Tennessee marble

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Quarried block of "pink" Tennessee marble

Tennessee marble is a type of crystalline limestone found primarily in East Tennessee, in the southeastern United States. Long esteemed by architects and builders for its pinkish-gray color and the ease with which it is polished, this stone has been used in the construction of numerous notable buildings and monuments throughout the United States and Canada, including the National Gallery of Art and the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., as well as parts of the United States Capitol in Washington,[1] Grand Central Terminal in New York,[2] and Union Station in Toronto.[3] Tennessee marble achieved such popularity in the late-19th century that Knoxville, the stone's primary finishing and distribution center, became known as "The Marble City."[4]

While Tennessee marble is not true marble, its crystalline nature lends it a strong resemblance to marble, especially when polished.[5] The stone occurs in belts of Ordovician-period rocks known as the Holston Formation,[5] and is quarried primarily in Knox, Blount, Loudon, Union, and Hawkins counties.[6] While pink is the most well-known Tennessee marble color, the stone also occurs in gray, dark brown ("cedar"), and variegated shades.[6]

The use of Tennessee marble declined after World War II, when cheaper building materials became widely available. There are currently only six active Tennessee marble quarries, all operated by the Tennessee Marble Company.[7] The stone has most recently been used in the floor of the United States Capitol Visitor Center, and for the 170-ton "First Amendment" tablet that adorns the facade of Washington's Newseum.[8]



Tennessee marble is found in the Appalachian Ridge-and-Valley Province, a series of alternating elongate ridges and valleys that lie between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Cumberland Plateau. The Holston Formation, in which Tennessee marble is found, occurs in a series of belts that follow the natural folds and faults of the Ridges-and-Valleys. While these belts can be up to 75 miles (121 km) long, they are rarely more than a few miles wide. In 1911, the Tennessee State Geological Survey identified six primary Holston Formation belts containing Tennessee marble: the Luttrell, Black Oak, Concord, Knoxville, Bays Mountain, and French Broad belts. A seventh belt, the Galbraith in Hawkins County, is considered an extension of the Black Oak.[6]

The Luttrell belt, the westernmost of the Holston Formation belts, stretches along Copper Ridge from Beaver Creek in Fountain City northeast to Galbraith Springs (about 10 miles (16 km) west of Rogersville) in Hawkins County. The Black Oak belt stretches along Black Oak Ridge from Monroe County to the Corryton area in north Knox County. The Concord belt, one of the most heavily quarried, stretches from Sweetwater through Knox County to Strawberry Plains. The Knoxville belt, also heavily quarried, stretches from southeast of Sweetwater to Ruggles Ferry (east of Knoxville) in Knox. The Bays Mountain belt is found along the southwestern end of Bays Mountain in south Knox County, and stretches into northern Blount County. The French Broad belt is a u-shaped belt found at the confluence of the French Broad and Holston rivers ("Forks-of-the-River").[6]


Polished "pink" Tennessee marble surface

While true marble is metamorphic, Tennessee marble is sedimentary, and is therefore classified as limestone.[5] Tennessee marble was formed from the accumulation of bryozoan and other primordial marine lifeforms 460 million years ago, during the Ordovician period. Even when polished, Tennessee marble retains a fossiliferous texture, with bryozoan and crinoid fossils being among the most commonly found.[5] A noticeable feature of Tennessee marble is the presence of jagged horizontal gray or black lines, or "stylolites." Known as "crowfeet" by quarrymen, these form from residual insoluble materials left over from the natural limestone dissolution processes.[5]

The most well-known shades of Tennessee marble are pink, gray, and cedar, but it also is found in blue, yellow, and cream shades.[6] Along with its aesthetic colors, builders preferred the stone for its durability, the ease with which it is polished, and the fact that the stone is virtually impervious to stains.[6] Tennessee marble is also easily converted into lime, and mid-20th century lime companies occasionally erected kilns near defunct quarries for this purpose.[9]

Quarrying and production history[edit]

A Tennessee marble quarry near Knoxville, circa 1911

The first major Tennessee marble quarrying operations took place in Hawkins County in 1838, when blocks were cut for use in the United States Capitol in Washington.[6][9] While there was demand for Tennessee marble, the industry was slow to develop due to difficulty in transporting the blocks from the remote quarry locations. The construction of railroads in East Tennessee during the 1850s provided a convenient mode of shipping the quarried blocks out of the region, but the outbreak of the Civil War again halted the industry's development.

