A small town on the banks of the Ohio River, Cannelton, Indiana is known for its beautiful sandstone structures. The Cannelton Cotton Mill is a mammoth sized block building built before the Civil War and Saint Michaels is an exquisite church made by the finest of stonemasons. One of those talented artisans, Martin Heim emigrated from Bavaria to do the fine stonework still visible in the town. The Church history, St. Michaels on the Hill 1859-1985 noted that Heim was one of several talented carvers who moved to Cannelton specifically to build St. Michael’s Church.
Heim remained in Cannelton after completing the project and lived within a block of the church, where he continued to carve sandstone monuments. Access to quality materials coupled with his years of training and skill, allowed the carver to create some of the finest markers produced in Southern Indiana. He worked in Cannelton for over 25 years, and his youngest son Henry continued to do stone work in the community for another quarter century after his father’s passing.
According to the local paper The Economist, workers quarried the stone for Cannelton’s Cotton Mill as well as St. Michaels Church from the cliffs above where the Church is located. They harvested large slabs of sandstone by boring holes into the stone and driving wet hickory pegs into them. The pegs expanded over night and sheared off the slabs of stone that the stonecutters then shaped with chisels and mallets. The article noted that while at first the sandstone taken from the quarry is soft and easy to work, but after exposure to the air, it hardens and becomes more durable and resilient.
From the ornate arch over the doorway to the subtle etchings that embellish each block the stonework of St Michaels is stunningly beautiful. Built by old world masters such as Heim, the church stands as an exemplar of early Indiana stonework.
However, Heim’s personal skill and artistic design is best seen and identified in the gravestones and monuments that he produced for members of his community. On the steep hillside above St. Michael’s, is the Cliff Cemetery. Throughout this burial ground are several tower-like monuments signed with “M. Heim.” The markers seem to be part obelisk and part tower, incorporating some of the fine architectural motifs exhibited in the church below. The purplish red of the Perry County sandstone contrasts with the other marble, limestone and granite markers in the graveyard.
While Martin Heim identified himself in the 1870 Census as a “stone cutter” (a more general term for stone mason), by the 1880 Census he and his two Indiana born sons Philip and Henry, preferred to think of themselves as “marble” cutters. Perhaps this signaled an occupational shift from general stonework, which was prominent in the mid 1800s in Perry County to doing more ornamental masonry and monument carving later in his life. Throughout the Cliff Cemetery are several unsigned markers that have dark native sandstone bases topped imported white marble spires. I believe Martin Heim and his sons probably produced these distinctive gravestones.
I have more research to do on the life and work of Martin Heim. Where did he receive his stone cutting training? Did he come from a family of masons? If you know of any other sources about this Artisan Ancestor, please let me know. Would love to find a picture or read more historical documents. Send me your thoughts,
The Economist; Saturday 8 December 1849 (Quoting the Louisville Examiner with reference to the Cannelton Cotton Mill).
Rutherford, Michael F. St. Michael’s on the Hill, 1859-1985, & St. Patrick’s Church, 1850-1902, Cannelton, Indiana. Utica, KY: McDowell Publications, 1986.