Emergence of a city
1900 - 1929
Despite setbacks such as the Spanish flu and World War I, Bloomington continued to draw people and companies that catapulted it into its renaissance. Built on the Showers Brothers Furniture Company, Seward & Co. and the limestone industry, Bloomington already had citizens vying to create a legacy.
One family who forged Bloomington: The Seward legacy
1900 – 1945, Fred Allen Seward
By age 23 in 1909, Fred Allen Seward – great-grandson of Austin Seward – had been a track star and team captain at both Bloomington High School and Indiana University. He had two years of college under his belt along with a stint as a copper miner in Arizona. Even the knee injury he’d sustained pole vaulting wasn’t holding him back.
That same year, the loss of his father brought him back to Bloomington, where he took over Seward & Co. Under his stewardship, the company continued to thrive, and he enjoyed much of the same status in Bloomington as his father and grandfather before him.
One day, when a girl caught Fred’s eye during choir practice at Kirkwood Avenue Christian Church, he thought maybe he’d been called back to Bloomington for a reason beyond his father’s death. The young woman’s name was Dorothy Hopper.
Active in the community as well as the church, Dorothy was popular in her own right. She’d been president of her class at Bloomington High School and made famously delicious applesauce, according to her grandson Allen Dunn.
When the couple married in a daisy-laden ceremony at that same church in June 1914, their wedding was a highly anticipated social affair. For their honeymoon, the couple went camping at Cataract Falls in Owen County.
Although Fred never served in WWI, his brother Austin served in the 42nd Infantry, also known as the Rainbow Division because it drew from multiple states, spanning the country like a rainbow. Austin returned home in 1919, and family legend has it that Fred permitted his brother one day of rest before reporting for work. The two watched over the company together for many years.
Just five years into Fred and Dorothy’s marriage, the Spanish influenza swept through Indiana, killing more than 11,000 people the first year. Fred became ill in March of 1919. Bedridden, he was unable to tend to his responsibilities at Seward & Co., so family members stepped in.
When Fred began to recover later that March, the community was much relieved. An article in the Bloomington Daily Telephone announced that he was “now able to move about his room.”
Once recovered, Fred wasted no time in getting back to his work and his family, which now included daughters Doris and Janet. Both he and Dorothy were active in the lives of their girls. Dorothy was president of the PTA at the Margaret McCalla School, now used as IU’s sculpture building on Ninth Street. Fred, perhaps reliving his own glory days, was a judge at Doris’ track meets.
Fred was also outspoken about his political views – particularly his disdain for the Klu Klux Klan. He would frequently attend the Klan’s rallies in downtown Bloomington, making sure community members saw him standing on the side of the street, noticeably without a sheet or hood.
“One way you take a stand is you demonstrate who you’re with,” Allen says. “He wanted people to know he wasn’t in a sheet. It was something my grandfather didn’t believe in, and his forefathers didn’t believe in it either.”
When he died on Christmas Day in 1967, Fred had watched over Seward & Co. for more than 50 years. Dorothy passed away seven years later, in October 1974. Both are buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Bloomington.
In a column in The Herald-Times, Doris remembered them as “kind parents, committed to the nurture of their two daughters.”
Fashion of the era
The Spanish flu pandemic sweeps into Indiana in 1918.
The Spanish flu, the most virulent flu in history, was spread by soldiers at the end of World War I. As seemingly healthy men returned home from war, they brought the deadly disease back to their friends and families. The flu spread into Indiana in late 1918. Monroe County schools and churches were closed, and a “flu ban” was instituted at the university, closing the school until further notice. Campus buildings were used to house the sick.
In a newspaper article from 1918, Monroe County Clerk Joseph M. Campbell pleaded with those who weren’t sick to do everything they could to help those who had contracted the virus.
The present-day Student Building on IU’s campus became a hospital ward for soldiers stricken with the flu. Corporal William R. Ringer described his symptoms in a 1918 journal entry at the Indiana Archives: “The next morning I felt rotten and did not get up until 7:30. There were four of us [who] stumbled down to the infirmary where there was the sickest looking bunch of fellows I ever saw. He ordered us to the hospital, so we walked back to the barracks and lay there all day until a taxi came for us. I was put on a cot on the lower floor after some delay, and there I settled down for 6 days’ sickness.”