After the war, Knoxville's economic promoters consistently extolled the qualities of Tennessee marble. In his 1862 work, Parson Brownlow's Book, Knoxville newspaper editor William G. Brownlow mentioned the "beautiful varieties of marble" found in East Tennessee.[10] In an 1869 speech before the Knoxville Industrial Association, attorney Oliver Perry Temple argued that marble "lies all around Knoxville," and could provide wealth "sufficient to pay our State debt."[11] During the following decade, the Baltimore-based W.H. Evans Company and the locally-headquartered John J. Craig Company established thriving quarrying operations in the region.[6][12]

By 1882, eleven quarries were in operation in Knox County alone.[13] By 1890, twenty-two quarries and three finishing mills were in operation in Knox County,[12] including the massive Evans mill near what is now Lonsdale.[14] In 1892, the Tennessee marble industry generated more than one million dollars in corporate profits, and employed over a thousand workers.[12] By the early 20th century, East Tennessee was second only to Vermont as the nation's leading marble-producing region.[6] While best known for its use in building and monument construction, nearly 80% of the Tennessee marble quarried during this period was used in furniture and interior decoration.[6]

The Great Depression in the 1930s brought about a collapse in the demand for Tennessee marble, and numerous producers were forced into bankruptcy.[13] Companies that survived shifted away from quarrying and focused more and more on fabricating imported marble.[1] As of 2010, only one company, the Tennessee Marble Company, was conducting major Tennessee marble quarrying operations.[7]

Notable Tennessee marble producers[edit]

A now-abandoned John J. Craig Company quarry near Friendsville

The following companies, most of which operated in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, were involved in the production of Tennessee marble. Some focused solely on quarrying, some focused solely on carving and finishing, and some were involved in both. Most of the finishing companies used both Tennessee marble and marble imported from Europe and South America.[1]

  • W.H. Evans Marble Company, established in Baltimore in 1867, operated quarries near Friendsville and Forks-of-the-River. In 1886, this company built its massive mill near Lonsdale,[12] which by 1911 employed twenty-six gang saws, nine rubbing beds, and over 100 workers to produce over 40,000 square feet (3,700 m2) of finished marble per year.[6]
  • John J. Craig Company, founded by John J. Craig (1820–1892) in 1878, reorganized as the Great Southern Marble Company in 1884, and joined with Evans to form the Tennessee Producers Marble Company in 1889. In 1896, the company left the Tennessee Producers partnership, and once again operated as the John J. Craig Company.[15] Craig's son, John J. Craig, Jr. (1860–1904), and grandson, John J. Craig III (1885–1944), would eventually serve as presidents of the company.[15] The company operated quarries near Friendsville and Concord, and was the foremost producer of pink Tennessee marble in the early 1900s. The company's Friendsville quarry, now abandoned, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[16]
Walls of a Ross-Republic quarry in South Knoxville (now part of the Ijams Nature Center)
  • Meadow Marble Company, headquartered in Cincinnati, operated a quarry northeast of the Meadow community in Blount County, which produced primarily gray Tennessee marble. Most of this quarry's output was finished and polished at the Cumberland Marble Company mill, located near the quarry. In 1911, this mill was producing 7,500 square feet (700 m2) of finished marble per year.[6]
  • Ross-Republic Marble Company, established in 1892 by a merger of the Ross Marble Company, which operated a quarry (the "Island Home Quarry") and mill in South Knoxville, and the Republic Marble Company.[9] Republic president Frank Seymour Mead (1864–1936) served as president of the new company into the 20th century.[9] By 1919, the company was operating three quarries in the Island Home area. Two of these quarries, known as the Mead Marble Quarry and the smaller Ross Marble Quarry, have since been converted into recreational areas by the Ijams Nature Center,[9] and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[17][18]
  • Fenton's Monumental Marble Works, founded by W.B. Fenton in the late 19th century. Operating from a studio on Market Square in Knoxville, Fenton employed six sculptors, and specialized in grave monuments (including several that still stand at Knoxville's Old Gray Cemetery). Knoxville historian Jack Neely suggests that Fenton's sculptors were among Knoxville's first professional artists.[19]
Sullivan channeler, once used to cut blocks at a W.H. Evans Marble Company quarry
  • Tennessee Producers Marble Company, founded in 1889 by John J. Craig and W.H. Evans to market their respective quarrying companies' output; while these two companies left the partnership within a few years, this company persisted and bought its own quarries.[15] In 1911, it was operating the Bond Quarry near Concord, the McMillan Quarry northeast of Knoxville, and the Dunlap Quarry near Friendsville. The company also operated a large mill on University Avenue in downtown Knoxville that employed over twenty-five gang saws to produce over 40,000 square feet (3,700 m2) of finished marble per year.[6]
  • Gray Eagle Marble Company, founded in 1902, and operated quarries at Forks-of-the-River; supplied "gray, gray-pink, eagle-pink and argent-gray" shades of marble.[20]
  • Candoro Marble Works, founded by John J. Craig III and several business partners in 1914 to finish and carve the John J. Craig Company's quarried marble. Under the guidance of renowned Italian American sculptor Albert Milani (1892–1972), who became chief carver in 1927, this facility provided Tennessee marble for buildings such as the National Gallery of Art and the National Air and Space Museum. Candoro's showroom and other buildings in South Knoxville have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[1][15]
  • Tennessee Marble Company, founded in 1993. This company currently operates six quarries and two production factories in East Tennessee.[7] After acquiring the assets of Tennessee Valley Marble in 2007, the Tennessee Marble Company became the primary producer of Tennessee marble.[21]

