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Did you know that Gary Cooper once spoke about the quality Alabama marble in a movie? [see old films & photographs]

ALABAMA MARBLE

Giuseppe Moretti

Giuseppe Moretti in 1901 with his model of Vulcan


Alabama marble is among the highest quality stone in the world. The state’s marble resources were first made famous by Italian sculptor Giuseppe Moretti, and stone from the quarries there was sculpted into a bust of Abraham Lincoln displayed in the U.S. Capitol building and used to construct the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and the U.S. Supreme Court building. But did you know that Gary Cooper once spoke about Alabama marble in Fountainhead?

 Sylacauga, Alabama is called the marble city

Alabama marble occurs in shades of white, pink, gray, red, and black, but the white marble of Sylacauga has consistently drawn the most acclaim and earned the town the sobriquet “the Marble City.”

al-sylacauga_marble_quarry_2

Alabama Marble Cutting Board, Serving Tray, or Cheese Board

Edward Gantt spotted large deposits in Sylacauga

The first person to exploit Alabama’s marble resources was physician Edward Gantt, who in around 1814 spotted large deposits of marble while traveling through present-day Sylacauga with Gen. Andrew Jackson. Gantt returned to the area in 1820 and bought a large amount of land with significant marble deposits. He was too busy with his medical practice, however, to make much use of them, although he kept the quarry until his death in 1887.

Sylacauga hosts an annual Magic of Marble Festival starting around the second week of April bringing together a hand full of sculptors from across the U.S. and Canada to socialize and learn from special guest artists from Italy.  The 2015 Marble Festival will be held April 7-18.

Gantt’s quarry marble is in the Washington Monument

Gantt’s quarry (below) was worked before the Civil War, and produced a high quality marble. A stone from Gannt’s Quarry was presented by the Masons of Alabama to the Washington Monument Society in 1851 and was incorporated into the monument. Structural and dimensional stone, calcium, and materials for roofing and terrazzo floors are now produced at the Quarry (1966). As with most active quarries, facilities at the site have been consistently modernized throughout the twentieth century.

gannt's quarry

The first successful marble mining operation in Alabama had its beginning at a very early period of the State’s history. A quarry was opened near Sylacauga, in Talladega County, in the 1830’s and operated profitably for many years.  Four brothers—Scotsmen—George Herd, David Herd, Alexander Herd, and Thomas Herd, developed the enterprise. Their finished product consisted chiefly of tombstones, urns, statues, and others.

Main deposits found in the southeastern portion of the Coosa Valley

The main deposits of true marbles in the State are found in the  southeastern portion of the Coosa Valley region, in the more or less metamorphosed strata, although some are found in all the limestone and dolomite formations. The best, or most crystalline, are along the great Talladega  thrust fault that divides the Coosa Valley from the crystalline strata.

Marble of fair quality and considerable quantity exists in Bibb, Calhoun, Cherokee, Chilton, Coosa, Jefferson, and Shelby Counties, but the best and largest deposits are in Talladega County, most of them of white, bluish, and dark colors, which take a superior polish. The prevailing color is white, or of a creamy tint, particularly desirable for interior finishing and decoration. The product of the Talladega County quarries is said to have the fine uniform crystallization of statuary marble and to be unsurpassed in carving qualities.wsahington-monument

Alabama marble is well adapted to exterior use, being a very pure carbonate of lime, exceedingly strong and durable, but much of it is almost too fine for such use. Its texture, its lustre, its tinting make it eminently suitable for interior and decorative work.

Block of marble from Talladega forms part of Washington Monument

A block of marble from the Gantt quarry, Talladega County, 4 feet long, 2 feet high, and 12 inches thick, forms a part of the Washington Monument. It was presented by the Grand Lodge of Masons, pursuant to a resolution adopted December 6, 1849, and bears the inscription:

“Alabama Marble.

Presented by the M. W. Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons

of the State of Alabama

to the Washington Monument Society.”

Quarries were worked before the Civil War

The following quarries are known to have been worked before the Civil War: Gantt’s and Herd’s, near Sylacauga; Nix’s near Sycamore; Bowie’s near Rendalia; and Taylor’s and McKenzie’s near Taylor’s Mill, east of Talladega. During 1914 [the latest available figures] three companies reported production of marble, two in Talladega and one in Coosa County.

The State geologist says of the product of these quarries:

I think it is fairly safe to say that on the whole the marble from this quarry and immediate vicinity is of the highest grade of commercial white marble now on the market and obtainable in large quantity. There are small quantities of marble produced both in Italy and Vermont that are somewhat freer from coloring matter than the best grades that can be produced in Alabama in any quantity. But on the other hand, the poorest grades in Alabama greatly surpass the poorest grades produced elsewhere, so that the average of the Alabama deposit is probably somewhat higher than that of any other so far developed, not excluding even the marble from the Carara district in Italy. The marble from this State (Gantt’s Quarry) has now a well-established reputation and has been used in more than 200 important buildings throughout the United States.”

Sculptor Giuseppe Moretti associated with Alabama’s marble industry

Italian sculptor Giuseppe Moretti is the individual probably most associated with Alabama’s marble industry. He arrived in Alabama in 1903 and changed the face of the marble industry in a number of important ways. Moretti first encountered Alabama marble while working on a commission for Birmingham’s cast-iron Vulcan statue, that city’s contribution to the St. Louis Exposition. He created a marble piece for the expo as well — the Head of Christ — which captured as much attention as Vulcan. (A favorite of Moretti’s, it currently resides on the third-floor landing of the main staircase at the Alabama Department of Archives and History in Montgomery.)

Moretti established a studio near Sylacauga and soon convinced investors to join him in developing a marble quarry. He made several attempts at quarrying, the most successful being the Harrah-Moretti Marble Company, with partner C. J. Harrah formed in the early 1920s. Continued sculpting commissions, however, kept Moretti too busy, and he was never able to capitalize upon his business opportunities.

Alabama marble designated the official state rock

Alabama marble was designated the official state rock symbol in 1969. The major source of Alabama marble is in an area known as the “Sylacauga marble belt” in Talladega County. The marble from this area has been called the whitest marble in the world. Well known for it’s high-grade crystaline texture and beauty, Alabama marble has been used in buildings and monuments for over 160 years.

Alabama Marble Cutting Board, Serving Tray, or Cheese Board

Vinegar of the Four Thieves was a recipe that was known for its antibacterial, antiviral, antiseptic and antifungal properties for years. It was even used to cure the Bubonic Plague. See Thomas Jefferson’s recipe and much more in VINEGAR OF THE FOUR THIEVES: Recipes & curious tips from the past

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About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and www.daysgoneby.me All her books can be purchased at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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9 comments

  1. Sylacauga is my home town. I grew up riding my bicycle in/around the quarries, many great memories of this area and have seen our marble im many famous places. Thanks for the article.

  2. Janett Williamson

    Moretti once lived in Oldfield Uncle Joe Hickman worked for him..

  3. Deb Clay

    That is so interesting! !!!

    1. Craig Miller

      Yep…this is about 2 miles from me.

  4. Tom Phillips

    Sylacauga is world famous for its white marble. I believe the Magahey family used to own these mines. The brother Fred of Columbiana’s late Karl C Harrison, was married to one of the girls.

  5. MIke Armstrong

    Yet the Harbert center is italian marble.

  6. Carter Bartlett

    Very interesting story I didn’t know this

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