The Southern Museum

Article excerpt

The Southern Museum

The Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History, 2829 Cherokee Street, Kennesow GA 30144, USA. Phone +1 770 4272117, fax+1 770421 8485, Web site www.southernmuseum.org

On 12 April 1862 Major James J. Andrews and twenty-one Union Army soldiers stole a Western & Atlantic Railroad passenger train, powered by the General, from Kennesaw (then known as Big Shanty), Georgia, a few dozen miles north of Atlanta. The train's stranded and understandably annoyed conductor, William Fuller, used a series of locomotives, including the Texas, to chase the raiders, who were eventually captured by Confederate soldiers. Millions of people are familiar with this otherwise obscure episode of Civil War history, thanks in large part to the 1956 Walt Disney film The Great Locomotive Chase. Until recently that locomotive was the principal artefact in a small museum that was of interest primarily to diehard rail fans and Civil War enthusiasts. In March of 2003, however, this facility was reborn as the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History, following a massive expansion that created an outstanding interpretation of transport and industrialisation in the southern United States.

The museum's name seems an unlikely juxtaposition of largely unrelated topics, yet that name aptly reflects both the history of the museum and the history of the South itself. The General itself helps to link the two themes together. In 1972, following a lengthy court battle, the state of Georgia won possession of the locomotive from Tennessee and located it in a former cotton gin a few yards from the site where the 1862 chase began. The locomotive, and a few display cases of related memorabilia, essentially comprised the entire museum.

Just to the south of Kennesaw the town of Marietta, Georgia, was home to the Glover Machine Works. Aside from the Richmond [Virginia] Locomotive Works, Glover was the only significant steam locomotive builder in the American south. Established by James Bolan Glover II in 1888, Glover manufactured about 200 small industrial locomotives between 1902 and 1930. In common with such firms as Porter & Davenport in the United States, Koppel in Germany, and Decauville in France, Glover sent its products to quarries, plantations, and timberlands in many countries. Like its larger cousins, Baldwin and American Locomotive, Glover employed the techniques of small-batch custom manufacturing. In co-operation with its customers, Glover developed its own locomotive designs, built many key components and acquired others from outside contractors, employed standardisation wherever possible, arranged financing, and smoothed out the vagaries of the locomotive market by producing a wide variety of custom mechanical and foundry work. Glover gradually shifted production to a plant in Cordele, Georgia, leaving intact at its Marietta site a complete manufacturing facility that included business records, engineering drawings, photographs, foundry equipment, machine tools, and two partially completed steam locomotives. In 1995 the Glover Machine Works was slated for demolition. Local historians worked with the Glover family to preserve as much of the company's history as possible. Working literally in the path of the bulldozer, rescuers frantically removed what material they could from one end of the facility as the other end was being demolished. The artefacts remained in temporary warehouse storage, without a permanent home.

Although Marietta city officials were not interested in a Glover museum, their counterparts in Kennesaw believed that they could create a museum with broader appeal by combining the Glover material with the facilities that housed the General. Lacking a full appreciation of the scope of the project, museum supporters initially envisioned a museum with a somewhat arbitrary cost of $1 million. An $800,000 federal Transportation Enhancement Act grant and $200,000 in matching local funds quickly satisfied that amount. …