lay before the eye a most entrancing exhibit of the minute sea life which existed no one knows how many hundreds of thousands of years ago. There are shells like those of tiny oysters, tiny clams; shells like tiny snails, tiny bits of lace, and tiny things you never saw before. Indiana Limestone consists wholly of these shells cemented together with a film of pure calcium carbonate. In certain corners and pockets of the Limestone quarries and at the thin edges of the stratum where evidently the sea water was shallow, large fossil shells are abundant, but the stone containing the large fossils is not ordinarily used as building material. It is because Indiana Limestone is composed of practically pure shell lime with only an infinitesimal proportion of silica, magnesia, and oxide of iron that it is so inert chemically as to resist perfectly the corrosive gases in our smoky city air.


The texture of Indiana Limestone varies from almost invisibly fine to rather granular. For interior work and sculpture the very finest, most homogeneous texture is frequently demanded, but discriminating architects are by no means so anxious to have it for exterior use as they once were. The present, and unquestionably the right practice, is to avoid the monotonous effect of perfectly uniform units, by using both finer and more pronounced grain in proper proportions to get what is known architecturally as “texture” in the wall itself, except when, for special reasons, uniformity is desired. Some architects prefer to use the fine grained stone for the lower courses of their buildings, and the more granular stone higher up.

Practical Qualities

If Nature had set about laying down the Indiana Limestone deposits with no other end in view than man’s convenience, she could have done nothing that she has not done in her magnificent incidental way. This stone, which once exposed to the air, as in a building, becomes practically everlasting, yet is not too hard when it first comes from the quarry to be cut with case into all manner of architectural and sculptural shapes, and is tough enough to be carved into the most delicate and permanent tracery and ornament. Two important results of this fact are beautiful artistic effects and comparatively low price. Most of the simpler architectural forms, such as blocks, sills, lintels, mouldings and columns, are turned out with the greatest ease by machinery with none of the great cost of hand tool work, but with all its dignity of result.

Large Scale Production

The production of Indiana Limestone is a great modern industry in the most modern sense of the term. If your conception of what it may be like is based on youthful memories of “the old stone quarry” where you probably used to hide or swim as a youngster, you would surely be astonished at the actual facts.

The Indiana Limestone industry is organized on what may be termed a factory basis. Two whole counties are liberally sprinkled with enormous quarries from which mountains of Indiana Limestone have been taken. Millions of dollars are invested in modern machinery, equipment and buildings and a network of railway spurs. Great and highly organized forces of men are employed. The result is that Indiana Limestone can be produced and delivered at comparatively low prices with all the facility and promptness of a manufactured article.

Stone Cut Up by Diamonds

Diamond saws are circular saws with teeth of diamonds set into them. These teeth are true diamonds as much as the costly jewels that grace dainty fingers. They are, however, not transparent, and consequently have no value as jewels, but being the hardest substance known, they can actually cut through hard stone at the rate of several inches per minute. The blocks and slabs as they come from the saws of course show slightly the marks of the saw teeth, and these are cither mechanically rubbed or planed smooth machine-tool finished or hand dressed.

An astounding process which furnishes an everyday sight at the stone cutting plants is the turning of stone columns on a lathe apparently with the greatest ease.

(See cut, page. 20.)

The long rough blocks are clamped and centered in a lathe, and, slowly revolving, are turned down with automatic precision by a chisel-like cutter to any required dimensions. This makes the hewing of stone columns a comparatively simple matter, and turned work, from small posts or balusters to massive columns a single one of which is a big carload, is handled with ease and practically perfect accuracy.

When one considers the sense of dignity and worth imparted to any building by even a porch of Indiana Limestone, the importance of this workable quality is easily seen.

Why Indiana Limestone is Easily Worked

It is not only its workable quality, however, which makes Indiana Limestone so kind to the stone cutter, to the architect or artist who designs the building or statue, and to the man who pays the bills. There are plenty of kinds of stone soft enough to cut readily, which are not workable, and plenty more not worth working. Indiana Limestone is a massive formation, homogeneous, tough and free from the cleavage planes or partings along which some stones split or scale on exposure to the weather. Many stones have a distinct layer formation, and consequently will split in one direction more readily than in another. Indiana Limestone, on the contrary, will split, chip or cut with almost equal facility up and down or crosswise.


