BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - Indiana Limestone Co. always has known of the treasure it kept in the deteriorating Bennett House in Oolitic. What has yet to be known is the impact of its collection of 26,000 promotional photographs detailing the rise of Indiana limestone as a national building tool.
Along Old Indiana 37, near Indiana Limestone Co.’s Oolitic “Empire” quarry site, are a series of houses. Supervisors, heads of departments and mid-level managers lived in a neighborhood along the 900-acre site where you’ll find the Bennett House.
After sales director Bud Bennett and his family left, the building was used as storage and became the 30-year resting place for the roughly 26,000 promotional photos dating from as far back as the 1890s - and possibly earlier.
“We knew it was a treasure,” said Duffe Elkins, chief operating officer at Indiana Limestone Co. “It was just the timing had to be right, and the leadership had to be right, for us to get together with the (Indiana Geological Survey) to do something with these photos to preserve this history.”
According to Elkins, Todd Schnatzmeyer, director of the Indiana Limestone Institute, helped facilitate Indiana University’s involvement in a cataloging and preservation project now underway titled “Building a Nation.”
When Schnatzmeyer told Indiana Geological Survey director Todd Thompson about the stockpile, a team was sent to rescue what they had thought was 15,000 architectural photographs. Instead, in a dusty, moldy and humid former living room, the team found 47 file drawers filled to capacity with vintage photographs, promotional ledgers and area newspaper clippings taken from the 1890s to the 1940s.
“The collection is amazing for a lot of reasons,” said Licia Weber, a research affiliate with the geological survey and one of two people currently working on the project. “As far as we have found, there’s no collection like this anywhere. There’s no collection that highlights Indiana limestone like this one does. It really was the pre-eminent building stone; Indiana Limestone Co. presents it in that way, and it’s true.”
Team members found photos, scattered in unorganized piles, from each of the 48 contiguous United States and Canada and illustrating the far-reaching impact of southern Indiana’s limestone belt in commercial, municipal, institutional and residential building projects.
The 7.5-by-9.5-inch black-and-white photographs mounted on linen vary in subject, from Indiana University’s Commerce and Finance Building (now Rawles Hall) to Grand Central Station in New York City, but they all hark back to southern Indiana’s limestone belt.
“If we can get the community at large to see what a great legacy this area of the country has, if they can get behind this effort, that would be terrific,” said Elkins. “We’re stone-rich, and in that degree, we should be proud of that. This industry is going to stay right here where it’s at, and it’s going to be built on the back of Indiana labor.”
Aside from the scope, quality, condition and artistic aspects of the collection, the dedicated addition of subject information on the back of many of the photographs has helped carve out a detailed snapshot of the era.
Labels affixed to the back of some of the photographs provide information such as the location, owner, date of construction, builder, architect and even quantity and type of stone used for a particular building. According to Elkins, that laborious process was an effort put forth by former Indiana Limestone Co. owner John Tucker.
“In our opinion, the past projects that we’ve done all over the world are a great representation not only of the beauty, but also of the resilience of Indiana limestone,” said Elkins. “I don’t think we’ve given a lot of thought to the business opportunities that arise from the photos, though I think from an industry standpoint, this can be a resource for architects to play off of to further promote the use of Indiana limestone. We’re more interested in the educational aspects.”
That’s a pursuit that aligns with Weber and her project. She estimates a $200,000 budget for two years of work for the entirety of the collection to be cleaned, inventoried, cataloged, restored and scanned.
A small portion of the find - around 1,250 photographs - has already been made available for the public’s viewing in a digital format through Indiana University’s Image Collections Online website, where anyone can browse the collections for scans of the Indiana limestone collection. The project is currently unfunded and has been supported thus far by the Geological Survey.
Although permanent archival work and a digital library are the initial phases of the project, funding could help create an online map displaying each photo’s location; it could help provide materials for an elementary school curriculum more replete with Hoosier limestone history; and it could mean countless things for commercial applications, restoration efforts, historical applications and any number of fields in the humanities.
“In some ways, we don’t know what we have,” said Weber. “I’ll really be satisfied when they’re out in the world, and people can get a sense of what this is. This collection is so rich, with so much depth to it, in some ways, what can come out of it will only be discovered when people can really go through it.”
Source: The (Bloomington) Herald-Times, https://bit.ly/1QaJELO
Information from: The Herald Times, https://www.heraldtimesonline.com
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