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Stone Mountain

Stone Mountain is a quartz monzonite dome monadnock in Stone Mountain, Georgia. At its summit, the elevation is 1,686 feet (513 m) amsl and 825 feet (251.5 m) above the surrounding area. Stone Mountain granite extends underground 9 miles (14 km) at its longest point into Gwinnett County. Numerous reference books and Georgia literature have dubbed Stone Mountain as “the largest exposed piece of granite in the world". This misnomer is most likely a result of advertisement by granite companies and early park administration. Stone Mountain, though often called a pink granite dome, actually ranges in composition from quartz monzonite to granite and granodiorite. Stone Mountain is well-known not only for its geology, but also for the enormous bas-relief on its north face, the largest bas-relief in the world. The carving depicts three figures of the Confederate States of America: Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis.


The mountain is more than five miles (8 km) in circumference at its base. The summit of the mountain can be reached by a walk-up trail on the west side of the mountain only. The trail starts near the Confederate Hall, inside the west gate entrance. Alternatively, the summit is reachable by the Skyride.

The top of the mountain is a landscape of bare rock and rock pools, and it provides views of the surrounding area including the skyline of downtown Atlanta, often Kennesaw Mountain, and on very clear days even the Appalachian Mountains. On some days, the top of the mountain is shrouded in a heavy fog, and visibility maybe limited to only a few feet. The clear freshwater pools of the summit form by rainwater gathering in eroded depressions, and are home to unusual clam shrimp and fairy shrimp. The tiny shrimp appear only during the rainy season, and it is believed that the adult shrimp die when the pools dry up, leaving behind eggs to survive until the next rains.

The mountain's lower slopes are wooded. The rare Georgia oak was first discovered at the summit, and several specimens can easily be found along the walk-up trail and in the woods around the base of the mountain. In the fall, the extremely rare Confederate Yellow Daisy (Helianthus porteri) flowers appear on the mountain, growing in rock crevices and in the large wooded areas.


Stone Mountain is a pluton, a type of igneous intrusion. Primarily composed of quartz monzonite, the dome of Stone Mountain was formed during the formation of the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Appalachian Mountains. It formed as a result of the upwelling of magma from within the Earth's crust. This magma solidified to form "granite" within the crust five to ten miles below the surface.

The "granite" is composed of quartz, feldspar, microcline and muscovite, with smaller amounts of biotite and tourmaline. Embedded in the "granite" are xenoliths or pieces of foreign rocks entrained in the magma.

The "granite" intruded into the metamorphic rocks of the Piedmont region during the last stages of the Alleghenian Orogeny, which was the time when North America and North Africa collided. Over time, erosion eventually exposed the present mountain of more resistant igneous rock, in processes similar to those that have exposed Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. This vein of "granite" also gave rise to Arabia Mountain and Panola Mountain in DeKalb County, smaller outcroppings further east of Stone Mountain.

The mountain's composition was described by one political commentator - and used as such as a simile for racial segregation in the 1950s - as "soft, exfoliating rock  turns to dust under the hammer."


Early history

Human habitation of Stone Mountain and its surroundings date back into prehistory. When the mountain was first encountered by European explorers, its summit was encircled by a rock wall, similar to that still to be found on Georgia's Fort Mountain. The wall is believed to have been built by early Native American inhabitants of the area, although its purpose is still unclear. Sadly by the beginning of the 20th century the wall had disappeared, the rocks having been taken away by early visitors as souvenirs, rolled down the rockface for fun, or removed by the commercial quarrying operation. The mountain was as well the eastern end of the Campbelton Trail, a Native American path that ran through what is now the Atlanta area.

Europeans first learned of the mountain in 1597, when Spanish explorers were told of a mountain further inland which was "very high, shining when the sun set like a fire." By this time, the Stone Mountain area was inhabited by the Creek and (to a lesser extent) Cherokee peoples. In 1790 the mountain was the site of a meeting initiated by President George Washington in hopes of negotiating a peace treaty with the Creek. Instead a series of wars ensued, and the Creek were forced to cede the land to the state of Georgia in 1821.

In the early nineteenth century the area was known as Rock Mountain. After the founding of DeKalb County and the county seat of Decatur in 1822 Stone Mountain was a natural recreation area; it was common for young men to take their dates on horseback from Decatur to the mountain.

