Elberton's world-renowned granite industry continues to grow and maintain its importance to Georgia's overall economy. Statistics for 1996 indicate that Georgia's dimension stone industry, centered in the Elberton Granite District, continues to lead the nation in total production. Industrial expansion in granite quarrying and manufacturing operations has been extensive in this Northeast Georgia community which accounts for more than one-third of all monumental granite produced annually in the United States. A multi-million dollar mechanized growth has taken place in recent years, and sales have increased significantly, enabling the area's leaders to boast proudly that "Elberton Produces More Granite Monuments Than Any Other City in the World."
As any local citizen can testify, "Life in Elberton literally revolves around its rapidly-growing Granite Industry," for the hub of Elberton's economy is found in the busy granite quarries and plants that have experienced phenomenal growth in the past four decades.
In 1976, a Bicentennial Fountain built of Elberton Granite was dedicated and in 1981, the Elberton Granite Association, Inc., opened the Elberton Granite Museum and Exhibit which depicts the rich heritage of the nation's largest quarrying and monument manufacturing district. The 4,800-square-foot Museum, which attracts over 4,000 visitors annually, is believed to be the only one of its type in America, and one of the few such facilities in the world.
Like many other Georgia cities, Elberton has a granite memorial to the Confederacy standing in the middle of its business district; but it also has a granite auditorium, granite road signs, granite monuments to heroes, granite homes, granite banks, and a "Granite Bowl" stadium with 20,000 seating capacity.
Georgia's dimension granite deposits are centered in Elbert, Madison, Oglethorpe, Wilkes, and Green Counties in the Northeastern section of the state. From the year 1889 when Dr. Nathaniel Long opened Elbert County's first commercial quarry, until the present, the granite industry has grown steadily to become one of the nation's principal sources of monumental stone.
At the beginning of 1997, forty-five (45) granite quarries were in operation within a 25-mile radius in Elberton. Over half of these have been producing stone for monuments for more than 30 years and have been quarried to depths as much as 150 feet. The remaining quarries are in various stages of more recent development; but they are vivid evidence of the abundant supply of this natural resource which geologists estimate to be approximately 35 miles long and six miles wide. In addition, Eberton Granite firms own and operate quarries in several other states from which granite is shipped to Elberton for processing.
A measure of the magnitude of the quarrying in and around Elberton is the value of granite products shipped annually. In 1996, sales totaled more than $150,000,000.00. Since 1990, the volume of shipments has increased greatly; and over the past three decades, the sales have more than doubled. Approximately 2,000,000 cubic feet of select blue-gray granite is quarried annually and used as cemetery memorials in all 50 states and several foreign countries.
More than one hundred fifty (150) Elberton manufacturing plants turn rough granite into completely finished memorials or other commercial stone products. Some of these plants are owned by firms that also own and operate quarries; the remaining manufacturing firms purchase their granite blocks directly from the various quarries in the Elberton area.
There are 70 service establishments that operate as suppliers of tools and equipment, designers or drafting services, and transportation firms to assist the quarries and manufacturers. In all, a total of 280 separate companies are operating businesses in granite production or its allied services - proof positive that Elberton justly deserves its claim of being the "Granite Capital of the World."
Approximately 40 percent of the area's non-farm wage earners are employed in some capacity by the granite quarries, plants and service firms. Some 2,300 persons derive their principal income from the Elberton area's granite industry. Each week they are paid in excess of $980,000.00; annually, this is a payroll of approximately $51,000,000.00.
Ninety percent of Elberton's granite production is for cemetery memorials. Over 250,000 monuments, markers, and mausoleums were manufactured in the Elberton area in 1996. There is also an increase in the demand for the area's popular granites for other purposes, including building or structural uses, for curbing, and for interior, ornamental applications.
Elberton granite is mainly composed of grey feldspar, quartz, and mica. Quartz is pure silica, grey to white. Biotite gives Elberton Granite the blue-grey color. Each grain is crystallized; the crystals having been formed when its molten substances cooled and solidified slowly in the depths of the earth.
The granite being quarried at Elberton, Georgia, was intruded as a molten mass of rock material into pre-existing rocks about 400 million years ago. Cooling very slowly deep below the surface, the magma crystallized into the granite used today. When the magma forced its way into the overlying rocks, it had a cooling effect, thus producing a layering of recrystallized rocks. Long periods of erosion and numerous episodes of uplift removed the thousands of feet of surface rock, finally exposing the extensive granite deposits. Thus, the Elberton Granite and all the surrounding rocks are part of what geologists call the "root zone" of the very old Appalachian Mountain chain.
Jet piercing, diamond wiresawing, or high-speed drilling and blasting, are methods used to quarry dimension granite for monuments. In the jet piercing method, a high velocity flame (created by burning oxygen and fuel oil) is directed at the granite to be removed, causing a continuous flaking action. As the flame nozzle is moved up and down, a channel is created around large section in the quarry. In the diamond wiresaw method, a long loop of small steel cable impregnated with industrial diamond segments cuts the sections free from the bed of the quarry. After a section has been completely wiresawed or channeled by the burner, it is separated from the bottom by explosives. Likewise, when high-speed drills are used, rows of drilled holes are loaded with explosives. The explosives are detonated to free the sections of granite on all sides and on the bottom.
The large sections are then broken into workable sizes by wedging. In this process, wedges are driven manually into holes previously drilled along the desired line of cleavage. The sections are readily forced apart and cross-wedged into rectangular blocks. Huge derricks lift these blocks to the quarry's rim.
Requirements for monumental granite are exacting, and only about 50 percent of the granite removed from the Elberton quarries finds its way into finished monuments. The remainder is cosigned to commercial applications such as street curbing or the "grout piles" as waste products.
From the quarry, the large granite blocks are cut into rectangular slabs by huge, computerized, automatic rotary saws with diamond-tipped blades. Other high-tech, automated equipment is used to polish the granite to a high gloss. Highly-skilled stonecutters use pneumatic-powered chisels and hand tools to shape the granite into cemetery memorials. Artistic sandblast craftsmen then use modern equipment to engrave symbolic carvings, pictorial reproductions, and a wide range of lettering styles to personalize the memorial for the purchaser.
Mechanization in the industry has taken many forms. Nearly all firms have modernized their granite processing machinery during the past 15 years; many others have built large additions to their plants; and some have erected completely new facilities. New techniques, such as automatic burners, high-speed drills, or diamond wiresaws in quarrying, or giant diamond saws and automatic polishers in processing, are now common. Estimates place expenditures for new, improved plants and equipment at well over $25 million in the last few years within the Elberton area.
By whatever standard is applied, the impressive scope of Elberton's booming granite industry is evident. By whatever measure, it is a story of progress. The reasons for that progress are not difficult to find. They are mirrored in the confident faces of the Elberton quarriers and manufacturers as they improve their industry today to better serve the growing markets for Elberton Granite throughout the State, the Nation, and the World!
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