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Indiana Limestone: An Important Building Material

Posted by on Nov 2, 2023 in Stuff You Should Know, United States

Architects have chosen limestone from Indiana to construct many buildings in the United States.  Some of the buildings constructed with Indiana limestone include the Empire State Building, the Pentagon, and the Tribune Tower in Chicago.  City halls, stadiums, and a variety of monuments throughout the country are also built of Indiana limestone. 

Why Is Indiana Limestone So Popular? 

Why is limestone from Indiana such a sought-after construction material? A geologist will tell you that limestone is a sedimentary (layered) rock formed hundreds of millions of years ago when oceans covered places like Indiana. The skeletal remains of invertebrates (animals without backbones) that settle on the sea floor are what make up the sediment that forms limestone. 

The thirty-mile band of limestone that was discovered in Indiana was quarried for building material as early as 1827. The stone is such a useful construction material because of its makeup. It is pure, light-colored, and can be easily cut. Towns such as Bedford, Indiana, established quarries in the 1850s to meet the growing demand for limestone.  

Factors that Led to More Usage 

Limestone became a popular building material as American cities began to grow in the mid 1800s. One  of the stone‚Äôs properties made it ideal for use at this time. Fires were a danger to many cities because most new buildings were made from very flammable material. Fires spread quickly in the cities filled with buildings crowded together in tight urban spaces.  One story of how Chicago got the nickname Second City relates to a fire in 1871 that destroyed much of the city. According to the story, a second city of Chicago was built. The new buildings largely used stone. Limestone was considered significantly more fire-resistant than some other building materials.  

The growth of railroads allowed Indiana limestone to be easily transported throughout the United States. However, by the mid-1900s, buildings began growing upward and relied more on materials such as steel and glass. The demand for limestone decreased.  

Indiana state capitol building in Indianapolis
Indiana state capitol building in Indianapolis

Notable Buildings Made of Indiana Limestone 

Some of the most iconic buildings in the United States are built with Indiana limestone. Buildings in Washington, D.C., that were built with this material include the National Archives Building, the Washington National Cathedral, the columns of the Lincoln Memorial, the inner dome of the Jefferson Memorial, and the Pentagon.  

Examples of notable buildings in New York City that used Indiana limestone include the Empire State Building, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Flatiron Building.  

Other examples of buildings from around the country that use the stone are the Tribune Tower in Chicago, the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh, the Biltmore House in Ashville, North Carolina, and numerous state capitol buildings. 

Some of the Indiana quarries are still producing limestone. It remains a commonly used building material for new buildings and repairing old ones. For example, when terrorist attacks damaged the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, repair of the building required 2.5 million pounds of Indiana limestone.  

Dig Deeper Use the Internet to find images of some of the notable buildings mentioned that used Indiana limestone. Compare and contrast the architectural styles of the buildings. What words would you use to describe the stone used for the buildings?