Written by Jan Walsh
Photography by Beau Gustafson
Alabama white marble may be Alabama’s best kept secret. The Alabama Marble Belt is situated approximately 45 miles southeast of Birmingham, where it runs 32 miles long, a mile and a half wide, and 600 feet deep. For more than 160 years, marble has been quarried in Sylacauga and Talladega County. Yet most Alabamians would not recognize Alabama white marble even if it were right under their cocktails at Highlands Bar and Grill’s marble bar.
Alabama white marble boasts a reputation for being the whitest and strongest in the world. Here in Birmingham, it can be found in the John Hand Building, Vance Federal Courthouse, Lyric Theatre, and many others. In Washington D.C., it is found in the Washington Monument, The Great Hall of the U.S. Supreme Court, the Capitol’s bust of Abraham Lincoln, and the Lincoln Memorial. It also remains in historic homes and buildings in Alabama and beyond.
In recent times a long period of underinvestment in the quarry resulted in much unearthed stone. But due to the new investment of two related companies, TBGS Holdings and JB Processing, LLC, the future of Alabama white marble has never been brighter. These companies are reclaiming the quarry and reintroducing the marble to the marketplace. TBGS acquired Sylacauga Marble Company and renamed it Sylacauga Marble Quarry. And JB Processing, LLC (doing business as Alabama Marble, Mineral and Mining Company [AM3]), purchased the assets and management team of Masonry Arts. The JB Processing Factory is currently under construction in Bessemer, Alabama. It will process Alabama white marble and distribute it worldwide. The factory is currently being equipped with state-of-the-art Italian equipment and production lines designed by Mauro Dazzi. “The United States Geological Society values 2015 dimensional stone consumption at $2.51 billion. Of this total, imports made up $2.37 billion, which includes marble, granite, limestone, and other dimensional stones, with exports only being around $80 million,” Claire Burgess, CFO for both companies, explains. “And we want to turn some of those imports into domestic production by fabricating it here.” Once the marble is reintroduced to the market in 2016, it will become consistently available, although not a mass-produced commodity. It will be used in the exterior and interior of buildings and homes. Slabs will be fabricated and sold to distributors and architects. Tile will be fabricated from smaller, non-slab block, which would otherwise have been ground up and used for agriculture, cosmetics, food, roads, or other consumables.
I first discovered Alabama white marble when planning to remodel my master bath in white marble. Inspired by Calacatta marble from hotel stays in Greece, I wanted a “God-made”—rather than manmade—stone bathroom. After looking at Calacatta slabs locally, and finding none to be white enough for me, Fixtures and Finishes’ Shelby Blalock suggested I look at Alabama white marble. I found one slab and fell in love with it, only to learn it was already sold. So I kept searching and found five slabs, in a row, at Surface One in Pelham. Owner Bruce Land had his crew move the slabs side by side for me to choose from. I chose two, and they fabricated the slabs into vanity tops using digital technology to measure my bathroom space.
I also needed marble tiles and trim for the shower, walls, and floors. But none had come to the market yet. So I reached out to AM3’s director of sales and marketing, Jacob Swindal, saying I had two slabs but no tiles. He quickly came to my rescue. We met the same day in the Bessemer marble yard. He opened a box of tiles from a crate and pulled them out one by one. They glistened in the Alabama sunlight with a lustrous, pearly iridescence. Just like the slabs, each one was different but also much like the others. And after placing them alongside one of my slabs, it was obvious they came from the same quarry during the same period of time.
AM3 also accommodated my immediate need of a custom-made chair rail. Over the next few weeks, Jake Williams, of Dan Williams Tile Company, masterfully completed the marble tile installation of the shower, walls, and floor. Specialty Finish and Design added the final polish. And my pristine Alabama white marble, which was quarried in Sylacauga and cut and processed in Bessemer, is now at home in Liberty Park.•