Campus tour reveals Indiana University’s story stone by stone during Limestone Month


As part of the celebration of Limestone Month in southern Indiana, Brian Keith led several recent tours of the IU Bloomington campus. Photo by Chaz Mottinger

“I’m not a historian. I’m not an architect. I’m a limestone geologist.”

With these words, Brian Keith began a walking tour of Indiana University Bloomington as part of Limestone Month, an annual celebration in Monroe and Lawrence counties featuring special events such as exhibitions, carving demonstrations and quarry visits.

Keith’s tours June 3 and 10 offered not only expert insights on limestone in its many forms but a wealth of other information about IU’s history and architecture.

limestone owl carvings

These are just a few of IU’s limestone owls.

The group first met at the Sample Gates, which have become so emblematic that it’s hard to believe they have only been standing since 1987.

Keith then spent two hours winding through a college campus that is routinely named one of the country’s most beautiful. His main focus was Old Crescent, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

At Indiana, limestone is a part of the appeal. It is the bedrock and building block, the business and the beauty. It is both the layer cake and the icing.

And Keith knows his limestone. He spent his career working for the Indiana Geological Survey at IU.

He explained that Indiana limestone is some of the finest in the world. The stone once deep below the surface now soars into the sky at The Empire State Building, Biltmore and the National Cathedral. And here, it built IU.

On his tour, Keith pointed out details that could escape even the most astute observers.

He showed the difference between the fine, uniform grain of Salem limestone, the coarser variety of Salem used in foundations and the Ramp Creek stone used in freestanding walls.

Keith discussed how stone was dressed and how it was laid. He contrasted Maxwell Hall’s “rough face” or “rock face” stone with the flat, even blocks of the Student Building. He distinguished between window and door details found in different styles of architecture, the round Romanesque arches and more pointed Gothic parts.

He located inscriptions, symbols and carvings.

But more than anything, he encouraged people to look — and to notice.

For the ardent explorer, the IU campus reveals more than 100 years of skilled masonry and sculpture.


Bryan Hall is adorned with carved shields that represent the past lineup of schools within IU.

University buildings are decked out with books and book presses, coiled serpents and grapevines, fruit bats and fruit flies. Students are depicted as they pray, play and doze. Science is represented through formulas and symbols, medicine and microscopes. The kingdom of animals includes ever-watchful owls, a single-celled organism, a fish, a mouse and even a duck wearing a mortarboard.

Here are a few other nuggets Keith shared:

  • A cubic foot of limestone weighs about 150 pounds.
  • Evidence suggests that the stone foundations of several early buildings were quarried right on campus.
  • Owen and Wylie Halls were constructed with bricks salvaged from the original Seminary Square campus.
  • John D. Rockefeller contributed some of the funds that built the Student Building.
  • Bryan Hall is the only building with its limestone carvings on the inside.

Visitors to the IU Bloomington campus can create their own walking tours by following the map posted on the Indiana Geological Survey website or by picking up a brochure from the Monroe County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Keith also conducts private tours for groups.

Other upcoming Limestone Month events include guided tours of Furst Quarry at 3 p.m. June 17, Rose Hill Cemetery at noon June 19, and the active Reed Quarry at 9 a.m. June 25. For quarry tours, reservations are required, the fee is $10 and groups will meet at the Bloomington Visitor’s Center. Exhibitions of photos at the Monroe County History Center and limestone sculpture at the John Waldron Arts Center continue into July. For more information about these and other events, see the Limestone Month website.

Limestone Buildings at IU Bloomington

These nine photographs show details from limestone buildings on the IU Bloomington campus. Can you identify which building appears in each image? (The buildings pictured here are Ballantine, Goodbody, Jordan, Maxwell, Memorial and Myers). Answers will appear on the Art at IU Twitter account: @Arts_IU.

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