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Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial

the largest high relief carving in the world

Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial

Located in DeKalb County, about ten miles northeast of downtown Atlanta, Stone Mountain is the largest exposed mass of granite in the world. Not surprisingly, the mountain has been a landmark for thousands of years. Granite from the mountain is considered high quality, and blocks quarried from its sides can be found on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. In 1887, Stone Mountain was purchased for $45,000 by the Venable Brothers of Atlanta, who quarried the mountain for 24 more years; descendents of the Venable family retained ownership of the mountain until it was purchased by the State of Georgia in the 1950's.

general location of Stone Mountain

In 1914, Caroline Helen Jemison Plane, head of the Atlanta chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), called for the creation of an organization to lead the construction of a memorial on the side of Stone Mountain. The UDC agreed, and the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial Associaction (SMCMA) was incorporated in 1916. Samuel Venable deeded the north face of the mountain to the UDC that same year, with a stipulation that the memorial be completed within twelve years.

Venable suggested hiring Gutzon Borglum to design and sculpt the memorial, and the SMCMA agreed with the suggestion. The design that Borglum came up with had General Robert E. Lee followed by Confederate President Jefferson Davis and a group of five generals, then 65 staff officers (each of the 13 Confederate states would chose five of their officers to honor) followed by a group of General Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry. Borglum's $8 million estimate, however, was more than the local UDC chapter could raise, so Plane took the idea to the National Organization. They supported the carving, but refused to contribute financially. Borglum then said he could complete the central figures for $250,000, which the local chapter okay'ed. Preparation of the mountain face and erection of scaffolding began in 1916, but U.S. entry into World War I and fundraising difficulties delayed the start of actual carving until 1923. Borglum had only completed Lee's head when, in 1925, a dispute between he and the SMCMA led to him being fired. (Borglum went on to supervise the carving of Mount Rushmore.)

Borglum was replaced by Augustus Lukeman, whose design envisioned two groups, one of four men on horseback, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, "Stonewall" Jackson, and an unnamed color-bearer, and a second group which would later be dropped because of cost and time pressure. After removing Borglum's work, Lukeman began work on his design in September 1926. Work was halted in 1928, however, when Venable refused to renew the lease on the mountain. Once again, only the head of Robert E. Lee had been completed.

The unfinished memorial remained nothing but a tourist curiosity until 1941, when Georgia Governor Eugene Talmadge convinced the State Legislature to form the Stone Mountain Memorial Association (SMMA). Atlanta sculptor Julian Harris was hired to oversee completion of the work and the Works Progress Administration was assigned the task of providing labor, but World War II intervened and interest in the project again waned.

By the late-1950's the state and the public were both ready to see work on Stone Mountain completed. The State of Georgia purchased the mountain and surrounding land in 1958, and Governor Marvin Griffith signed legislation establishing the SMMA as a self-supporting state authority soon after. The state and SMMA agreed to carve the images of Robert E. Lee, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, and Jefferson Davis on the mountain and to construct a plaza at its base. Walker Kirkland Hancock was hired to supervise the work, which resumed in September 1963. An estimated 10,000 visitors attended the memorial's dedication on May 9, 1970, and the work was officially declared complete in 1972.

close-up view of the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial

The entire carved surface of Stone Mountain measures three acres. The carving of the three men towers 400 feet above the ground, measures 90 by 190 feet, and is recessed 42 feet into the mountain. The deepest point of the carving is at Lee's elbow, which is 12 feet to the mountain's surface. The park land around the Memorial now includes golf courses, a railroad, an artificial lake with a Mississippi river boat, an aerial tram to the summit, a museum of automobiles, and exhibits of Southern history. For the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Stone Mountain Park hosted cycling, tennis and archery events.

The official website of Stone Mountain is http://www.stonemountainpark.com/.

INTERNET SOURCES
About North Georgia http://www.aboutnorthgeorgia.com/ang/Stone_Mountain_Carving
New Georgia Encyclopedia http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/geography-environment/stone-mountain

SEE ALSO
General Robert E. Lee
Jefferson Davis
World War I
Mount Rushmore
"Stonewall" Jackson
Works Progress Administration
World War II

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The Robinson Library >> American History >> United States: Local History and Description >> South Atlantic States >> Georgia

This page was last updated on April 21, 2017.