Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Chattahoochee River Gems

You may remember seeing 
these round stone orbs in my photos
in a few of my posts.

I bought them several years ago
from a man at a flea market who had dug them
out of the Chattahoochee River banks in Georgia.

(I found the information card
that he gave me when I purchased them.)

Here is what it basically said:
 These river balls were part of a water
filtration system for the Atlanta Water Works 
in the late 1800's. They were a base layer
for an primitive filtering system used to
remove mud and silt
 from the Chattahoochee River water.

The filter consisted of layers of round balls,
to include these 3 inch white marble balls,
along with gravel, charcoal and sand to remove
the silt from the river water for drinking purposes.
Bottle and relic collectors unearthed these 
in recent years during one of their "digs".

Water filtration systems like this were used
for years on rivers until more advanced methods
of filtration were invented.

I bought fifteen of them at the time
and wished I had bought more!

A year later I saw him again at the same 
 Chicago flea market and he said the river bed had
been depleted and all balls removed.
No more to be had at the
Chattahoochee River.

Once again I learn.... buy things when you see them or they will be gone!
Here they are mixed with some old croquet balls.

last month, while I was at the Junk Bonanza
in Minneapolis, we ran across these much
smaller ones! Not sure where they came from,
but they are about 1" to 1.5" in diameter.

The new smaller marble-sized versions I found.

Love the stains, I mean the colors, 
and the history behind them.
They look great in a bowl
and they don't spoil or rot like fruit!

Do you have any of these from
the rivers in your area?


Jane@Cottage at the Crossroads said...

Hi Alison,
This post was very informative and interesting because I've never heard of these balls, nor have I seen them. I love their worn surfaces.

marty (A Stroll Thru Life) said...

How interesting. I have never heard of them. They really do look fabulous. So pretty in a bowl and what a conversation piece. Hugs, marty

Sarah said...

Never seen anything like this. Thanks for sharing the information. I'm going to watch for these when I'm out antiquing. Very interesting, Alison! ~ Sarah

Shenita @ Embellishments by SLR said...

Alison, what great history behind these! They look absolutely fab in your vignette. What great stories yo have to tell about your accessories and decor! Just stunning! (Be sure to stop by and get in on my giveaway for this week!)

The Vintage Chateau said...

Your post caught my eye because my daughter moved to Atlanta last Spring. We kept crisscrossing over the Chattahoochee River. What a fun bit of history, these balls have such great color and texture!

Kelly said...

Hey, now you're talking about my neck of the woods! I didn't know those ever even existed. They sure are unique. I agree, they look great in a bowl like that. The history behind them is even more interesting.

rachelsjunkinthetrunk said...

Very interesting !I love the pics and the history. I am now going to be on the look out ......

Kathy @ Creative Home Expressions said...

They make for such a nice display, Alison! I love that you know the story behind them, too.

Laurie said...

I bought some from him at either Scotts or Lakewood (remember that fun market). I too wish I had bought more.

The enchanted home said...

So interesting, never seen them and no we don't have anything like that here either. What a great decorative object they are to place in a big bowl on a chest or console! Beautiful.....

Tammy @BeatriceBanks said...

I've never heard of this. How interesting! They look awesome too!

Kim @ Savvy Southern Style said...

Darn, I was going to go digging. Just kidding. Those are really cool and I learned something new.

Okie Chic said...

So cool I've never heard of these!! I do love them in a bowl so cute.

Debbie said...

Those are amazing, love the story behind them! I've never heard of them, but will be on the lookout!

The 2 Seasons said...

I bought just one of those balls at the Brimfield Antique Show from that man. He was getting low on his supply then. It was a few years ago. I put it in with my antique croquet balls since I just had one. I was flying and couldn't put a lot in my luggage - too heavy.

laney said... i have no balls...but i do have the your blog...and am always happy to hear that people love our scott's...and we miss lakewood...

Babs said...

Alison, No, I don't have any from the rivers near me... you have the ones from the river in my area. LOL I'm kidding of course, but the Chattahoochee River is about 10 miles from me. I know you can buy stone or ceramic balls online for filtration.. they must still use them somewhere. I love the look of yours..the patina, etc. Glad you found some more, even if they are smaller.
Hugs and have a great weekend.

Cozy Home Scenes said...

I've heard about those rocks, but have never seen them. They are very pretty they way you have decorated with them.

Cozy Home Scenes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.

I have some also....bought them at Scott's many years ago. I love the patina they one has ever done a post on them before!!!

Anonymous said...

I have about two dozen of the marble stones. They range in size from a little larger than a baseball and as small as an inch and a half in diameter. It's funny because my geology professor told me that they were naturally occurring rock formations and I was sure that they were man made. I should look him up and share this story. Thank you for the explanation for these little treasures.

Anonymous said...

I just made the post about the 24 stone balls. I just wanted to let you know that my marble spheres came from Joplin Missouri.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I found some of these. If anyone is interested, text me at

Theresa said...

I saw the guy in Atlanta and he has more of these now. He is at the Scott's show this weekend. His website is You can probably get contact info there.

Ron Raleighmodern said...

I have a couple of hundred of these balls from the Chattahoochee River-some cleaner than others.
They are great decorative touches displayed in bowls or tall clear vases!

Phyllis said...

Hi. I just purchased a quantity of these stones, also from the Chattahoochee River and below Atlanta. My research led me to find they are rhyolite, a high-silica lava from when the Appalachians were actively volcanic (see The light color is not typical, but maybe this is common for the region. Also, the University of Pennsylvania has a great article online on how they are formed (naturally) by the erosive river action: the farther down the river, the smaller the balls. If they were used in a water filtration system, the builders gathered them; they didn't make them. I got a kick out of imagining a bunch of guys grinding away at rocks until perfectly round and then tossing them into a sewer. Pretty labor-intensive for that purpose! They are a wonder of nature, for sure.

Alison Myers said...

I have been looking for an answer to what these spheres are, for years! I inherited about 8 of them from my grandfather who passed away when my mom was very young. My mom gave them to me and didn't know what they were but she knew I would appreciate them. A few years ago, I was raking some leaves in the woods (to make a trail) at home and stumbled across one, so I added it to my collection. I have taken them to rock shows, Pow Wows, asked museum experts, and nobody could give me any clue as to what they were. Thank you! (I live in Michigan.)