The 47 file drawers of photos, originally used by the Indiana Limestone Company for marketing purposes, were stored in the living room of a dilapidated house in Bedford, Indiana.
They date from the early to mid-1900s and illustrate architectural styles and limestone use in crisp black and white imagery. After learning about the precarious state of the approximately 26,000 photos, the Indiana Geological Survey received seed funding from IU's Office of the Vice Provost for Research, removed the photos and began the process of cleaning, scanning, and creating digital copies and metadata. The photographs are now on permanent loan to the IGS and titled, Building a Nation: The Indiana Limestone Photograph Collection. It is currently on exhibit at Wells Library in the Scholars' Commons exhibition area.
Together, the IGS and IU Libraries have since preserved and published 1,261 of the images, choosing to focus initially on those depicting Midwestern areas - specifically Indiana and Illinois. In its role as publisher, IU Libraries offers an open-access, online portal populated with rich details about each photo, transcribed from labels affixed to the back of each 7.5-by-9-inch original image by IGS staff and volunteers. These labels offer information such as location, date of construction, owner, builder, architect, and sometimes, quality or type of stone.
Grant support from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), administered by the Indiana State Library (ISL), will now allow IU Libraries and the IGS to process an additional 4,500 photographs, and extend the digital archive with 3,000 new published images. Learn more about this project at an upcoming Brown Bag Series lunch-time lecture.
Michelle Dalmau, head of Digital Collections Services for IU Libraries, says the work is significant, "With the perseverance of the Indiana Geological Survey, this collection of photographs, once considered marketing ephemera, survived. We have quickly found evidence of its impact in teaching and research. Now, support from IMLS and ISL will significantly expand our digital archive."
According to the IGS, the Indiana Limestone Photograph Collection is uniquely characterized by documenting one type of building stone native to a small area in one state, but having far-reaching relevance to American history. Representing an extensive range of building types from skyscrapers to residences, cathedrals to schools, and banks to libraries, located in nearly all fifty states, the collection illustrates how Indiana limestone was embraced by both the private and public sectors, as well as across divisions of class.
Licia Weber, IGS, is the curator and archivist of the Indiana Limestone Photograph Collection. She said, "These images exemplify the urban transformation of our nation—the photographs document in great detail the widespread use of Indiana limestone for constructing buildings throughout the United States during the late nineteenth and early-‐ to mid-‐twentieth centuries. This project fosters a global view of Indiana and the profound impact this locally sourced building material had in defining the architectural history of the state and the nation."