I recently visited Mead’s Quarry Lake, part of the Ijams Nature Center, a 315-acre park along the Tennessee River in Knoxville, where I hiked various trails for a few hours. One of my favorites was the Ross Marble Quarry Loop, which included the Keyhole. A sign along the trail read:
If you take the time to look around, you will find large blocks of limestone strewn about this abandoned quarry pit and the wall that surrounds the Keyhole. Operations began in the early 1900s on the property originally known as the John M. Ross Quarry. The quarrying involved removing overburden, drilling the marble to form large blocks, prying the blocks from the rock face, lifting them using derricks and cables and transporting them out for cutting and polishing elsewhere.
Additional information included the following:
Mead’s Quarry Rail Line. FYI Railcars moved the large marble blocks to the nearby Tennessee River along rail spurs via adjacent Mead’s Quarry. During the 1920s, operations shifted to the Williams Lime Manufacturing Company, which is an indication that the large-scale marble extraction had tapered off.
When I came across the area called the Keyhole, I looked down to see a pathway leading to two sets of stairs. Recent rains had left the ground damp and the clay-mud dangerously slick. And, with moss growing everywhere, I decided to proceed with caution.
Winding my way across ledges, over rocks and around puddles, I could finally see the Keyhole at the base of a 40′ wall of stacked rocks. It was an impressive sight to be sure, no small undertaking.
Standing at the entrance, I felt small among the many massive boulders. The passageway itself was probably 7′ from floor to ceiling, a scale not apparent in these pictures.
On the other side, I encountered Sasquatch! Just kidding, but there were surprises around every corner. I was greeted by the sun brightening the surrounding landscape, and I descended a series of steps toward the bottom of the quarry.
Standing in the middle of the forest while surrounded by walls made of large blocks of limestone was certainly an unusual and interesting way to spend the afternoon. And I wasn’t alone, either, meeting several people who were also visiting the area for their first time. Which brings me to my advice – if you have time, the weather is decent and you’re in the area, I suspect you’ll enjoy hiking this quarry!
I’d also recommend hiking the Haworth Hollow trail – more on that another time…