Structures containing Tennessee marble[edit]

The Robert A. Taft Memorial in Washington
The Illinois Centennial Memorial Column in Chicago
170-ton First Amendment tablet at the Newseum in Washington

Structures with Tennessee marble exteriors[edit]

Structures containing Tennessee marble[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Ann Bennett, National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for Candoro Marble Works, April 1996.
  2. ^ a b The Grand Central Self-Guided Tour. Retrieved: 24 November 2010.
  3. ^ Union Station - History. Retrieved: 24 November 2010.
  4. ^ "Ask Doc Knox," "What's With All This 'Marble City' Business?" Metro Pulse 10 May 2010. Retrieved: 24 November 2010.
  5. ^ a b c d e Powell, Wayne G. "Tennessee Marble". Retrieved 20 November 2011. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Charles Gordon, The Marbles of Tennessee (State of Tennessee Geological Survey, 1911), pp. 5-33.
  7. ^ a b c About Tennessee Marble Company. Retrieved: 19 November 2010.
  8. ^ a b c Blount's Royal Pink Marble Featured in Washington, D.C.. The Daily Times, 6 April 2008. Retrieved: 24 November 2010.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Information obtained from interpretive markers at the Mead's Quarry section of Ijams Nature Center, Knoxville, Tennessee, November 2010.
  10. ^ William G. Brownlow, Sketches of the Rise, Progress, and Decline of Secession (Philadelphia: G.W. Childs, 1862), p. 213.
  11. ^ Oliver Perry Temple, "An Address Delivered Before the Knoxville Industrial Association" (Knoxville, Tenn.: T. Haws and Company, 1869), p. 17.
  12. ^ a b c d John Wooldridge, George Mellen, William Rule (ed.), Standard History of Knoxville, Tennessee (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1900; reprinted by Kessinger Books, 2010), pp. 204-206.
  13. ^ a b East Tennessee Historical Society, Mary Rothrock (ed.), The French Broad-Holston Country: A History of Knox County, Tennessee (Knoxville, Tenn.: East Tennessee Historical Society, 1972), p. 223.
  14. ^ Henry Wellge, Knoxville, Tenn.: County Seat of Knox County, 1886 (Milwaukee: Norris, Wellge and Company, 1886). Map.
  15. ^ a b c d Tony VanWinkle, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for Candoro Marble Works Showroom and Garage, 13 July 2004.
  16. ^ Nationalregisterofhistoricplaces.com. Retrieved: 24 November 2010.
  17. ^ Susan W. Knowles, Lydia Simpson, and Angela Sirna, National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for Mead Marble Quarry, 27 August 2013.
  18. ^ Susan W. Knowles, Lydia Simpson, and Angela Sirna, National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for Ross Marble Quarry, 27 August 2013.
  19. ^ Jack Neely, Market Square: A History of the Most Democratic Place on Earth (Knoxville, Tenn.: Market Square District Association, 2009), p. 73.
  20. ^ One Hundred and Fourteen Per Cent, Knoxville, Tennessee," Traveler's Protective Association Magazine, Vol. XIV, No. 7 (May 1920), p. 17.
  21. ^ Tennessee Marble Co. Acquires Tennessee Valley Marble. Stoneworld.com, 7 May 2007. Retrieved: 24 November 2010.
  22. ^ Tennessee Supreme Court Building, Knox Heritage Fragile Fifteen, 2013. Retrieved: 15 May 2013.
  23. ^ History of the Knoxville Museum of Art. Retrieved: 24 November 2010.
  24. ^ East Tennessee Historical Society, Lucile Deaderick (ed.), Heart of the Valley: A History of Knoxville, Tennessee (Knoxville, Tenn.: East Tennessee Historical Society, 1976), p. 574.
  25. ^ "Tennessee Marble" in the Tennessee State Supreme Court Building. Retrieved: 24 November 2010.
  26. ^ United States Geological Survey, Building Stones of Our Nation's Capital: Walking Tour Stops 17-22. Retrieved: 24 November 2010.

External links[edit]