By Dan Pool
Pickens is not alone with a mining history in this area considering the Copper Basin right up the road. But with products from under our soil on grand display at the Lincoln monument and the U.S. Capitol, plus dozens of formidable buildings across the nation, we clearly can boast the most impressive legacy.
The Copper Basin may have employed more miners at its peak, but most of what they dug up went into chemicals and industrial products.
Right here our Oglethorpe Monument, the marble courthouse, Tate school, Tate mansion, and working marble operations give a impressive glimpse of our past.
Regrettably our namesake resource is put to little use in drawing tourists. Plain ol’ apples one county north and the former copper operations in the smaller town of Ducktown have been used far more effectively to their communities’ benefit.
An example of where we have come up short is with our marble museum. The museum is located in the back of Nelson City Hall. It has displays of old photos and old tools with written descriptions of geology and local history.
The displays there are nice; history has been preserved, but it has never been given the resources to reach its potential as a visitor center/museum.
The marble museum started as a great idea without an operating plan. Created more than decade ago, the museum landed in some un-used space at the chamber. Ccommunity leaders, those desiring tourism and seeing history preserved sought a museum and everyone jumped on board without having a proper space or plan of who would handle visitors on a daily basis.
The museum lingered while the chamber staff both ran their office and fielded questions on the displays at the same time. The headache of operating a museum out of former storage continued until the city of Nelson graciously took it.
In Nelson, Mayor Larry Ray said visitor flow hasn’t been a problem, but the head count is far below what it could easily reach.
There are no signs anywhere (even on the building) to let any one know the marble museum is inside. Imagine what just one sign on the four-lane might do for the numbers? More than a city hall staff could handle?
During the recent July 4th holiday, I had the chance to visit the Ducktown historical museum at the Burra Burra mine. Their museum is in an old mining company headquarters, well-marked, features a whole (though small) building of displays and a short audio/visual presentation of the history of Copper Basin mining. They have some old mining equipment outside and the parking area offers a view of the collapsed Burra Burra mine. They charge a small admission fee.
While there, a steady stream of visitors came through. It would be unfair to compare any direct numbers; with the Blue Ridge railway, Ocoee River, Lake Blue Ridge, mountain cabins all in that area, the mine is likely a side trip.
Here, our museum might only create a short break for people heading north, but those getting off the four-lane might also find a restaurant or store they like.
An interesting opportunity right now is that the city of Nelson is trying to sell two older buildings in their downtown. For a county project, making one of them an independent marble museum should be looked at. This time recognizing that a museum needs staffing, not to mention, signage and promotion. With more space, the museum could also be expanded.
It’s possible that the buildings won’t work as a museum for a variety of reasons. And Nelson certainly shouldn’t be expected to finance this project alone. But if not there, we should still take measures to put the best light possible on what we already have. Revitalizing the marble museum should be a goal by the chamber, economic development people and county/city governments.
Our world-class marble is naturally underground. We need to make sure our heritage isn’t similarly out of sight.