- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 5, 2005

FRIENDSVILLE, Tenn. — With diamond-tipped saws and gushing jets of water, the last active quarries for a distinctive pink and reddish-brown marble exclusive to eastern Tennessee are being mined for a major addition to the U.S. Capitol.

Eleven-ton blocks are being quarried from outcroppings in the southern Appalachian hills, formed from the beds of ancient shallow seas 300 million years ago.

Sliced, shaped and polished, the marble is then sent 500 miles north to Washington.

“Oh, it is a once-in-a-lifetime order,” said Monica Gawet, owner of Tennessee Marble Co., about 25 miles south of Knoxville.

The architects of the three-level visitor center taking shape beneath the East Front of the Capitol wanted to match the stone with what was used in the House and Senate wings in the 1850s.

That meant sandstone from Pennsylvania, granite from Minnesota, and pink and cedar marble from Tennessee.

“There really aren’t a lot of options for pink marble in this country, and we do have a ‘Buy America’ clause,” said Tom Fontana, spokesman for the Capitol Visitor Center project.

More than 35 tractor-trailer loads of marble from Miss Gawet’s company and from nearby Tennessee Valley Marble Co. are being furnished for the visitor center, which is expected to open next year.

The stone will adorn large indoor spaces — a great hall at the entrance, dining areas and bathrooms.

Miss Gawet’s company is supplying about 25,000 square feet of pink tiles, some up to 5 feet long, for a featured pattern in white marble floors. Tennessee Valley Marble is producing more than 1 million pounds of cedar-colored stone fashioned into thick baseboards, wainscoting, railings and stair treads.

The price of the marble accounts for about one-fourth of the $35 million interior stone and installation contract, according to contractor Boatman & Magnani of Capitol Heights.

Using Tennessee marble also is in keeping with some of the city’s other major buildings.

“It is all over Washington,” said Tennessee Valley Marble President Tom White, noting its use at the National Archives, the National Gallery of Art, the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, the Smithsonian Institution and Washington National Cathedral.

Miss Gawet said the stone’s appeal includes both its durability and beauty.

Tennessee marble can be found only along a narrow 120-mile geologic path known as the Holston Formation.

The seams rise and fall and frequently fracture, and only about 20 percent of the stone pulled from a quarry ends up as a finished product after processing, leading to higher prices.

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