Entrepreneur Aaron Cloud built a 165 foot (50 m) wooden observation tower at the summit of the mountain in 1838, but it was destroyed by a storm and replaced by a much smaller tower in 1851. Visitors to the mountain would travel to the area by rail and road, and then walk up the 1.1 mile mountaintop trail to the top, where Cloud also had a restaurant and club.

Granite quarrying started at Stone Mountain in the 1830s, but became a major industry following the completion of a railroad spur to the quarry site in 1847. This line was rebuilt by the Georgia Railroad in 1869. Over the years, Stone Mountain granite was used in many buildings and structures, including the locks of the Panama Canal, the steps to the East Wing of the United States Capitol and the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Unfortunately, quarrying also destroyed several spectacular geological features on Stone Mountain, such as the Devil's Crossroads, which was located on top of the mountain.

In 1887 Stone Mountain was purchased for $45,000 by the Venable Brothers of Atlanta, who quarried the mountain for 24 more years, and descendents of the Venable family would retain ownership of the mountain until it was purchased by the State of Georgia in the 1950s.


The largest bas relief sculpture in the world, the Confederate Memorial Carving depicts three Confederate leaders of the Civil War, President Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson (and their favorite horses, "Blackjack", "Traveller", and "Little Sorrel", respectively). The entire carved surface measures 3 acres (12,000 m2), about the size of three football fields. The carving of the three men towers 400 feet (120 m) above the ground, measures 90 by 190 feet (58 m), and is recessed 42 feet (13 m) into the mountain. The deepest point of the carving is at Lee's elbow, which is 12 feet (3.7 m) to the mountain's surface.

The carving was conceived by Mrs. C. Helen Plane, a charter member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). The Venable family, owners of the mountain, deeded the north face of the mountain to the UDC in 1916. The UDC was given 12 years to complete a sizable Civil War monument. Gutzon Borglum was commissioned to do the carving.

Borglum abandoned the project in 1923 (and later went on to complete Mount Rushmore). American sculptor Augustus Lukeman continued until 1928, when further work stopped for thirty years.

In 1958, at the urging of Governor Marvin Griffin, the Georgia legislature approved a measure to purchase Stone Mountain for $1,125,000. In 1963, Walker Hancock was selected to complete the carving, and work began in 1964. The carving was completed by Roy Faulkner, who later operated a museum (now closed) on nearby Memorial Drive commemorating the carving's history. The carving was considered complete on March 3, 1972.

Stone Mountain was the setting for the 1915 revival of the Ku Klux Klan. The mountain was the site of annual Klan rallies from 1931 until 1981.

On summer evenings the mountain hosts the Laser Show Spectacular, which uses popular and classic music to entertain park guests with a large fireworks and laser light display. The American Civil War is acknowledged, but the strength of a reunited country concludes the message, with Sandi Patti singing the Star Spangled Banner. There are still old favorites included with the show, “Devil Went down to Georgia”, “Celestial Soda Pop”, and “Trilogy”. There have been several additions to the show for its 25th anniversary.

Carving and the Ku Klux Klan

Ku Klux Klan activities at Stone Mountain are deep-rooted, although the original conception of the memorial pre-dates the 1915 revival of the Klan. The revival of the Ku Klux Klan was emboldened by the release of D. W. Griffith's Klan-glorifying film The Birth of a Nation, and by the lynching of Leo Frank, who was convicted in the murder of Mary Phagan. On November 25, 1915, a group of robed and hooded men met at Stone Mountain to create a new incarnation of the Klan. They were led by William J. Simmons, and they included a group calling itself the Knights of Mary Phagan. A cross was lit, and the oath was administered by Nathan Bedford Forrest II, the grandson of the original Imperial Grand Wizard, Gen. Nathan B. Forrest, and was witnessed by the owner of Stone Mountain, Samuel Venable.

Fundraising for the monument resumed in 1923, and in October of that year, Venable granted the Klan easement with perpetual right to hold celebrations as they desired. Because of their deep involvement with the early fund-raising and their increasing political clout in Georgia, the Klan, along with the United Daughters of the Confederacy, were able to influence the ideology of the carving, and they strongly supported an explicitly Confederate memorial. Of the $250,000 raised, part came directly from the Ku Klux Klan  but part came from the federal government, which in 1924 issued special fifty-cent coins with Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson on them.

Martin Luther King, Jr. mentioned the monument in his 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C., when he said "let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!" Granite suppliers in Georgia sent samples cut from Stone Mountain to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Foundation to be considered for use in a planned monument in King's honor; the Foundation later chose to use granite imported from China.

