The History of Crab Orchard Stone in Crossville, Tennessee

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Crab Orchard stone is a rare sandstone quarried from the Crab Orchard Mountain of the Cumberland Plateau. Predominately rose in color, this mottled stone is streaked in irregular patterns by different shades of brown. Its unique and beautiful color was used mostly for chimneys and foundations in the immediate region until the late nineteenth century, when Cumberland County officials built a courthouse with the stone and erected stone curbing and sidewalks in Crossville.

In Cumberland County, you can see this stone in use in the hundreds of "Homestead Houses" that were built during the depression as part of the New Deal. The historic "Homestead Tower", the showplace of the New Deal, is another example of the beauty of this stone, as is the dam at the Cumberland Mountain State Park. It can be found in several government and commercial building throughout the area, including Homestead and Crab Orchard Schools, The Greater Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce, Crossville Church of Christ, Crossville's old post office and jail, First National Bank, and Cumberland County High School.

                                   ( Homestead Tower Made of Crab Orchard Stone )

In 1991, Crab Orchard Stone was used for renovations at the vice presidential residence in Washington D.C. Other notable places where this stone has been used include: The parking lots at Rockefeller Center in New York; Detroit's United Auto Workers headquarters; Atlanta's Cathedral of St. Philip; Washington's Internal Revenue Service Building; the Church of Heavenly Rest in New York; the Nintendo office building in Honolulu; and the courts and walks around President Franklin Roosevelt's pool in Hyde Park, and Elvis Presley's pool at Graceland. Former Tennessee Governor Ned McWherter is using it in his new home in Paris, Tennessee.



 ( Cumberland County Courthouse built in 1905, made from Crab Orchard Stone )

                        ( fireplace made from Crab Orchard Stone )

Crab Orchard was given its name to a rare type of durable sandstone found in its vicinity. First used in local structures and sidewalks in the late 1800s, the Crab Orchard stone gained popularity in the 1920s and was used in the construction of Scarritt College in Nashville. Numerous buildings in Crossville, including the Cumberland County Courthouse, have been constructed with Crab Orchard stone.

                                      ( Crab Orchard with Big Rock Mountain in the background )

Crab Orchard's position in a gap in the Crab Orchard Mountains made it an early "gateway" to the Cumberland area as early as the late 1700s. Pioneers passing through the area named it for its abundance of wild crab apple trees. In the 1780s, a road was built through the gap to help provide protection for travelers migrating from East Tennessee to the Nashville area. The historian J.G.M. Ramsey reported several Cherokee  and Shawano attacks at "the Crab-Orchard" during a period of heightened tensions between Native Americans and encroaching Euro-American settlers in the early 1790s. Around 1792, a small band of troops led by Captain Samuel Handley was attacked by a mixed group of Cherokee, Creek, and Shawano at Crab Orchard, ending in Handley's capture. In April of 1794, a group of travelers were ambushed by a band of Creeks, killing early Cumberland County settler Thomas "Big Foot" Spencer. A few weeks later, a "Lieutenant McClelland" was attacked and routed by a band of Creeks at Crab Orchard.

In the late 1700s, as Cherokee attacks subsided, the Walton Road was built as part of the stage road system connecting the Knoxville and Nashville areas. The road passed through Crab Orchard, bringing a steady stream of travelers and migrants to the area. Around 1800, Sidnor's Inn opened at Crab Orchard, with Bishop Francis Asbury being among its earliest guests. In 1827, Robert Burke, whose wife operated a tavern at what is now Ozone established the Crab Orchard Inn, which would remain open until the early 1900s.

Although one of the oldest communities in the Cumberland area, Crab Orchard was not officially incorporated until 1973. 

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Comments (8)

Linda Scanlan
A Fan of AR - Burleson, TX
Melissa, I used to have a chunk of this stone, but somehow over the years have lost it. It reminds me of the pink granite we have here in Texas. It's a gorgeous rock!
Jan 31, 2008 12:30 AM
Vanessa Stalets
RE/MAX Elite - Brentwood, TN
REALTOR, Brentwood TN Homes, Real Estate

Very cool, I found this close up of it. It looks pretty! Also looks like it has a lot of longevity.

Crab Orchard Stone

Jan 31, 2008 01:16 AM
Laura Cerrano
Feng Shui Manhattan Long Island - Locust Valley, NY
Certified Feng Shui Expert, Speaker & Researcher
Melissa, That is so interesting, I've never heard of the stone but imagine I've seen it.  The buildings and areas look beautiful.  (I like the close up as well)
Jan 31, 2008 07:44 AM
Jo-Anne Smith
Oakville, ON


I enjoyed reading this post immensely.....largely in part due to your excellent writing abilities, and also due to the fact that stone buildings have always fascinated me and so has history!  The name of this stone is so beautiful and almost matches it's beauty.  I would love to have a house built out of Crab Orchard Stone.


Jan 31, 2008 10:47 AM
Cris Burlew
Beach & Luxury Realty, Inc. - Saint Pete Beach, FL
Broker ~ St Pete Beach FL Real Estate
Thank you for the history lesson. I too had never heard of it, but probably have seen it.
Jan 31, 2008 01:05 PM
Deb Brooks
Brooks Prime Properties Wichita Falls Texas - Wichita Falls, TX
Melissa, I think this is prettier than Austin stone. I like the variations of color and shape. It makes a beautiful building. Talk to you soon! Deb
Jan 31, 2008 01:13 PM
Candy Henthorne
Results Realty - Spring, TX
Spring Texas Real Estate
Melissa - I have never heard of the Crab Orchard stone either, but I find it fascinating and beautiful. I learned something new today.
Feb 03, 2008 05:47 PM
TeamCHI - Complete Home Inspections, Inc.
Complete Home Inspections, Inc. - Brentwood, TN
Home Inspectons - Nashville, TN area - 615.661.029
Melissa, good localism post. I have been through Crab Orchard, TN several times while traveling through this area. I really like riding my motorcycle through the plateau. I have a lot of good memories traveling the highways and byways in this area.
Feb 29, 2008 06:36 PM