An astonishing thing about this astonishing stone of history is that in spite of its easy-working quality it is extremely strong. Few building stones in commercial use compare with Indiana Limestone in this respect. The average crushing strength of Indiana Limestone in two-inch cubes is over 10,000 pounds per square inch. In units of the sizes ordinarily used for building it is even stronger. The weight borne by the piers which support the enormous

(Portland, Eng.)

limestone dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London is only about 278 pounds per square inch. Even the solid masonry shaft of the Washington Monument, 555 feet high, puts a pressure on its foundation of only about 313 pounds per square inch; and the stone piers of Brooklyn Bridge, supporting the vast weight of the causeway in addition to their own weight, exert a pressure of but 396 pounds per square inch on their bases. It is thus easily seen that Indiana Limestone can very much more than support any load likely to be put upon it.


Perhaps the quality of Indiana Limestone that the layman would be least likely to expect is its great elasticity. A bar of Indiana Limestone three or four feet long can be noticeably bent or deflected by the application of sufficient pressure, and, when released, will instantly spring back to its original straightness. When struck with a hammer it gives out a clear, metallic bell note almost like that of a bar of steel. This means that Indiana Limestone is the most elastic of all kindred substances. At first glance one is inclined to class this quality as “interesting but not important.” Yet as a matter of fact the power to submit to distortion without permanent deformation is among the most valuable qualities a building material may have.

Consider the strain put upon a block of stone that’s inside surface within a building may be 50 or 60 degrees hotter or colder than its outside surface exposed to the weather. One side of the block is contracted, and the other expanded, an enormous pressure being put upon it by the expansion of its fellows. Consider a change of temperature between midnight and noon of 50 to 70 or more degrees which often occurs in perpendicular walls exposed to direct sunlight. Only an elastic material can easily tolerate this sort of thing year after year. This is one of the great points (to say nothing of architectural beauty and dignity) at which Indiana Limestone shows its wonderful adaptability to building purposes and also one of the great points at which manufactured substitutes for it fail.

Blocks of Any Size to Be Had

The only limit to the size of the blocks of Indiana Limestone which may be had is what a derrick may lift and a freight car carry. The stone is ordinarily cut from the quarry into blocks much larger than it is possible to lift out and split up into less unwieldy sizes before lifting. Although this is no special advantage as regards the majority of building units it makes Indiana Limestone invaluable for certain purposes. Large statuary groups can be sculptured from single pieces of stone. Each of the Sphinxes in front of the building on the cover of this book was cut from a single block,

IG}^ x 7% x 8%

feet in size and weighing about 200,000 pounds as it came from the quarry. One-piece columns and pedestals of most massive and impressive dimensions can readily be had. The very essence of a beautiful column is in its imposing upward thrust, unbroken by joint, crevice or blemish. And what can convey a more affecting impression of dignity than a column mightily made by Nature through a billion infinitesimal deaths, mightily thought, mightily wrought, and mightily transported by the brain and hand of man, grown cunning through the passing of ten thousand generations?

Fire Resistance of Indiana Limestone

What else should a perfect building material have to its credit? Well, fire-resistance, for one thing. Here as everywhere, Indiana Limestone shines by its own light. Fire-resistance is a term that does not fully express all that the experienced mean by it. It should really be called “fire-and-water-resistance.” Indiana Limestone, under laboratory test, shows complete absence of ill effect when heated up to temperatures of about 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit and quenched with water. At the temperature of melting aluminum, about 1,157 degrees Fahrenheit, the stone shows a slight tendency to crumble at the edges when quenched with water. Samples heated to cherry red, about 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit, show considerable calcination and at temperatures considerably above this point calcination gradually becomes more and more complete until finally the stone is converted into quicklime. These experiments have been repeated on a sufficient number of specimens from various localities to make the test conclusive, and show beyond a doubt that Indiana Limestone, up to the point of calcination (turning into quick-lime) may be considered a fire-proof material. The point is that it also embraces just as high resistance to the application of water while the stone is hot. When tested, as the limestone above referred to was tested, most other kinds of stone, some of which have a higher resistance to fire alone than Indiana Limestone, crumble, burst, or go to pieces like glass. But let all the truth be told ALL decorative or architectural materials (as opposed to purely structural materials) are liable to be ruined or greatly damaged by exposure to extremely hot fires, dense smoke and douching with cold water. The walls may stand, and may often be serviceable as


after the fire, but they will seldom be of much value as things of beauty if the fire has been anything like severe enough to test the quality of Indiana Limestone. Indiana Limestone will come through the ordeal of fire better than almost any other material for these reasons:

1st. Any fire hot enough over any considerable area to cause calcination of Indiana Limestone would mean “building and contents a total loss,” 710

mailer what it might be built of.

