DOCUMENTATION OF SOUTH MASONIC TEMPLE BUILDING (1921) DEMOLITION – PART 5

With all the wrecking machines working in unison now, the south side Masonic temple’s east and north facades are fading fast. thankfully, some ornament has been carefully removed and awaits a new home – wherever that may be. sadly, the gargantuan columns and capitals wrapping around the building are being pulverized as they fall to the ground.

the fate of the name plaques or tablets is not known. I hope they are being saved. there hasn’t been any visible evidence of their destruction based on a thorough search in the piles of stone and twisted iron. I finally spoke with the owner, who at the time, was operating one of the excavators. he is certainly sympathetic to salvaging ornament to a degree. in fact, there was a capital column fragment I found in the rubble I purchased from him that I brought back to my shop to study the materials/methods.

In fact, there was a capital column fragment I found in the rubble I purchased from him that I brought back to my shop to study the materials/methods. I hope to identify any and all markings to determine which company in Bedford carved it. in addition, I will shoot the fragment in my studio to hopefully convey both size and scale.

handling this fragment I marveled at the fact I was holding the stone graveyard of the skeletal fragments of masses of oceanic creatures. in the Mississippian age (325 to 360 million years ago), Indiana was covered by a giant inland sea in which marine organisms left behind shells that formed a massive bed of carbonate of lime that was extraordinarily pure – about 97% pure limestone with just traces of silica, magnesium, and oxide of iron.

Indiana limestone is considered an oolitic formation. The Greek word oölite means ‘egg stone’ because the many fossils that form the stone resemble the masses of eggs (or roe) of a fish. If you hold a strong magnifying glass to Bedford stone, you can see the skeletal remnants of these creatures that lived in the primordial ocean that covered south central Indiana.

as the remains of these creatures decomposed dense formations of lime formed on the seafloor. Its because of this reason Bedford limestone is homogenous and rests in solid beds. Its not layered like the dolomite limestone that comes from Illinois quarries. by comparison, Illinois limestone is also just 60% limestone and therefore not considered a true limestone, but rather a dolomite due to its magnesium content.

Looking back on Chicago rebuilding in the years following the fire, the non-indigenous Indiana limestone did not enjoy adoption without challenge. In April of 1878, the council building committee was legally accused of securing contracts for the Indiana stone that alleged it was prone to disintegration, discoloration, streaking, and lack of fire resistance. prominent architects of the time defended the Indiana limestone, including w.w. boyington, who publicly affirmed its durability and color steadfastness as compared to Illinois limestone.

in may of 1878 a cadre of aldermen and architects traveled to Indiana on an investigative tour of the quarry of the “Bedford stone company” as well as buildings made from the Indiana limestone in Louisville and several Indiana towns. among the visitors were architects James egan and William le baron Jenney.

quarry machinery was also closely examined, including a device known as a “channeller” which was a kind of miniature locomotive that had arms fitted to chisels which cut into stone until bedrock was reached as the machine traveled to and fro.

Channeller at work cutting stone

the crosscut was then made by an Ingersoll steam-drill and the stone was loaded by means of a steam derrick directly onto rail cars for shipment. the visitors were impressed that no blasting was required. a mill was in operation nearby which also provided saws for any cutting required.

after the tour, they visited the tomb of a local doctor by the name of dr. foot, who was described by one attendee as “a somewhat peculiar individual”. foote was so enamored of the Bedford stone he had the vault carved for himself in the solid rock with a monument above him built from the outcrop stone of an adjacent quarry.

foote owned much of the land from which the original quarries were developed and predicted in the early 1800s that one day the stone from the “blue hole” would be shipped by rail as far as new york city. given his prediction was made during a time when there were no plans for rail lines to pass through the area, this insight proved especially visionary. foote is known as the “father of the limestone industry”. dr. foote’s tomb can still be visited today.

of much interest was the cleanliness of the towns they visited; Bedford was deemed “clean” because very little coal was used so no discoloration was observed. in Louisville 1850s and 60’s structures made from Bedford stone were found to badly blackened. However, a steel brush was produced that was able to clean the limestone within a few minutes to affirm the discoloration rested on the surface alone, and that the stone itself had not suffered from exposure.

elaborate stonework, such as Corinthian capitals, were closely examined on these buildings to determine how sharply defined the decorative carving was preserved after ten to twenty years of use. when the group returned to Chicago even the alderman who had initially expressed the most concern conceded with at least a neutral opinion that the stone was indeed witnessed to be very suitable for its intended building purpose.

later in September of 1878, the Bedford stone was an incendiary topic in the papers for a third time when William le baron Jenney sent a letter to the editor of the tribune describing a scientific investigation in England which had determined that st. paul’s cathedral, which was composed of an oolitic limestone, had become horribly blackened due to minute lichens that had worked their way below the surface of the stone and rendered it impossible to clean.

jenney urged Chicagoans to make the same demands of local chemists that the English press had of theirs: that a wash that be created and applied that could to prevent further growth of the lichens. jenney felt if the Bedford stone could be preserved in its color by such a wash then no objection could be made to its use in the construction of the new city hall.

in the years following this spirited debate on the merits of Indiana limestone, the public would gradually begin to accept its continued use as more buildings were constructed using it within the city of Chicago. in part 6 of this eight-part series, we’ll examine the benefits of the stone as a building material as well as learn more about the specific company that provided the stone for the south side masonic temple.

period advertisements from two notable quarries that supplied Chicago with limestone during the late 19th and early 20th century.

To be Continued Part 6

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