Students who couldn’t afford to go home stayed in Bloomington but were instructed to avoid public spaces. The Dean of Women instated a “no date” rule to keep young women from contracting the illness from sick men.
Life began to return to normal in November 1919 when new cases of the virus stopped being reported. Altogether, the flu killed 675,000 Americans and 20 million people worldwide – more than all the wars of the 19th and 20th century combined.
Heart of limestone
Amy Brier attacks each lopsided chunk of limestone with a chisel in hand, gently chipping away soft, off-white rock. Over time the slab transforms into her creations — snowflakes, koi fish or the 12,000-pound glowing brain outside of Indiana University’s Psychology building.
Brier, who is the founder and director of the Indiana Limestone Sculpture Symposium, says limestone’s charm lies in the feel of the chisel hitting the stone. “It’s soft and easy to cut,” she says. “It’s not like hard, dense marble and granite. It’s easier to work with but still holds those fine details.”
Two hundred years ago, artisans and quarry workers in Bloomington were just beginning to pick up saws and chisels and work the limestone outcroppings. Each limestone carver was armed with his hands, a horse, a pick and a shovel. They would scale ladders to reach the tops of outcroppings, pick at the slabs of rock, then wheelbarrow the hunks to horse-drawn dumpcarts.
Quarry workers used chains and cables to create pulley systems to haul the blocks, according to Monroe County History Center archives.
Even before Indiana became a state in 1816, limestone was showing up in door frames, window sills and grave markers, according to Indiana Historical Society collections. A decade after statehood, limestone laid the foundation for the Monroe County Courthouse and with it, the foundation for a young city.
The 16 Indiana quarries in 1870 ballooned to 48 just 15 years later. In 1881, 604 men worked an average of nine hours a day to produce 718,575 cubic feet of stone — enough to fill eight Olympic swimming pools.
The high quality of Indiana limestone attracted a national following in the late 1800s and early 1900s as builders turned from marble and granite to limestone from Indiana’s stone belt — the 30-mile expanse of limestone-laden land from Bedford to Bloomington.
By 1920, the more than 80 percent of all limestone sales came from the region, bringing economic growth to the city. The Empire State Building, the Pentagon and the National Cathedral were all built from limestone mined from Indiana’s quarries.
With technological growth that allowed machines to take on the grunt work of transporting and cutting limestone, the stone belt reached its peak production of 14.5 million cubic feet in 1928.
Since then, production has dropped, and quarries have consolidated with 24 companies merging into the Indiana Stone Company in 1926.
But Bloomington’s art, architecture and livelihood is still tied tightly to limestone, Brier says.
While the city might have found a different catalyst for growth without limestone, Brier says it’s hard to imagine Bloomington without it. “Everything around us is limestone,” she says. “Everything.”
Elizabeth Bridgwaters (1908 – 1999)
Elizabeth was born in Bloomington in 1908 to Preston Emmanual Eagleson, the first African American to play varsity sports at IU and to earn a master’s degree. She followed in her father’s groundbreaking footsteps and earned a degree in psychology in 1930.
She married Albert Bridgwaters and had nine children. When he became ill, the only job she could find was as a salad cook at the IU residence halls. She later worked her way up to supervisor.
Bridgwaters became first African American elected official in Monroe County when she joined the school board in 1969. She served on the board for eight years, including a one-year term as president, during which she oversaw the hiring of the first black school architect counselor and the first black teacher.
She served on the board of directors for many community organizations that served low-income families and disadvantaged people, including the Monroe County Community Action Program, United Way, the Bloomington Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Area 10 Agency on Aging. She also started the Aurora Alternative High School for kids who hadn’t been successful in traditional school.
Bridgwaters also ran for mayor and state representative but didn’t win.
For her leadership and public service, she was named a Sagamore of the Wabash by former governor Otis R. Bowen. She died of cancer in 1999 and was voted as the woman of the century by Herald-Times readers.
In 1997, Elizabeth told an interviewer from the Herald Times how important it was to be an activist.
“You can spend your time running around hating folks if you want to,” she said, “but your life is gone and what have you accomplished?”
Historian James Madison says Bridgwaters had a critical impact on the schools and the community. “She made a difference in the way white people think and act about black issues,” he says.