2nd. Indiana Limestone \msfire-and-icater-rcsislance to a degree which gives it a very high degree of damage-resistance and damage-resistance is really the thing desired.

3rd. Indiana Limestone, even when stained by smoke (or otherwise) can easily be restored to its original color by scouring or rubbing, while practically all other materials, may be injured beyond redemption by smoke alone.

We offer the proof of the above along with the assertions. We said we should ask you, after the truth about fire-resistance was all told, to look at the picture

on page 2C.

Now, having told the truth, we do hereby ask you to look at that picture, to read what is under it and to consider how well it bears out the facts we have stated.


One who, never having seen it before, should see Indiana Limestone as it comes from the quarry, however vividly he might be impressed by its rugged elegance, would not guess in a dozen guesses that the Great Sphinx, the Pyramids of Gizah, the main parts of the temples Abydos and the Sun Temple of Abusir, as well as a large proportion of the famous temples of Karnak, their ages measured not in hundreds but in thousands of years, are built of it, or, rather, of a limestone of similar shell formation, but geologically probably hundreds of thousands of years younger. Yet such is the case. And such being the case, we can only smile at the thought of looking for signs of deterioration in the “old” limestone buildings of the United States, some few of which have reached the lusty youth of fifty years.

To dispel any lingering vestige of doubt let us allude again to the limestone cathedrals of Europe and those of England, to St. Paul’s, and Westminster and others, those called by name having been built in past centuries of Portland Limestone, chemically inferior to, but pictrologically identical with Indiana Limestone. And let us allude again to the clear sharp arises of the anciently exposed ledges in the Bedford-Bloomington quarry district. Let us then speak no further about durability. It seems hardly needful to do so.

Ideal Shipping Location

Another point at which Nature was kind in regard to Indiana Limestone is in having located it at what is now almost the center of population of the United States. Bedford and Bloomington, Indiana, in Lawrence and Monroe counties respectively, are the centers of production and their central location coupled with excellent railroad facilities has made Indiana Limestone in actual practice “The Aristocrat of Building Materials” in every state in the Union and most of the provinces of Canada. The wonderful architectural qualities of Indiana Limestone, capped by the three things which tend toward reasonable price—shipping location, modern organization and abundant supply—all co-operate as though by a carefully arranged plan to concentrate in Indiana Limestone the very acme of merit as a material for the construction of all classes of buildings which are wholly or in part of decorative purpose, from the small residence or apartment, the dignified store or bank to the great edifices of commercial, religious, public or monumental purpose. And its use is not confined to the exterior of these buildings, but finds a thousand opportunities for interior beautification in the finer buildings of every class. Can anything more be asked of a single building material? Is not Indiana Limestone in truth the aristocrat of the building world?

Service Bureau

We maintain for the free use of architects, builders, and owners, prospective or actual, a Service Bureau. This Bureau is prepared to answer all questions about Indiana Limestone and its most economical and otherwise advantageous uses; to furnish finished samples; to assist in locating special stone for special uses and in general to render to those interested in Indiana Limestone any service within its power. It can supply photographs of Indiana Limestone buildings of all kinds, or details thereof, to illustrate what can be accomplished in the direction of your special interests or desires. It will be a pleasure to perform any of these services for you. The Bureau makes no charges, and places no conditions upon the service it renders or endeavors to render. Do not hesitate to ask us.


Carbonate of Lime… 97.20


Oxide of Iron ‘.49

Magnesia .37

Water and Loss .19

Average Weight .” 159 Ibs. per cu. ft.

Ratio of Absorption… .1 1 to 42

Average crushing strength 10,041 Ibs. per sq. in.