Aviation incidents

According to George Weiblen's annotated calendar for Monday, May 7, 1928: "Mail plane crashed on mountain at 8:00 P.M."

Around dusk on September 16, 2003, in clear weather, a small airplane circled the mountain five times, then crashed headlong into the south side, bursting into flames and killing the pilot. A witness testifying at the NTSB investigation stated that the pilot, a 69-year-old accountant, had threatened on multiple occasions to commit suicide by flying into the mountain. The official NTSB accident report lists the probable cause as "The pilot's intentional flight into the ground for the purpose of suicide while impaired by alcohol."


Stone Mountain Park, which surrounds the Confederate memorial, is owned by the state of Georgia and managed by the Stone Mountain Memorial Association, a Georgia state authority. The Herschend Family Entertainment Corporation currently has a long-term contract to operate park attractions while the Stone Mountain Memorial Association retains ownership and the right to reject any project deemed unfit.

During the 1996 Summer Olympics, Stone Mountain Park provided venues for Olympic events in tennis, archery and track cycling. The venues for archery and cycling were temporary and are now part of the songbird and habitat trail.

Places of interest
Confederate Hall, operated directly by the Stone Mountain Memorial Association or SMMA, is a museum that educates students and park guests on the geology and ecology of Stone Mountain as well as historical aspects of the area. A small theater shows a historical documentary about the Civil War in Georgia called "The Battle for Georgia".

The education department is host to thousands of students each school year teaching the subjects of history, ecology, and history. Classes are designed to meet the Georgia Performance Standards and the North American Association for Environmental Education guidelines.

The Antebellum Plantation and Farmyard is an open air museum composed of 19 historic buildings, built between 1790 and 1875, which have been re-erected to the site to represent a pre-Civil War Georgia plantation. The historic houses have been furnished with an extensive collection of period furniture and decorations. The farm features live animals that guests can pet.

A 732-bell carillon that originated at the 1964 New York World's Fair, provides a daily concert.

A covered bridge, dating from 1892, which originally spanned the Oconee River in Athens, Georgia.

A grist mill, dating from 1869 and moved to the park in 1965.

Broadcast Tower

The short broadcast tower on the top of the mountain transmits two non-commercial stations: television station WGTV channel 8, and weatheradio station KEC80. FM radio station WABE was located on this tower from 1984 until 2005, when it was required to relocate to accommodate WGTV's digital conversion.

Scenic Railroad

The "Stone Mountain Scenic Railroad" is a standard gauge railroad that circles the entire circumference of Stone Mountain Park in a loop, and provides views of the mountain en route.


The railroad utilizes what was originally an industrial spur built in 1869 by the Stone Mountain Granite Company to serve quarries at the foot of the Stone Mountain, with a connection to the Georgia Railroad's main line in Stone Mountain Village. The railroad later started an excursion service to the mountain. The spur was later abandoned, but the right of way remained in place (though the rails had been removed). In 1962, the present day scenic railroad opened, which had rebuilt much of the old right of way, with additional trackage to create a complete, continuous circuit around the mountain. The mileage of the circuit around the mountain is advertised as being five miles long, however, the actual mileage is 3.88 miles. The Stone Mountain Scenic Railroad, privately-owned at the time, operated steam powered excursions on the restored trackage.

The Stone Mountain Memorial Association (the state-operated owners of the mountain itself) assumed operations of the railroad in 1981. The association expressed little interest in maintaining the steam locomotives, and when the engines became in need of major boiler work or other repairs, the railroad withdrew them and simply ran diesels instead. In 1987, the spur connecting the mountain trackage to the CSX main line was restored, and the railroad hosted several visiting trains, including Savannah and Atlanta Railway steam locomotive number 750.

In January 1998, the railroad was privatized once more when the Memorial Association contracted Silver Dollar City to operate the railroad and the other attractions within the park. Under this arrangement, the state continues to own the railroad, but Silver Dollar now handles the operations and management of the attractions. Silver Dollar City also operates the Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, which has operating steam locomotives, and thus it was believed that, under their management, more effort would be put forth to operate the steam engines again.

