Limestone Month celebrates Indiana’s famous mineral
By CJ Woodring
A trip to Bedford is like a visit to Mother Nature’s house. The south-central Indiana city, roughly 1½ hours south of Indianapolis on State Road 37, is especially welcoming in springtime, inviting guests to wander the Milwaukee Trail, visit the Hoosier National Forest and explore Bluespring Caverns. In nearby Mitchell, visitors can tour Spring Mill State Park, investigate Twin Caves and marvel at waterfalls while viewing seasonal wildlife denizens.
But deep beneath portions of the Lawrence County terrain and extending into adjacent Monroe County lies a buried treasure unknown to many. The Lawrence County Tourism slogan says it all: “This is Limestone Country.” These stops on the Indiana Limestone Heritage Trail bring home this mineral’s importance while offering noteworthy jaunts to southern Indiana.
The proud and storied history of Indiana’s limestone industry began as early as 1827 in Stinesville, west of Bloomington. It developed in and around Bedford and Bloomington in a region known as the Stone Belt. Roughly 10 miles wide and 35 miles long, the area contains what geologists have identified as the Salem Limestone Formation, a source of prime building limestone oftentimes more than 90-feet thick.
It’s for good reason the Hoosier State boasts of this natural resource as “The Nation’s Building Stone”: the Empire State Building, Lincoln Memorial, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Ellis Island, Indiana State Soldiers, Sailors Monument in downtown Indianapolis and the new Yankee Stadium are among edifices that incorporate limestone in their construction.
To showcase limestone and educate both natives and visitors to its relevance, in 2007 Lawrence and Monroe county tourism departments created Limestone Month. The annual event is held June 1 to 30, offering carving workshops, exhibitions, limestone quarry tours and architectural walking tours throughout the counties.
In 2008, Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman launched Indiana Artisan as an economic development program that provides artists and foodists access to support, training and networking opportunities, while also raising awareness about Indiana-made products. The Indiana Limestone Heritage Trail was among 10 original trails opened the following year under IA’s umbrella. A walking tour along the trail highlights monuments, state parks, cemeteries, restaurants and other sites open for exploration.
The ever-changing trails, which showcase the wares of nearly 200 artisan members in 54 Indiana counties, were launched in what most often is considered “flyover” country, “to encourage people off the interstate into nooks and crannies and tiny towns,” according to IA Director Rosalyn Demaree.
“The trails are self-guided, so you can stop where you want to and visit with artisans,” she says. “They’ll tell you about their products and show you their process. It’s a very memorable and unique experience.”
Tonya Chastain, executive director at Lawrence County Tourism, says the Limestone Trail was begun when the Indiana Geological and Water Survey at Indiana University, Bloomington, joined ranks with Lawrence and Monroe county tourism departments.
Eight to 10 working quarries remain as a major factor in the two counties’ economic growth, Chastain says. “When you consider all the other businesses it takes to keep the industry running, the economic impact is huge. For example, diamond saw blades they use are made here. And since it began back in the 1800s, a lot of families moved here just to work in the industry.”
Chastain says the region attracts visitors throughout the year, visiting caverns, seeing limestone structures and taking cemetery tours that discuss headstones carved decades ago. “People actually spend days on the tour, going off the beaten path.” Archival documents, photos and a census of artisans who emigrated from other countries to work in the industry are on view at Bedford’s Land of Limestone Museum at the StoneGate Arts & Education Center.
In conjunction with Limestone Month, IU hosts a limestone tour at the Bloomington campus, home to one of the largest concentrations of Indiana limestone buildings in the world. Nineteen structures reflect eight architectural styles, from Kirkwood Hall, built in 1895, to the Sample Gates (1987).
Polly Sturgeon, outreach coordinator for the Indiana Geological Survey, says Brian Keith, a now retired IGS geologist, initiated the tour in 2004. It was offered several times a year, primarily in June. “In 2016 we began more regular tours for school and tour groups, which usually number about 30 participants,” says Sturgeon, who conducted 10 tours from spring through fall last year. IGS also offers an online digital version. Bloomington and Indianapolis residents, in addition to visiting parents, comprise the majority of participants, she says, noting benefits to the school and community are many.
“This is considered one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. And the tour really is a unique way to look at the impact of limestone on this region and on Indiana in general. It ties into not only our social and economic history, but into architecture, art and science.”
Other annual events include the Limestone Comedy Festival held May 30 to June 1 at various downtown Bloomington venues, and the Limestone Heritage Festival taking place June 28 and 29 in downtown Bedford.
If you go
Stop and Shop
Mitchell boasts the Grissom Boyhood Home/Museum, which celebrates city native and famed astronaut Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom. Spring Mill State Park contains many limestone structures, including the Grissom Memorial. Still operational, the iconic 1906 Mitchell Opera House is a major attraction.
Barn quilt enthusiasts can follow the Lawrence County Barn Quilt Trail, which currently showcases nearly 40 painted wooden quilts in the Bedford-Mitchell area, many along U.S. 50. The region is also an enclave of vintage and antique shops.
Downtown Bloomington will welcome visitors to the 39th annual Arts Fair on the Square and Taste of Bloomington, which showcases culinary delights from more than 40 restaurants. Both will be held June 22. In addition, the downtown is a shopper’s delight, with local owners purveying merchandise from tobacco to tea. For outdoor fun, escape to nearby 11,000-acre Monroe Lake, Indiana’s largest.
Eat and greet
Bedford offers a variety of eateries, ranging from Smokin’ Jim’s BBQ & Steakhouse to Jiffy Treet and Magic Morning Bakery. Don’t bypass Salt Creek Brewery, which offers a family friendly atmosphere and award-winning, hand-crafted beers.
In Mitchell, try the buffet or select from the menu at Millstone Dining Room in Spring Mill State Park’s Spring Mill Inn. It’s El Compadre for Tex-Mex or the railway-themed Railroad Cafe for
Mitchell memorabilia in a hometown diner setting.
Abloom with more than 100 restaurants, downtown Bloomington presents flavors from throughout the world. With cafés and delis, food trucks, wineries and distilleries, breweries, bars and pubs, the city’s culinary experience is rivaled by no other.
Play and Stay
Longing for outdoor lodging? Consider the four-story limestone Spring Mill Inn in beautiful Spring Mill State Park. Rent a yurt at the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center near the Hoosier National Forest. Or check out Charles Deam Wilderness, a 200,000-acre federal forest; primitive and car camping are permitted. Historic Guthrie Meadows Bed & Breakfast, in nearby Tunnelton, offers a relaxed farm stay.
For a downtown Bloomington adventure, check in at the Grant Street Inn or Fairview Bed and Breakfast. Whether you’re an alum or just a Hoosier Hysteria fan, a stay at the new Graduate Bloomington is a sure winner. The pet-friendly, IU-themed boutique hotel is one of fewer than two dozen in college towns across the country.
Download trail and tour maps at limestonecountry.com and visitbloomington.com. For limestone history, visit Indiana Limestone of America at iliai.com.