Wonderful contrasts — between the past and future; between the defined bedrock of Earth and the deep blue-sky weightless vastness of space — are celebrated in Lawrence County.
Situated in the heart of Indiana’s famed limestone belt, the county is known worldwide for the stone quarried from beneath its soil. Bedford, the county seat, is known as the “Limestone Capital of the World.” The large quarries in the area produced limestone for the Empire State Building and The Pentagon.
Meanwhile, the county also boasts of its connection to the stars. Three astronauts hail from Lawrence County. The first was Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom who was born and raised in Mitchell in southern Lawrence County.
A World War II veteran, Korean War fighter pilot and Air Force test pilot, Grissom was one of the original “Mercury Seven,” the first corps of astronauts NASA named in 1959. Grissom was the second American to fly in space in July 1961. He was the first astronaut to fly two missions as pilot on Gemini 3 and was selected to be the first to fly three missions as commander of the ill-fated Apollo 1. He and crewmen Ed White and Roger B. Chaffee died Jan. 27, 1967, when an electrical fire broke out in their capsule during pre-launch testing at Cape Kennedy, Florida.
The two other astronauts from Lawrence County are Charles Walker and Kenneth Bowersox. Walker, born and raised in Oolitic, was an engineer and astronaut who flew on three Space Shuttle missions in 1984 and 1985. As a payload specialist for the McDonnell Douglas Corporation, Walker was the first non-government individual to fly in space. Though born in Virginia, Bowersox considers Bedford as his hometown. He flew five Space Shuttle missions and had an extended stay aboard the International Space Station.
Spring Mill State Park, just east of Mitchell, puts these contrasts between the natural and cultural worlds, the past and the future in one spot. The park is among the most beautiful and popular in the state.
Water flowing from several springs led to the founding of an industrial village there in the early 1800s. Pioneer entrepreneurs took advantage of a constant water source that never froze, using it to power several gristmills, a wool mill, a saw mill, and a distillery.
The restored Pioneer Village contains 20 historic buildings to explore. The centerpiece is a three-story limestone gristmill, built in 1817, that still grinds cornmeal. Heritage interpreters portray the year 1863 and demonstrate period crafts.
Meanwhile, the park also pays tribute to Grissom at the Grissom Memorial just inside the park’s gates. The memorial tells the story of Grissom’s life and his contributions to the space program through a short video. Exhibits include Grissom’s space suit, the Gemini 3 Molly Brown spacecraft, and artifacts from his personal and professional life.
The park also has a popular inn and campground. For more info, visit:
Named for: James Lawrence, an officer of the U.S. Navy who died in battle during the War of 1812. He is probably best known today for his last words, “Don’t give up the ship!”
County seat: Bedford
Indiana county number: 47