Unfortunately, SDC, like the state before it, had little interest in operating the steam engines. Many employees had left, and the SDC's operation of the railroad has been subject to much criticism within the railfan community. In recent years, the spur to the main line was disconnected. It has been thought that when a tourist railroad has a connection to a main rail line, the railroad is subject to FRA regulations, in which case the tourist road, just as the railroad to which it is connected, would be required to maintain its track, infrastructure, and rolling stock to a certain degree of good repair to be permitted to operate. Thus, many view the disconnection as a sign of Silver Dollar City's lack of interest in the railroad as a whole. However, the FRA actually still holds jurisdiction over the railroad operation at Stone Mountain Park and the severed connection simply deems the railroad to be "insular," meaning that it is exempt from certain specific requirements such as the need to observe hours of service rules, and the need for a dispatcher when running more than one train within the park. All equipment and track is maintained to FRA standards and currently (2011) there are major upgrades of the track, and rebuilding projects being carried out on the passenger cars and diesel locomotives. The diesel locomotives received new motors and other upgrades, as well as a new paint scheme. The steam locomotives received some cosmetic restoration at this time as well. The railroad has recently expressed interest in restoring the steam locomotives to operation, but the aforementioned rebuilding and other projects are the current focus.


Stone Mountain originally had three steam locomotives, the "General II," "Texas II," and "Yonah II." The SMRR named the engines after the famous engines of The Great Locomotive Chase, and were given nineteenth century style smokestacks and headlights. However, the engines were actually built between 1919 and 1927, and thus still look noticeably modern, with larger proportions than their ancestors and have more advanced cylinders, valve gear, and other modern applications. While steam engines ceased running in the 1980's, they continued to "pull" trains for some time. In these instances, one of the steam engines was coupled in front of a diesel which, while disguised as a baggage car or auxiliary tender, would push the engine. The diesel's controls were placed in the cab of the engine and its exhaust redirected into the steam engine to allow the steam engine's whistle to sound. Aside from the whistle, the steam locomotive remained inactive, with the diesel being the train's sole motive power.

In the late 1980's and early 90's, the railroad replaced its diesels with ones inherited from the recently dissolved New Georgia Railway. These diesels have pulled trains regularly since. At that time, the steam engines would only be pushed on special occasions, and no attempt was made to disguise the diesel behind it. The practice of pushing the steam engines ended in 2002, and they have since remained within the yard.

The Stone Mountain Railroad currently has the following locomotives:

  • 6143 and 6147 - Two FP7A diesel locomotives built by EMD in 1950 for Southern Railway's Chicago, New Orleans, and Texas Pacific subsidiary. SR successor Norfolk Southern sold these diesels to the New Georgia Railway, and were turned over to Stone Mountain upon the New Georgia's demise. These represent the railroad's primary motive power, one can be found pulling the train on a daily basis. As of the beginning of 2011 both locomotives are undergoing a major rebuild. When finished the two will have new diesel prime movers (the old 567BC engines replaced with 645E prime movers), new main and auxiliary generators, new air compressors, a full 26L air brake system installed, rebuilt trucks with D87 traction motors, rewired with Dash-2 control mechanisms, air conditioned cabs, and upgraded cab layout, repainted in a Central of Georgia style paint scheme, and power generators installed in the rear of the locomotives to supply power for the passenger cars. this upgrades the formerly 1500 horsepower locomotives to 2000 horsepower and extends their life by at least 15 to 20 years.
  • 5896 and 6661 - Two former Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad diesels built by EMD in 1953 and 1956, respectively. 6661 was later transferred to the C&O subsidiary, Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. 5896 is a GP7 class while 6661 is a GP9. These also provide motive power and one will pull the train on days when neither 6143, nor 6147 are available. At the end of 2010, 5896, was rewired, a rebuilt main generator and auxiliary generator installed, 16 all new power assemblies installed in the 567 diesel engine, a full 26L brake system installed and repainted in a Central of Georgia style paint scheme.
  • #110, The Yonah II - a former McRae Lumber & Manufacturing 2-6-2 steam locomotive built by the Vulcan Iron Works in 1927. First steam locomotive to be withdrawn in 1982, and was placed on display after encountering running gear issues in 1984. Currently on display at the Memorial Depot.
  • #60, The Texas II - a former San Antonio and Aransas Pass 4-4-0 built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1923. Through merger, came into Southern Pacific Railroad subsidiary Texas and New Orleans. Paulsen Spence bought the engine for his proposed Louisiana Eastern Railroad and was sold to Stone Mountain after his death. Withdrawn in 1983 when it came in need of boiler work and other mechanical issues, though it continued to occasionally "pull" the train while pushed by a diesel until 2002. Recently, the San Antonio Railroad Heritage Museum has expressed interest in acquiring the Texas II and ultimately make it operable again. For now, however, the Texas II continues to sit in the Stone Mountain rail yards, awaiting whether or not it will operate again. In 2011, the engine received a partial cosmetic restoration, including the removal of the undergrowth and repainting the portions of the engine that are visible to passing trains, similar to what was previously done to the General II.
  • Former Stone Mountain locomotives, no longer at Stone Mountain:
  • "The Dinkey".- Originally Johnstown Traction Company number 358 built by St. Louis Car Company in 1925, as an electric streetcar, and was outfitted with a diesel motor when acquired by the park, eliminating the need for overhead lines. Now at the Trolley Museum of New York, Kingston, New York.
  • #51 - 25 ton diesel switcher built by General Electric for Georgia Power. Current whereabouts unknown.
  • #42, The Mary Payne - 45 ton diesel switcher built by General Electric for the United States Marine Corps. Current whereabouts unknown.
  • Baggage car/tender - An EMD SW1 diesel built in 1946 as Boston and Maine Railroad #1114. Acquired by Stone Mountain in 1973 to assist the steam locomotives. Later fitted with a false baggage car shell when the railroad began to dieselize so as to make the steam locomotive placed in front appear to be pulling the train when, in fact, the diesel was actually powering the train. Sold in 1995 to become Standridge Color's #3 in Social Circle, GA.
  • #104, The General II - a former Red River and Gulf Railroad 4-4-0 steam locomotive built by Baldwin in 1919. Acquired from Spence's Louisiana Eastern along with number 60, both represent two of four LE steam engines still in existence. Withdrawn 1986 due to boiler and mechanical issues, 104 was the last engine to operate under steam at the park. The engine continued to occasionally "pull" the train while pushed by a diesel until 1991. In 2005, the engine was placed on a plinth outside the engine shed and received a new coat of paint on the sides visible to passing trains. The Stone Mountain Memorial Association donated the engine to the Southeastern Railway Museum in Duluth, GA in 2007, and moved to the museum the following year, where it currently resides.
  • #3525, The Big Dixie - a former Illinois Central Railroad 0-8-0 steam locomotive built by Baldwin in 1922. Acquired by Stone Mountain in 1967, sold shortly thereafter when its size and short wheelbase proved to be too heavy for the railroad's sixty pound rails at the time. Currently at Tanglewood Park in Clemmons, NC.

Stone Mountain Trails

Walk Up Trail: A 1.3-mile (2.1 km) trail to the top of Stone Mountain ascending 786 ft (240 m) in elevation to a height of 1,686 ft (514 m) The trail is steep, but spectacular panoramic views and cool winds await tired hikers at the top.

Cherokee Trail: A 5-mile (8.0 km) National Recreation Trail, the Cherokee Trail loops around the mountain base, with a mile section going up and over the west side of the mountain (crosses Walk Up Trail). Primarily passes through an oak-hickory forest, but views of the lakes, streams, and mountain are common. map of Cherokee Trail

Nature Garden Trail: A scenic 3/4 mile loop trail through a mature oak-hickory forest community. Excellent for viewing shade-loving native plants. A small garden with interpretive native plant signs is a the entrance to trail.

Songbird Habitat Trails: Two loop trails each running one mile (1.6 km) in length.The field trail is an excellent birding spot and the woodland trail provides shade and numerous native plants. Dogs not allowed.


The Park features several attractions that are operated by Herschend Family Entertainment Corp., and include:

The famous Stone Mountain Laser Show Spectacular is a colorful lightshow of lasers projecting moving images of the Deep South as well as Georgia history onto the Confederate carving on the side of the mountain. The laser show is accompanied by a compilation of themed musical works. At dusk hundreds of onlookers sit upon the grassed hill celebrating their American and Southern heritages.

The Skyride is a Swiss-built cable car to the summit of the mountain which passes by the carving on the way up.

The Riverboat offers a scenic cruise aboard a reproduction Mississippi riverboat on 363 acre (147 ha) Stone Mountain Lake.

Crossroads is a recreation of an 1872 southern town with several attractions including a modern 4-D movie theater, an adventure mini-golf course, a duck tour ride, stores and restaurants. Crafts demonstrators include glass blowing and candy making. Other attractions in this area include:

The Great Barn is a children's activity area that features 65 interactive games, climbing structures, trampoline floors, slides and more.

Sky Hike is a family ropes adventure course. Guests can choose their own path and level of challenge.

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