As you’ve no doubt discovered if you’ve been reading my column for long, Cherokee County lies within the Georgia Gold Belt. Gold has contributed significantly to the economy throughout time. In fact, mining for gold even predates the Cherokee people settling in this region.
It might come as a surprise, however, for you to discover that as valuable as it is, gold isn’t the greatest mineral wealth in this county’s history. That honor belongs to metamorphosed limestone, also known as marble. The range of marbles found and mined in Cherokee, Pickens and Gilmer counties is vast, including Creole marble (which is white and blue/black), Etowah marble (which comes in pink, salmon and rose shades) and Murphy marble (which is white).
To give you some idea of how significant north Georgia marble is on the world stage, here is just a partial list of structures constructed with one or more of these marble types, mined right here:
- The U. S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
- The Federal Reserve Board Building, in Washington, D.C.
- The John Adams Building in Washington, D.C.
- The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland (Ohio)
- The Swan Building in New York City
- The Chicago Water Tower
- The National Aeronautical and Aerospace Museum, in Washington, D.C.
- The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
More than half of all headstones at Arlington National Cemetery and 60% of all the national monuments and memorials in Washington, D.C. were wrought from north Georgia marble. And as impressive as all this might sound, it’s estimated that, at most, only 10% to 15% of the marble available here has been quarried; the rest is still there.
Locally, you can see this same marble used as the building materials for One Georgia Center in Atlanta, the Tate House in Pickens County and the Cherokee County Courthouse in Canton. And the center of all this industry is Nelson, which sits in both Cherokee and Pickens counties. The founding of the marble industry in the area is what ultimately drove the railroads to expand from Marietta to what is now known as Nelson in 1883, and the story of the man who built the Georgia Marble Co., Col. Stephen C. Tate, is worth telling.
Tate was born in 1832 and moved to Pickens County (then still Cherokee County) at a young age. When he was 20, he left for California to mine gold, but by 1855, he was back in Georgia, operating a business in Cartersville. In 1857, he married Eliza Buffington of Griffin.
When the Civil War started, Tate enlisted. At the war’s end, he went back to the family homestead in Pickens County, where he turned his attention to developing the marble industry.
Marble is heavy and expensive to transport; he became instrumental in bringing the railroad to Nelson in order to service his fledgling business. At the same time, he was buying out as many of the local marble businesses as he could to consolidate the industry. In 1884, he officially founded the Georgia Marble Co., and when he died in April 1901, he was vice president of the Georgia Marble Co. of Tate, the Blue Ridge Marble Co. of Nelson and the Kennesaw Marble Co. of Marietta. Not everyone was willing to sell out, however. One company, in particular, Georgia Marble Finishing Works of Canton, was operating independently well into the late 1940s.
In those days, structural stone was the material of choice for large buildings. These days, steel girders and concrete dominate the construction industry. While today’s building standards often don’t employ solid marble, marble facades on buildings remain popular, as do marble monuments and memorials.
Setting industrial economics aside, one of the proudest accomplishments of the marble industry might have been its inclusivity. It recruited immigrants from Scotland and Ireland as mining experts and employed marble workers and stonecutters from Italy and set them to work alongside white and Black Americans to share their expertise. One reason for the industry’s success, undoubtedly, was its willingness to bring in experts from all across the globe and use them to educate local residents who were willing to work to gain the expertise it had so diligently recruited.
Cherokee County flourished to a great degree due to the existence and development of cutting-edge transportation options connecting it with the rest of the world. In the days before European migration, the Etowah River served as the conduit. Thanks, in part, to Georgia marble, the railroad, which had large sections running alongside the Etowah, served as the next game-changing transportation conduit. More recently, the development of the Interstate 575 corridor serves as the most current iteration of modern transportation options, but that is yet another story, best left for another day.
– The Wanderer has been a resident of Cherokee County for nearly 20 years, and constantly is learning about his community on daily walks, which totaled a little more than 2,000 miles in 2022. Send questions or comments to email@example.com.