After its humble beginning as Martin's Tank, a mid-nineteenth-century water stop on the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, the community experienced rapid expansion during the boom times of the 1880s. Replatted on a grand scale and renamed Pulaski, the town mushroomed into the county's leading commercial center. Although its growth was slowed by the Panic of 1893, Pulaski regained momentum when it was made the county seat in 1895 after a fire destroyed the old courthouse in Newbern.
The town's early industrial success was based on the production of zinc and iron, heavy materials transported to markets on the railroad that runs through its center. The north side of the tracks was initially too marshy for development until the Pulaski Land and Improvement Company, formed in 1884, built a stone embankment channeling Peak Creek through town. The remaining lowlands were thereby made suitable for commercial development, with the scenic hills on the north and south sides of town reserved for residential use.
The Bertha Zinc and Mineral Company (then one of America's largest zinc producers) and its subsidiary, the Altoona Coal and Iron Company, along with the Pulaski Iron Company and the Dora Furnace, were the mainstays of Pulaski's late-nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century economy. During this period, architects from around the state and beyond designed substantial commercial, religious, and residential buildings for Pulaski. By the second decade of the twentieth century, unable to compete with huge ore deposits discovered around the Great Lakes, Pulaski began a slow decline from which it has never completely recovered. In the 1920s, as employment in the metal and mining industries waned, knitting and hosiery mills and furniture companies supplied some jobs. Now they are closing and new job opportunities are being sought. After its early economic boom, the slow pace of growth in Pulaski has left the town's original urban fabric remarkably intact.
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