Of structure and society : Tennessee marble in civic architecture /

No Thumbnail Available
Knowles, Susan
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Middle Tennessee State University
The success of the Tennessee marble industry is due to a combination of cultural idealism and economic imperatives. Desire for marble building materials can be traced to the marriage of architecture and political idealism of the early national period. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson wanted the buildings of the national capital to represent republican strength and incorruptibility. Under the influence of Benjamin Latrobe and others familiar with neoclassical styles in England and France, the building programs of the new nation reflected the long-lasting monuments of classical antiquity---both in style and materials.
Nineteenth-century amateur scientists were fascinated by America's natural resources. Geology quickly evolved from pure scientific inquiry to resource development. States like Tennessee commissioned geological surveys with a view to exploiting their natural resources, and geologists may well have been responsible for establishing the Tennessee "marble" brand. After a national political debate over appropriate construction materials for federal architecture, Tennessee marble appeared in three significant architectural interiors of the 1850s: The Washington National Monument, Tennessee State Capitol, and United States Capitol Extensions. While individual actors involved in these projects influenced the industry's rise, the development of railroad transportation directed where marble was used and how it was promoted.
Tennessee marble became widely available by rail at the same moment as American Renaissance architecture came into vogue. Even though, by this time, it was understood by geologists to be a semi-crystalline limestone, it continues to be called marble to this day. The popular colored stone appeared as interior decoration along the new urban corridors created by railroad expansion. By the early 1900s, it was also the material of choice for prestige exterior construction, such as that of the Morgan Library. The steady national building boom that supported the industry well into the 1920s had begun to wane by the Great Depression. While a wave of New Deal federal buildings revived demand briefly, only one Tennessee marble firm survives today. Yet the ongoing preference for classical style in public buildings, whose architectural programs require long-lasting materials with high-crushing thresholds and non-absorbing surfaces, continues to create intermittent demand for Tennessee marble.
Adviser: Carroll Van West.