[Editor’s note: This story was originally published in May 2016 after a rumor began circulating that the Indiana Limestone Company was filling in the iconic Rooftop Quarry. At that time, the company said it had no plans to actually fill in the quarry. Since then, another rumor has been floating around, and in November 2018, The Herald-Times reported that the quarry has indeed been filled in.]
Rumors have floated around social media recently that Rooftop Quarry, the iconic swimming hole in southern Monroe County, has been “demolished.” Some say the quarry’s eponymous feature — a slab of rock jutting over the water — has been pushed into the water and sunk to the bottom. Others say the entire quarry is being filled in. Neither is true, although the owner of the property, Indiana Limestone Company, has taken extensive measures to make the quarry safer by making it less accessible.
Citing “public safety concerns,” Nathan Waterford, director of environmental health and safety for the company, showed Limestone Post the results of the efforts. Along the tops of the quarry walls, including the 65-foot cliff, dirt and trees have been bulldozed to the edge, eliminating launch points for many quarry jumpers. Massive boulders have been pushed onto the Rooftop slab itself.
The quarry, also known as Sanders Quarry, was featured in the 1979 movie Breaking Away as a swimming hole for the group townies known as “Cutters,” and the site has been a favorite landmark for generations. Jumping off the cliff walls into the water has even made it on several “bucket lists,” especially on blogs by Indiana University students. (One says “Visit Sanders Quarry” but advises to “Please appreciate the quarry from a distance, and don’t do dumb things (like cliff diving).” Another will “double dog dare you to jump in.”)
But such adventures anywhere in Monroe County are illegal (all quarries in the county are privately owned, so visiting them without permission is trespassing) and often dangerous. In 2008, Walter Ayala, 18, died after jumping off of the Rooftop cliff. He was pulled unconscious from the water by rescue workers but never recovered. However, paralyzing injuries and even fatalities have not deterred people. The day after Ayala’s death, nearly 20 people received trespassing citations at the same spot.
Indiana Limestone Company owns the Empire chain of quarries in southern Monroe County where stone for New York City’s Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, and many other notable structures across the country has been quarried.
Waterford says while many people would not even consider trespassing on someone’s property to use their swimming pool, “they somehow think that it’s okay to swim in a privately owned quarry.” But trespassing isn’t just a liability for the company or an inconvenience for company personnel, he says. The burden spreads to others, as well, and the problem has increased in the past year.
Nearby residents often complain about people parking in their neighborhood while they swim at the quarry; they’re often loud and destructive — traipsing through and dumping trash on their lawns. Sheriff deputies have to answer calls for trespassing, and first responders have to rush to the scene when an accident happens.
Waterford says many plans have been considered to prevent injury and death at the quarries, but none are feasible or effective. The site is so immense that building a secure fence around the property would run into the millions of dollars. Fences are not that effective of a deterrence anyway. The company has considered demolishing the slab of stone that attracts people, but it wouldn’t stop people from jumping off ledges and swimming in the quarry.
So Waterford says the solution for now is to make the site as inaccessible as possible, hoping that it will deter trespassers. Besides, he said, the company may want to start quarrying from Rooftop again.