May 2017 Meeting

Monday, May 8, 2017
6:00 - 7:30 pm

Pellissippi State Technical Community College
10915 Hardin Valley Road, Knoxville
J.L Goins Administration Building


A Knoxville Heritage: “Tennessee Marble”

Dr. Don W. Byerly
Professor Emeritus
Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences
University of Tennessee,
Knoxville, Tennessee


There are few industries that have had as historic and enduring effect on architecture across our nation as the marble industry of East Tennessee. Because “Tennessee Marble” has national and international identity and the requisite attributes, it is being nominated for recognition as a “Global Heritage Stone Resource” - “Tennessee Marble”. The Holston Formation aka “Tennessee Marble”, though not steeped in antiquity as many European stones, has been quarried continuously in Tennessee for lime and dimension stone since colonial times in North America. The white to red, massive, coarse-grained limestone occurs as a conspicuous stratigraphic unit within the Middle Ordovician Chickamauga Group in the Valley and Ridge province of East Tennessee. The formation is a reef mass consisting mainly of bryozoan colonies, pelmatazoa and lime mudstone deposited along the hinge of a tectonically subsiding basin southeast of the reef. The mass is 100 m thick and extends along northeast-southwest trending strike belts for nearly 100 km. Though not marble in the metamorphic sense, it is crystalline, takes a high polish, and posesses physical properties that surpasses many metamorphic marbles. Its chemical purity and physical properties have made it a popular choice among architects, sculptors, and chemists for over 200 years. The first published mention of marble in Tennessee was in the late 1810’s as natural scientists, itinerant ministers, and various travelers noted this attractive rock unit. Their accounts appeared in publications such as the American Journal of Science (Kain, John, 1818). The first noted use of the native stone was in construction of Francis Alexander Ramsey’s home, Swan Pond, built of hewn pink marble as designed by Thomas Hope. In 1814 U.S. Congressman John Sevier, first governor of Tennessee extended the potential market for the stone when he took a sample to Giovani Andrei, Italian marble worker working on the U.S. Capitol. Andrei declared the stone to be fine and valuable. Subsequently after considerable national debate over appropriate construction material for federal buildings, Tennessee marble appeared in three significant architectural interiors in the 1850’s – Washington National Monument, Tennessee State Capitol and U.S. Capitol Extensions. Tennessee along with Vermont and Georgia has always been ranked as the top three marble producers in the U.S. despite not being – in 1956 Tennessee led the nation in marble production. “Tennessee marble” has been used in sculptures, major building interiors and exteriors in at least 35 U.S states and Canada and continues to be used today.


Page updated May 26, 2018