Hawkins residents’ artifacts from quarry industry answer some questions, raise others

Jeff Bobo • Mar 1, 2017 at 8:54 AM


ROGERSVILLE — The land where the Three Springs Baptist Church was built is located on property that was donated by Fred Netherland, who hauled marble from Hawkins County quarries to a railroad stop in Whitesburg more than a century ago.

On Tuesday, former members of that church Vickie Brady and her mother, Louise Wisecarver, brought old photos and documents related to that marble hauling business, which was based in the community of Three Springs where their ancestors resided.

Historians convened at the Price Public School in Rogersville Tuesday seeking information about the county’s 180-year-old marble industry.

They had asked the public to bring any and all old documents, photographs, family stories or any other type of historic materials related to Hawkins County’s “Tennessee Marble” history.

Information gathered will help solve some mysteries and tell the untold stories of Tennessee’s marble industry, which began in Hawkins County in the 1830s and faded away a century later.

Although dozens of contributors came to share their old photos, documents and stories, some, like Brady and Wisecarver, brought with them a mystery of their own.

“Mr. Netherland had several mules that died in a fire in his barn,” Brady said. “He stopped hauling the marble after his mules died in that fire. He also deeded land to the Three Springs Baptist Church, and that’s where the church is built.”

She added, “What Momma was interested in finding out is, was the barn that burned possibly on the land where the Three springs Baptist Church is built? And, because of the fire, is that why he (deeded) that land to the church?”

Brady and Wisecarver contributed a photo of Netherland’s marble hauling mule train and a photo they believe to be a marble hauling railroad car. They also brought documents such as the Three Springs census from the late 1800s and early 1900s, which shows the Netherland family as neighbors of Wisecarver’s family.

But the barn question remains unanswered for now.

Representatives from East Tennessee PBS, the East Tennessee Historic Society, Hawkins County Archives and Middle Tennessee State University’s Center for Historic Preservation participated in Tuesday’s event, scanning old photos and documents, and recording oral histories. 

Nelson Dalton of Mooresburg brought several old photos.

However, he also brought a mystery in the form of a family portrait he believes to be members of the Galbreath family from the 1890s.

Andrew Galbreath was an early marble quarry owner in what is now the Lakeview community west of Rogersville. Galbreath contributed marble used in 1855 to build the interiors of the two new wings of the U.S. Capitol building.

Dalton isn’t related to the Galbreaths, but he is interested in the history due to his grandparents purchasing a house in 1911 in North Carolina which was built by a Galbreath daughter and her husband. Dalton was also interested in the Galbreath’s connection to the Mooresburg United Methodist Church, which he attends.

Two of Dalton’s photos were of particular interest to the historians. One is an 1890s era family portrait of Joseph and Teresa Galbreath and two daughters. Joseph owned the quarry after his father, Andrew Galbreath, died in 1860.

The other is a 1890s era family portrait of three men and and four women who Dalton believes are all Galbreaths.

“If they’re not, then they would be Galbreath in-laws,” he said.

Dalton can identify two women including Joseph’s daughter Margaret Galbreath-Griever and her daughter.

He thinks the remaining people in the photo may be brothers and sisters, but he can’t confirm that.

“You can see some resemblance, and if we sat down and talked about it, we could see who resembled who in this picture,” Dalton said. “In the census records, you can look and see the difference in ages between the brothers and sisters, but it’s hard to tell. Two of the people are identified and the rest of them aren’t.”

Event coordinator Dr. Susan Knowles from MTSU said Tuesday’s turnout by far exceeded her expectations.

With two hours remaining in the event, more than 50 people had already been interviewed, and their contributions scanned and digitally preserved by archivists.

“We want to make connections with people and throw out a bunch of ideas, names, dates, and places and get them to tell us if they know what might have happened there, or what information they can give us to fill in this marble history,” Knowles said.

She succeeded in making an important connection Tuesday with a descendant of S.D. Mitchell, who along with Orville Rice, founded Tennessee’s first marble company in the 1830s in the Caney Creek community north of Rogersville.

Mitchell and Rice contributed marble to the construction of the Washington Monument in the 1850s, as well as the 1855 U.S. Capitol project

Knowles said information gathered Tuesday will be pieced together with what they already know about East Tennessee’s marble industry. East TN PBS filmmaker William Isom was on hand recording oral histories for a documentary he is making about the history of Tennessee Marble.

Other photos and artifacts will be added to the collections at the Museum of East Tennessee History/Calvin McClung Historical Collection at the Knox County Public Library.

David Edwards of Surgoinsville has no connection to Hawkins County’s marble history, but he is a master marble carver who moved to East Tennessee from New Jersey in 1974 to help build a marble bank in Johnson City.

Edwards, who has been carving marble since 1951, brought antique marble carving tools to the event Tuesday, and will be contributing carving demonstrations to the historical collection.

Knowles said documents and records compiled by Peggy Cook were particularly valuable. They included a list of all 30 quarries that existed in Hawkins County and their locations.

Cook, who volunteers at the Hawkins County Archives, said most quarry land was leased to the operators, and the quarries were operated similar to coal camps.

“I think the reason they brought outsiders in, the people knew what they had, but they didn’t have the financing to bring the big rigging in and the saws, and all the equipment, so they searched outside of the area,” Cook said. “We had a lot of quarries here, but only two or three get a lot of attention.”

The Hawkins County quarry that gets the most attention is the original founded by Rice and Mitchell due to their connection to the U.S. Capitol building and Washington Monument.

Hawkins County historian George Webb contributed what might be considered the Holy Grail of marble history documentation Tuesday in the form of a copy of a handwritten letter by S.D. Mitchell to an official in Washington, D.C. in 1850 about the transfer of marble for construction of the monument.

Webb located the original letter at the state Library and Archives.                                                                             

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