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Made in Appalachia: Beyond Cabins, Crafts, and Coal

A virtual exhibit featuring Artifacts and their stories that explore Appalachian material culture beyond its stereotypical inclusions.

Stone and Minerals

Beyond coal, Appalachia is the source of a great variety of other mineral resources. The geologic processes that created these mountains produced many kinds of rock. People have found many different uses for these minerals, but extracting them from the landscape exacts a heavy toll on the people and the environment. Learning geology is key to understanding Appalachian mineral resources. Mining engineers use geology to find the resources and plan for their extraction.  Citizens need to understand geology to help decide the best ways to use (or not) these resources.

Natural Chalk Sample

[Accession 2014.1.29]

From Spruce Pine District, North Carolina

Chalk is a natural sedimentary rock.  It is a mild abrasive commonly used in toothpaste and other cleaning compounds.  It also is used as filler in putty.  It is no longer commonly used for writing chalk. Other substances have replaced it.

Granite Sample

[Accession 2014.1.26]

From north Georgia

Granite is an important building stone quarried in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.  It is crushed into gravel and cut into blocks.

Gold Nugget

[Accession 2013.33.1]

Weight 0.173 grams, mined from Yahoola Creek, Lumpkin County, Georgia ca. 2012

America’s second gold rush happened in Appalachian North Georgia in 1829 and there is still “gold in them thar hills.”  With gold nearby, In 1838 the U.S. Mint built a branch in Dahlonega, Georgia and minted gold coins there until the Civil War.  The Georgia Gold Rush helped fuel the forced removal the Cherokee Indians in 1838.

Gold dollar coin, struck at the Dahlonega Mint, 1850

Miner in north Georgia, ca. 1830



Quarried in Kentucky

Limestone is a sedimentary rock and is one of the most common rocks on earth.  It is quarried and shaped for building, crushed for gravel,  and used for making cement.

Limestone is abundant across Appalachia from northern Alabama to Pennsylvania. Historically it was very important for making millstones and fences. Now it is primarily a construction stone ground into gravel and riprap in sizes ranging from peas to refrigerators and cut into dimensioned stone. Cement is made from limestone as are some fertilizers.

Millstones from Clay City, Kentucky

House being built from limestone in Virginia.

Marble Building Stone

[Accession 2014.1.4]

Creole Marble Specimen

Quarried in Pickens County, Georgia

[Accession 2014.1.5]

Fragment of Marble Baseboard (1928)

Quarried in north Georgia

Marble is a metamorphic rock, limestone changed by heat and pressure. Creole marble is the white and black variety found in Georgia and North Carolina. It has been used extensively on buildings and monuments in the U.S. 

Marble is a building stone used in some of the best known monuments and public buildings. Most of the marble used in the  U.S. comes from a small area of north Georgia. Native peoples used marble from natural outcroppings. In the mid-1800s a few small quarries and isolated stone masons made monuments. When a railroad line reached the area in 1883, large scale quarrying began, marble finishing factories were built in nearby cities, and marble building stone began shipping in quantity.

Georgia Marble Quarry, Tate, Georgia, ca. 1990

Georgia marble has been used on many well known structures, such as the U.S. Capitol Building and the Lincoln Memorial.  

The Lincoln Memorial is built from north Georgia marble

 Western North Carolina and Tennessee also have areas of marble production.

Cutting marble, ca. 1930

Spruce Pine Quartz Specimens

[Accessions 2014.1.35 & 36]

Quarried in the Spruce Pine Mineral District, North Carolina

It can sell for $50,000 a ton.

Freeduino Microprocessor Board

Spruce Pine quartz has played a role in the manufacturing of integrated circuit chips, like the ones on on this board.  Spruce Pine quartz could have played a part in its manufacture. In 2009, the BBC reported that every computer chip in the world used Spruce Pine quartz in the manufacturing process.

Microcline Feldspar Specimen

[Accession 2014.1.40]

From Spruce Pine District, North Carolina

Restaurant Coffee Mug (ca. 1940)

Made by Carr China Co. in Grafton, West Virginia

This mug likely includes Spruce Pine feldspar. Large amounts of North Carolina feldspar were sold to West Virginia and Ohio china manufacturers.

Spruce Pine Mica (Muscovite)

Spruce Pine District, North Carolina

[Accession 2014.1.23]

Sheet Mica Specimen

[Accession 2014.1.21]

Crushed Mica Sample


[Accession 2014.1.20]

Water Ground Mica Sample

Spackling Paste used for patching drywall and plaster, includes ground mica.

Heating Element

Made of sheet mica, Selected for its heat resistance

Feldspar, Mica, and Quartz into Cups, Capacitors, & Computer Chips

In 2009 the BBC reported that every computer chip in the world used Spruce Pine quartz in the manufacturing process. The Spruce Pine Mining District, 10 miles wide and 25 miles long, stretches through Mitchell, Avery, and Yancey Counties in North Carolina. Since ancient times this small area has been an important part of the world economy as the source of specialty minerals of unusual quantity and quality.

Mica mine near Bakersville, North Carolina, ca. 1880

Mineral processing facility, ca. 1970

Decorative stones from the area were known to native peoples and are found in archeological sites across North America. Feldspar and kaolin may have been mined by the Cherokee and shipped to British ceramic factories in the early 1700s. Mica became important in the early 1800s for its heat resistance properties and even more important in the mid-1800s for its electrical properties. Quartz was once a waste product of mica and feldspar mining, but the extreme purity of Spruce Pine quartz lends itself to modern electronics products.

City of Spruce Pine, North Carolina, ca. 2010

Open pit mine near Spruce Pine, ca. 2010