THE BUSINESS OF STONE

“Our town was invaded by another delegation of gentlemen last Saturday…They want 100,000 carloads of stone within the next three years.”
– Bedford Star, October 20, 1877*

At the peak of the industry, quarry-owners, mill-owners and railroad companies competed for the biggest projects, the top workers and the best railroad access.

Steam-powered channelers (see image below), move back and forth on quarry tracks, cutting deep slots to separate blocks of stone up to 10 feet tall and 40 feet long.

Workers knock wedges and shims into the slots to split off the slab. The 200-ton slab is turned on its side and cut into smaller pieces.

Derricks lift pieces as heavy as 20 tons onto waiting rail cars. As bigger and heavier blocks were cut, steel derricks replaced the earlier wooden ones.

Cut stone is carried to the mills to be smoothed, shaped and shipped. Stone sometimes goes directly to a construction site for milling.

Look in the quarry diorama for each step described.

*Quote: As cited by Ron Bell in Early History of Limestone, 2008

Image credits: Indiana Geological Survey

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STONE CUTTERS’ PRIDE

“When I was a boy, there were ordinary families and there were stone families. I came from a stone family. Every morning at breakfast, all the talk was stone, stone, stone.” 
– Jack Kendall, master stone carver, 1985

Quarry and mill workers labored ten hours a day for 15 to 35 cents an hour. They came first from Indiana and the Appalachians, then from Italy and across Europe. Accidents and deaths were common, as workers moved massive blocks of stone or scaled 100-foot-tall derricks.

Until 1940, quarries and mills were the main employers in southern Indiana’s “stone belt.” Skills passed from father to son, companies prospered, and workers banded together in unions. Together they fused a local knowledge, tradition and pride around the limestone business that survives today.


Master carvers commanded special respect.  

Image credits: Indiana Geological Survey

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(Image credits: Indiana Geological Survey)

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(Image credits: Indiana Geological Survey)

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Master carvers commanded special respect.

(Image credits: Indiana Geological Survey)

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(Image credits: Indiana Geological Survey)

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