Monon Station Eyed as Future Economic Development Tool
It doesn’t look like much now but when Bedford’s Monon Station was built in 1926, it was a major player in shipping giant blocks of Indiana limestone across the country, ultimately growing Bedford into the limestone capital of the world.
The building now sits vacant and dilapidated and was included by Indiana Landmarks on its 2020 10 Most Endangered list. But officials in Lawrence County think the historic structure could bring additional economic development to the city’s downtown.
“This building really represents the heyday of Indiana’s limestone production and freight transportation,” said Greg Sekula with Indiana Landmarks. “It’s an important part of the history of the community, the history of Indiana, and really the history of limestone in the United States.”
Indiana limestone in and around Bedford is some of the finest in the country and even the world. A lot of the limestone from Empire Quarry in Bedford was used to build the Empire State Building and the Pentagon.
“We’ve got buildings that are famous throughout the world that were constructed of Indiana limestone. How many freight depots, passenger depots in Indiana, let alone in the country, are build of limestone and have a tile roof? For a building that was pretty much utilitarian structure, the beauty here is just remarkable.”
The building also doubled as a passenger station for the Monon Railroad.
“It was the main line in and out of Bedford for probably 50-75 years,” said Lawrence County historian Rob Bell. “Anybody that wanted to go to Chicago, this was the easy place to get on and take them right to downtown Chicago. Or if they wanted to go south to Louisville, it was the other way on the route. It was a main conduit when roads weren’t very good of getting to where the major cities were.”
Indiana Trails President Richard Vonnegut says he wants to he see Monon Station used as a connector to major cities again, only this time by bicycle.
“What I’d like to do is see this as being an area that would be attractive to hikers and bicyclists from far away, bring a national bicycle route through Bedford and build a walkway from the station here over to where the Milwaukee is.”
The “Milwaukee” he refers to is the Milwaukee Road Transportation Trailway, a crushed limestone path that starts near downtown Bedford and will eventually stretch 20 miles through southwestern Indiana, which makes repurposing the historic Monon Station an ideal economic development project for Lawrence County.
“Being able to attach to the trail and make the building activated with something going on inside, the statistics show that people who are on foot or on bike tend to spend more money when they go by places,” said Shance Sizemore, chief executive officer of the Lawrence County Economic Growth Council.
Sekula says figuring out an adaptive reuse of the building and combining it with interest in the trail systems in the community, the Monon Station could become a center of activity that could drive further economic development and redevelopment in downtown Bedford.
“This is one of the great limestone buildings of Indiana and for that reason, we very much want to see it stay here.”