For the last several years our editor has volunteered to lead one of the Marble Festival quarry tours. These are easily the highlight of the festival, especially for out-of-towners. Over the past three decades, the Chamber has carried hundreds of passengers around the county, traversing our scenic roads and stopping at the Marble Museum in Nelson and at the working marble operations of Blue Ridge Marble & Granite, Polycor, Imerys and Huber.
All the marble companies do fantastic jobs with friendly and knowledgeable real life marble miners on hand to answer the dozens of questions that range from geologic (how deep does the marble vein run?) to the routine (how does the water get in the quarries?)
Our editor this year had a group from Alpharetta who got lost on the way here, missed their original tour, had already spent way too long on a bus, and weren’t in the best of moods.
But by the time they saw all the vintage photos at the Nelson Marble Museum and had a marble carver discuss making VA headstones, carving flowers, and other finer points of his work, the morning snafus were long-forgotten. In fact, they were engrossed, wishing their tour wasn’t being cut short by a scheduled return to the metro area.
Another group up from Savannah who didn’t take the tour asked why the festival is called the Marble Festival? When they found out Pickens County is the Marble Capital of the World, and that our marble was used to make the Abraham Lincoln statue at the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington Cemetery headstones they were impressed, interested, and wanted to know more.
Growing up around the marble here, with large blocks of it visible on roadsides, you can come to take it for granted. Tate Elementary, the Tate House, the county courthouse and the old convict camp on Camp Road are all made of marble, but because we drive by them all the time we may not appreciate how special they are. Out of towners, however, are amazed.
When you take into account those reactions from people on quarry tours and tourists’ reactions to our marble buildings, then see people at the festival leaving with the largest “scrap” pieces of white stone they can carry, you realize our heritage is not something to take lightly.
Unfortunately, as explained to the tour group, barring Tate Day (Saturday, Nov. 4th) and the Marble Festival, the quarries and mines are working industries and for obvious reasons the public is not allowed to wander in and ask questions. The Nelson Marble Museum is open but won’t have guides and may not have anyone on hand depending on what business is underway in city hall.
As we have editorialized before, particularly regarding the mostly unused Tate Depot, it’s a tough budgetary call to operate historic attractions. Would there really be enough visitors to cover salaries and management? Our editor will attest that the group he guided around the county wanted to come back and spend more time, but you have to reach others - no small feat, but a worthwhile goal.
Also not to be overlooked are comments about our quaint back roads.
The difference from the metro-area was easy to see by the expression of the Alpharetta bus driver who was skeptical when told he could leave his bus sitting in a Nelson street for a few minutes.
The rural lifestyle and views from Jasper are also an asset we need to foster. It is becoming more-and-more unusual to have a place you can drive around without constant congestion and with nice scenery.
For both the monuments of stone and solitude on back roads, we should all be appreciative of Pickens County.