The marble industry was once an important sector of East Tennessee’s economy. By the mid-1850s, East Tennessee marble from Knox County had been chosen for the interiors of the Tennessee State Capitol and marble from Hawkins County was being installed inside the new House of Representatives and Senate wings of the United States Capitol. In the decades that followed, East Tennessee’s varicolored marble was sought by architects and patrons for the interiors of public buildings: state capitol buildings, courthouses, and city halls. Tennessee marble would soon also be ordered for high traffic railroad terminal flooring across the United States and Canada.
In the 1870s, with the example of Knoxville’s handsome new Custom House, the marble became known for its strength and durability as an exterior stone. The Custom House marble was extracted from a quarry in the Forks of the River district, near the confluence of the French Broad and Holston rivers. By 1873, this quarry was being operated by the Knoxville Marble Company, one of East Tennessee’s first modern marble businesses. Others were soon to follow on both sides of the Tennessee River, the Crescent Marble Company in the Boyd’s Bridge area providing marble for the Memphis Custom House (completed 1885) and the Ross and Mead Marble quarries, developed by John M. Ross in the Island Home section, furnishing marble for two exemplary museum buildings: the Morgan Library (1906) and the National Gallery of Art (1941). While the Mead quarry pit is now filled with water, the integrity of the Ross quarry has been preserved. Both quarries are situated in Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness, within the Ijams Nature Center. What remains of the industrial landscape includes a rock wall created from marble waste blocks, two intact pits that demonstrate bench quarrying techniques, historic road traces and railroad berms, scattered piles and stacks of marble blocks, and the location of the former railroad bed.
Along this same railroad line, about 4 miles south in the Vestal neighborhood, is the Candoro Marble Company’s office and mill buildings. Candoro, founded in 1914, housed a marble mill, finishing plant, and shipping office for the John J. Craig Companies, which had quarries in both Knox and Blount counties. The company office building, a Beaux Arts masterpiece designed by Knoxville architect Charles Barber in 1923, is a fine example of exterior use of light pink marble. The interior walls and floors served as a showroom for the types and finishes of marble offered by the company.
Reminders of the once prominent Tennessee marble industry can be seen today, in late-19th, early-20th century buildings on Gay Street and other corners of downtown, in building facades, steps and entranceways, and interior lobbies. The Knoxville Post Office and Federal Building on Main Street is a particularly fine example dating from the 1930s. And Knoxville, a city that has won national recognition for historic preservation, continues to embrace its marble heritage in modern buildings. Notice how seamlessly the new three-story East Tennessee History Center adjoins the original Custom House and how the exterior marble of the contemporary Knoxville Museum of Art brings the building’s formal geometry to life.
Ramsey House, Knoxville, Tenn. (1797)
Knoxville Customs House, Knoxville, Tenn. (1874)
James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford, Conn. (1896)
Adriance Memorial Library, Poughkeepsie, N.Y. (1896)
The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, N.Y. (1906)
Mechanics National Bank Building, Knoxville, Tenn. (facade) (1907)
Chilhowee Park bandstand, Knoxville, Tenn. (1910)
The Holston, Knoxville, Tenn. (lower Gay St. and Clinch Ave. facades) (1913)
James J. Hill Research Library and St. Paul Public Library, St. Paul, Minn. (1917)
Richard C. Lee U.S. Courthouse, New Haven, Conn. (1919)
Candoro Marble Company Office/Showroom, Knoxville, Tenn. (1923)
U.S. Post Office and Courthouse, Knoxville, Tenn. (1934)
Tennessee Supreme Court Building, Nashville, Tenn. (1937)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (1941, 1978)
National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C. (1975)
Knoxville Museum of Art, Knoxville, Tenn. (1990)
East Tennessee History Center, Knoxville, Tenn. (2005)
Howard Baker Center for Public Policy, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tenn. (2008)