A physician named Dr. Edward Gantt first discovered Alabama White marble while traveling through present-day Sylacauga, AL, with General Andrew Jackson during the war of 1812. The marble belt, or deposit, runs for a stretch of approximately 35 miles through central Alabama — varying in width from several hundred yards to nearly a mile and a half. Twenty years later, Dr. Gantt began to commercialize and mine the material, and in 1838 the first slabs were sold from the marble belt, but the business wasn’t immediately successful. For the remainder of the 19th century, the strength and beauty of Alabama White marble — coupled with the revival of neo-classical architecture in the U.S. — spawned dozens of mining ventures along the marble belt. In the summer of 2013, Roy V., John B. and Jacob Swindal of Masonry Arts, Inc. teamed up with Claire L. Burgess and Chinese businessman and investor Tan Changyan to form TBGS Quarry, LLC, now doing business as Sylacauga Marble Quarry. Operations of the Alabama White marble quarry started in December 2014, and the team looks to continue development of the quarry for the next couple of years while also producing marketable block in varying color and quality ranges.
“The Swindal family and its background with Masonry Arts, Inc. is intimately familiar with the dimension stone business, and specifically Alabama White marble,” said Roy V. Swindal, CEO of Sylacauga Marble Quarry. “Masonry Arts, Inc. is a specialty contractor with an impressive resume of stone installation projects ranging from the limestone at the Pentagon following 9/11 to the unitized cladding of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to countless federal buildings and courthouses throughout the Southeastern U.S. and Washington, DC.”
For the Swindal family, the opportunity to work with Alabama White marble from the quarry through the end user is a special one for the family. They hope to bring the pragmatism and quality demands of an installation contractor into the quarry to ensure client satisfaction. “The U.S. principals of the Sylacauga Marble Quarry long recognized that the quarry at issue was for sale,” said Roy Swindal. “In fact, we saw value at the quarry for many years, but because of other business opportunities and commitments we never actively pursued purchasing the property. The principal of the prior owner of the property, Purple Mountain Marble Co., is a childhood friend of ours. An opportunistic international investor contacted us over two years ago with a desire to diversify his international portfolio with dimension stone quarries and we contacted our childhood friend.”
The quarry’s previous operator tailored its extraction activities to a small processing operation on-site. Because of that, significant infrastructure changes and quarry development plans needed immediate attention. “The Sylacauga Marble Quarry intends to sustainably and efficiently extract large quantities of sellable marble block,” said John Swindal. “The property was evidently quarried with the intent to service two block cutters on-site and occasionally sell blocks to wholesalers. This represented significant challenges over the course of the first seven months of operation. The methodical widening of the active quarry, need for immediate production and general long-overdue housekeeping of a 50-acre site has proved time-consuming.”
As of now, the company is currently selling mostly blocks to processing companies and distributors, as well as for cut-to-size applications. There are currently 19 employees and the quarry itself produces traditional Alabama White marble, Alabama White with moderate to heavy veining, silver material with light veining, silver material with moderate to heavy veining and pink material with moderate veining.
The quarrying operation includes three Marini diamond wire saws, a Garrone chainsaw, a Marini Voyager hydraulic drilling machine, a Volvo 750 loader and a Volvo excavator. “As our extraction is in its infancy, the production is somewhat misleading, but our average monthly output of sellable block suitable for slabbing purposes, not including tile block or small cut-to-size suitable block, is 70 cubic meters a month,” said John Swindal. “Our production is improving monthly with our one-year goal of 140 cubic meters a month well within reach.”
“One of the most important characteristics of Alabama White marble is its strength,” said Jacob Swindal. “Even in a 2 cm slab, Alabama White requires no epoxy injection of fiberglass mesh backing. The material also displays translucent qualities in these thinner applications, which can be quite appealing to the design community here in the U.S. and abroad.”
The goal of the Sylacauga Marble Quarry is to reestablish Alabama White marble as an internationally recognized brand commensurate in quality, but distinguishable from the classic Italian white materials. “The Renaissance of Alabama White marble is absolutely paramount to the success of this quarry. In five to 10 years, Sylacauga Marble Quarry would like to become internationally renowned for its quality, efficiency and beauty exemplified by its flagship material; Alabama White marble,” said Roy Swindal. ”In order to effectuate this mission, there are incremental goals that must be met. By the end of the first year of operation, the Sylacauga Marble Quarry would like to possess significant block inventory while meeting the immediate demands of its international investors and domestic market.”