The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Indiana Limestone? At the MHS?

Some mornings, before researchers (and much of the staff) arrive at the MHS, I enjoy sitting out front with a cup of coffee and a book. It’s a good way to keep up on whatever I am reading and to cool down after my morning bicycle commute. A few weeks ago, as I approached my perch, I noticed a letter B located on one of the large stone blocks circling the base of the building. The letter is circled and is raised as if in bas relief. Even though I am now well into my third year of work at the MHS this little feature is something that I never noticed. Carve me intrigued! Sorry, that was a (bad) quarrying joke.

To find out more about this little letter, I first spoke with the MHS’ operations manager to see what he knew. As I learned, a mark such as this is sometimes used to indicate the quarry from which the stone was cut. Next, I went into the MHS’ institutional archives to see what records the Society holds regarding the construction of the building in the late 1890s. As I read through copies of contracts and building specifications, I came across a couple paragraphs about the foundation and stonework. I read mentions of Milton granite, Rockport granite, and Amherst stone. I assumed that the marked block in question must be one of these types of local stone. But in talking with our building manager again, I learned the block was limestone.

So, back to the records I went and, sure enough, what I missed on my first read-through was the statement “All stone-work so indicated on drawings to be of first quality Indiana limestone...all to be hand-tooled…” I took to the mighty Google machine to see what I could find about Indiana limestone quarries and was not disappointed to find several listed that are still operating. But the most potentially useful tidbit came from the Wikipedia entry on the stone which referred to it as Bedford limestone because it is primarily quarried in a section of Indiana that sits between the towns of Bloomington and Bedford.

Is that what the mysterious “B” stands for? I feel like I am almost at the answer but I still want confirmation. I called the Indiana Limestone Institute of America and the Lawrence County Museum of History to see if anyone could help me out. So far, I stumped the gentlemen I spoke with at each institution but I am hopeful that I will get an answer soon. Stay tuned to find out more! 


permalink | Published: Wednesday, 13 August, 2014, 8:03 AM


Aug 13, 2014, 11:55 am

merrylyn Sawyer

great sleuthing. Isn't it odd how we can be in a place almost daily and suddenly realize there is something right before us that we never even noticed? Sometimes one thinks someone came in the night and added it! Good luck with finding the true answer. Looks as if you've stumped several people..good stuff!

Aug 14, 2014, 1:20 pm


My great-grandfather was born in Bedford, IN, and I had a relative killed at the limestone pit. Have you contacted Joyce Shepard at She is very knowledgeable.

Aug 16, 2014, 10:23 pm


Time to watch or rewatch the movie Breaking Away, one of my favorites. It may not help You fine the answer but comfirms that Indiana limes ton ríos a big deal. Be mindful tha IU sí in Bloomington. Love,us

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