Small marble quarries had been active in north Georgia since the discovery in the 1830’s of the rare, bright pink marble that the area is famous for. But under the 3-generation dynasty of the Tate family, the Georgia Marble Company, begun in 1884, rose to monopoly status.
Georgia Marble Company stone can be found in monuments and public buildings around the world, including New York’s Stock Exchange annex, the Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank, the Lincoln Memorial and the twenty-four columns of the east front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Sam Tate (1860-1938), the son of Stephen C. Tate and grandson of founder Samuel Tate took the firm to prominence in Georgia’s marble history. Previously involved in the company’s store operation, Sam Tate became president and general manager of Georgia Marble Company in 1905 (at the urging of his predecessor Henry C. Clement). With the help of family and friends, he acquired 6,791 shares of the stock. He immediately added equipment, changed procedures, cleared quarries, built additional houses for the workers, and hired many more employees to complete “finished” marble products in the mill.
Tate’s business acumen became apparent when the company’s net gain doubled during the following year, and under his leadership, the company entered a new period of rapid growth and expansion.
In 1909 the twenty-five-year lease on the quarries expired and was renegotiated with the Tate family. The resulting transaction made the Georgia Marble Company joint owners of certain marble properties with the Stephen C. Tate Estate, an arrangement that continues to this day.
Georgia Marble Company soon acquired nearly all of the marble quarries and finishing plants of other firms in north Georgia. By 1917, the Georgia Marble Company had taken over the Blue Ridge Marble Company, Southern Marble Company, Amicalola Marble Company, and Kennesaw Marble Company. This left Georgia Marble Finishing Works in Canton as the only remaining independent finishing operation, until it too was purchased by Georgia Marble Company in 1941.
As a result of this consolidation, Georgia Marble Company eventually became the sole producer/manufacturer of Georgia marble. By 1924 the state geologist of Georgia reported that $1,867,000 worth of Georgia marble had been quarried in Pickens County. The company purchased marble interests in other states during the 1920s, thus extending its operations beyond Georgia. The value of the Georgia Marble Company at its peak was reported to be more than $3.7 million.
Sam Tate’s influence extended far beyond the actual marble operations of the company. In the town of Tate, for example, “Colonel Sam” built schools (for white and black students), contributed to churches, and hosted many cultural and educational activities. He paid for roads, installed electrical service, and built a hospital for the town. On the other hand, his benevolent paternalism sometimes turned authoritarian: he demanded that his employees abstain from alcohol, tobacco, fighting, and gambling.
Like other businesses and the public in general, the Georgia Marble Company suffered the destructive effects of the Great Depression that followed the stock market crash of 1929. The company’s success continued through 1932. In 1933 losses were reported to be $225,000, and an attempt to sell the company for $3 million failed. Despite the difficulties, Sam Tate perservered in keeping the company operating, and struggled to retain work opportunities for his many employees. He fell ill in 1936 and became chairman of the company’s board, while his brother-in-law I. P. Morton became president. By the time Colonel Sam Tate died in 1938, the company was struggling for solvency again.