- Associated Press - Monday, June 26, 2017

OOLITIC, Ind. (AP) - While limestone mining isn’t exactly a foreign concept to many Lawrence County residents, it’s not something out-of-state folks see every day.

On Wednesday, the Lawrence County Tourism Commission hosted a tour of Indiana Limestone Co.’s facility and Empire Quarry in Oolitic. The company has produced limestone used for the Empire State Building in New York, the Pentagon and Yankee Stadium.

Mary Duerksen, an Ann Arbor, Michigan, resident who was visiting her daughter, Kelsey, of Bloomington, said she’s fallen in love with Indiana, so the tour seemed like a good way to learn about the state’s important limestone history.

“I thought this would be a great opportunity,” Duerksen said. “I just never understood the whole concept (of limestone), as we don’t really do a lot of mining in Michigan. My only reference was ‘Breaking Away.’ It’s so amazing how they handle it back here, and it was amazing to see (Empire Quarry).”

Tom Rizzo, a Long Island, New York, resident who was also visiting family in Indiana, brought his grandson Maksim along for the tour. For Rizzo, it was his first quarry tour. Like Duerksen, he wasn’t too familiar with limestone history.

“We’ve enjoyed seeing all this,” Rizzo said. “I liked seeing the cutting of the stones, and all the equipment.”

The Empire Quarry has been in operation for more than 80 years. Indiana Limestone has about 4,500 acres of property between Lawrence and Monroe counties. The company estimates it has about 150 years of known limestone reserves.

The tour also played into various interests of the attendees. Some, especially those who grew up in the area, noted the nostalgia of the tour.

Paula Patton, a Bloomington resident, said it was nice to see a quarry “with permission” this time, alluding to the popularity of using quarries as a swimming hole. The practice is dangerous and is generally considered trespassing.

“I’m a Hoosier … I swam in the quarries growing up,” Patton said. “It’s great coming back here with permission. I could do this all day long.”

For Gene Abel, a Lawrence County resident who has been working to restore limestone works in the Green Hill Cemetery, the tour made him think about his family’s connections to the limestone industry. He’s been on tours, but it was his first time on a tour of the Indiana Limestone Co.’s modern Oolitic operations.

“It’s been enjoyable and it’s educational for me to see all these changes,” Abel said. “My grandfather, Thomas Abel, was head blacksmith for Indiana Limestone back in the 1920s and 1930s. And my dad was a blacksmith after him. … It was a big business back then, but now it’s modernized. That’s what happens, though. … We have a real history here.”

A sense of pride was felt by some people as they overlooked the operation at Empire Quarry. Lloyd Harry, from Evansville, said he visited quarries in Italy about five years ago, but there’s an extra sense of pride at a more local one.

“It’s some cool stuff,” Harry said. “The limestone’s been used for the state capitols, the Pentagon, the (Washington) National Cathedral … that’s definitely a source of pride.”

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Source: The (Bedford) Times-Mail, https://bit.ly/2rZ47Dm

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Information from: The Times-Mail, https://www.tmnews.com

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