Columbus Marble Works and its architectural culls

It’s an interesting coincidence that this post about the Columbus Marble Works is running the week of Memorial Day, not only because Columbus is a contender as having held the first Decoration Day in 1866, a holiday that later became Memorial Day, but also because this long-time Mississippi business has been producing marble grave markers for military veterans for a long time. In fact, as today’s guest author Jason Bigelow shows us, some of those grave markers have ended up in quite surprising places around Columbus.

Jason is an architect and preservation advocate from Columbus, MS. He has previously served on the Historic Preservation Boards of Southport, NC, and Bay Saint Louis, MS. A graduate of the MSU School of Architecture, he cut his teeth in Jackson working for architects Bill Easom and Larry Singleton, completing preservation projects in Port Gibson and Jackson. Jason’s continued interests and areas of study include the historic architecture of New Orleans, Columbus, and the written landscapes of Tennessee Williams, Walker Percy, and Flannery O’Connor.

Thanks, Jason, for bringing us this post and for introducing us to such a unique aspect of Columbus architecture!


Columbus Culls

Columbus (MS) Marble Works is one of two companies under contract to produce marble monuments for Arlington (VA) National Cemetery. They produce the new and replacement 4” x 13” x 42” rounded top monuments for soldiers lost in all U.S. conflicts, as well as the distinctive pointed top headstones that mark Civil War Confederate graves.

Columbus Marble Works, along with the other contracted company, the Barre based Granite Industries of Vermont, fill all orders for monuments issued by the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs.

Columbus Marble Works was established in 1846 by two Scotchmen, Cornelius and Richard Miller, specifically to produce tombstones, mantles, and memorial urns. Since then, CMW has produced many of the distinctive tombstones and monuments in Columbus’ Friendship Cemetery, long held to be the site of the first Memorial Day in April of 1866.

Friendship Cemetery, Columbus

As orders for monuments poured into the factory, a number of chipped blocks, misprints, mistakes, and lower quality culls created an island of misfit marble. At some point, most likely following the second World War, a number of these stones found their way into retaining walls, rip rap, retrofits, reclads, and artful facades for many buildings around the Friendly City.

A careful eye can still spot infill walls along alleys bearing the pointed tips of 13” marble blocks, shielding the name of a fallen Southern son.

A recent tumble of a planter wall exposed the names of Chester Young and James Rumph, veterans of The First World War, a second stone planted in the South, a duplicate reminder of singular men.

What stories of lives lived are represented by these stones?! To think that today in Virginia, the proud public memorials march in their exact rows, while miles away in Mississippi, their names are still memorialized, though often hidden, etched in stone, and still protecting and shielding many of the homes and edifices around Columbus, Mississippi.



Categories: Architectural Research, Cemeteries, Columbus, Cool Old Places, Vernacular Architecture

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9 replies

  1. When our son died a decade ago, we knew we needed a special marker. We visited several historic cemeteries and decided we wanted one with a sleeping lamb on top. Problem is, most marker today are flat granite slabs that are simply computer etched. We called Columbus Marble Works, and they were able to hand carve the lamb out of a marble marker. Thankful there are still craftsmen able to do this important work.

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  2. this is a very interesting topic, and, i , too, thank mr bigelow for bringing it to our attention. the re-use of old marble items reminds me of the ancient roman marble ‘bits and pieces’ that one sees scattered ‘within’
    later construction all over rome today.

    i recommend going to the marble company’s website, columbusmarbleworks.net— all sorts of facts that could interest ms pres readers; i wondered if there was any ms marble that was ever used but there is no comment, and, i presume not; the stock today comes from all over the world–and, from the company’s origins, presumablay came from elsewhere, too . i also wonder if any of the post bellum civil war memorials were produced by this company–no comment on that, either, ( i do know that several companies, most from the north, created the well know obelisk-types and just changed the uniforms and inscriptions depending on where the monuments were meant to go.)

    speaking of u.s. memorial day origins, ‘contender’ might be the right term for columbus.i live close to waterloo, ny, which beat columbus by a bit in doing ‘something’– and is, officially, the city of origin. but, columbus might sneak in through another angle, since the columbus ladies honored both union and confederate soldiers, and the waterloo, ny event–planned in the summer of 1865 and begun–parade, village draped in mourning, cemetary visits, etc–began on may 5, 1866, and only memorialized union casualties. as one would suspect, there is a lot of ‘back and forth’ on the net about memorial day origins!

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  3. I had never noticed the various marble culls in Columbus before. Next time I pass through town, I will be keeping an eye out. I am more familiar with Sylacauga, Alabama’s history of using scrap marble as a building material, the most famous example of which would be the lost Marble Castle gas station.

    http://sylacauga.net/library/sections/SylacaugaHistoryFact/sylacauga_history_fact%20Marble%20Castle.htm

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  4. In 1942, Columbus Marble Works bought the Alabama Marble Quarry in Sylacauga. The picture suggests it might have been clad in 13” marble blocks? Interesting piece of the puzzle. Do you know when the Marble Castle was constructed?

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  5. yikes! what a structure, and, what a loss!

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  6. The “old” marble works was located within yards of train tracks. I always thought that was for the marble to be delivered and unloaded right at their docks. Some of the old stones in Friendship cemetery must have taken some elaborate rigging to set them, as huge as they are. There are some true works of art in some of those stones. I can’t imagine how hard it was to do all of that without power tools.

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  7. There are also a couple of homes in Columbus that have marble exterior. I think one of them was gutted in a fire a few years ago but the owner was trying to rebuild. It was originally the home of a relative of one of the owners of the Marble Works, but I think it was built during the 60s or 70s, and could only be classified as “vintage”. The other one I don’t know much about.

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