Harris City series pic

Bright B. Harris is pictured in about 1876.

It’s easy to see why Bright B. Harris wanted to return to the limestone he saw in 1863 while riding through the southern part of the county for John Hunt Morgan. After he returned he got the quarry going at a more rapid pace than it had been before and had a railroad track built from the quarry, making it easier to send the limestone anywhere. And it was certainly sent to many areas in the country.

Harris City limestone is part of many buildings in the United States. After Harris came he had built a general store, a three story hotel, blacksmith shops, a post office and somewhere between 40 and 70 homes for employees and families in the town of Harris City. The quarry had an annual payroll of $52,000 per year, the three story hotel had from 75 to 80 boarders and sometimes as many as as 100. Even if those numbers are enhanced, it’s obvious that Harris City was a booming place.

The following, from “Resources and Industries of Indiana, Decatur, Bartholomew, Jackson and Lawrence counties, 1885,” pages 65 and 66, tells why Harris City limestone was so valued:

“It is a superior quality for building and bridge purposes and is susceptible of being worked to almost any desired dimensions or thickness. It is uniform in texture and colors and remarkably free from chert(?) or flint concretions. An analysis made under the auspices of the geological survey of Indiana in 1878 shows the following component parts; Moisture dried (at 212 deg. Fahrenheit) ...85; Insoluble silicates...5.90; Ferri(?) Hide...2.50; Alumina....3.70; Lime, (equal to 1/4 percent carb of lime)...41.55; Magnesia ...4.93; Sulphuric acid .90; Carbonic acid...38.07; Chloride of alkali...1.60.

“The modulus of elasticity of a sawed specimen is placed at 6,800,000, which is higher than any stone tested. The resisting power of this stone was found to be 178,750 pounds to the cubic foot. The stone block supporting the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London sustains a weight of 39,000 pounds to the cubic foot, and that of St. Peter’s Church at Rome 33,000 pounds.”

Those figures mean nothing to me, but did to those building in that era.

Harris contacted people in the government to make sure they were aware of the superior quality of the limestone there. In 1876, the government sent an architect to inspect the limestone at Harris City and reported, “Quantity unlimited, quality unsurpassed.”

Because of the quality of the limestone, it was accepted by the government and purchased by the architect. Stone for the main basement and all the sub-basements of the U.S. Custom House was supplied by the Harris City stone quarry, and the sale amounted to nearly $100,000. That was a lot of money then!

The quarry furnished all of the stone for the foundation of the Odd Fellows building in Cincinnati; stone for the abutments of the C & O railroad bridges in and around Cincinnati, and all of the stone (10,000 carloads) for the huge Proctor & Gamble building in Cincinnati.

The quarry also furnished 3,000 carloads of stone for the Indiana State House. Other huge orders were shipped to all parts of the country including shipments as far south as New Orleans. The quarry, while in operation, made an average sale of 80,000 feet of curb each year.

I’ve always heard that Harris went bankrupt and never got to live very long in the home he built on Franklin Street. That must be wrong, because the quarry didn’t go bankrupt until the 1890s and he built his home in Greensburg in 1871-72, although he lived at Harris City until he built the home he apparently got to live in it until he died in 1896, according to his obituary. Harris possibly overspent, but the main reason he went bankrupt is because concrete began to be used more and more instead of stone.

Mary Theobald grew up near the cemetery at Harris City and heard the history from relatives and observing some of it herself. The cemetery was restored by Russell Wilhoit in 2013. He said there are fewer than 30 stones and include Anderson, Anness, Bell, Conner, Goodwin, Eubank, Ketchum, Myers, and Turner family names. The first known burial was in the 1830s, and he believes there are 106 unmarked graves.

We didn’t prove who built the stone fence, but I still believe it was the Miller family (as told by Ben Richardson). I am grateful to everyone who helped with Harris City stone fence and quarry, especially to Larry Colson, Charity Mitchell and Ben.

Decatur County resident Pat Smith may be contacted via this publication at news@greensburgdailynews.com

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