There’s a place in the heart of downtown Kennesaw where 19th century history is brought back to life. And it only takes about 40 paces inside this historical attraction for visitors to be immersed into the history and culture that shaped Kennesaw, and other Georgia towns, into the places they are today.
This historical gem known as The Southern Museum gives visitors a glimpse into the lives of the men, women and children of the 1800s. Sepia tone pictures of men in military garb and black-and-white prints of old locomotives adorn the walls while displays showcasing Civil War rifles and period dress help to interpret the past.
As you tour the 48,000 square foot museum, located at 2829 Cherokee Street, you might overhear a tour guide explain the tale of James J. Andrews of the Union raiders and the group’s daring move to steal the Confederate soldiers’ train, General, and ride triumphantly through Kennesaw, or you might stop to admire a medal of honor given to one of the U.S. military’s bravest soldiers.
But whether browsing through a collection of Civil War rifles or studying the intricacies of a dress worn by a well-to-do Southern woman, the museum filled with memories of a Southern yesteryear offers learning and fun for museum-goers of all ages.
For the history buff
As you walk through the museum’s doors, step back into 1862—a time when the railroad was literally leading the way for Southern militia, and glory and honor was all that was on the minds of the South’s Union soldiers as they headed full force into civil war.
A timeline of the 1800s begins the museum’s exhibit followed by cases displaying rare items such as an amputation kit used during the Civil War, exhumed bullets and soldiers’ calvary boots and uniforms. Old pictures as well as detailed plaques accompany many of the artifacts, helping tell the story of the soldiers, civilians and families who lived more than 200 years ago.
Continuing on visitors will come upon an exhibit room displaying relics once used by the workers of the formerly Marietta-based Glover Machine Works. Large gears and molds once used in the company’s construction of locomotives adorn the walls, and restored tools from the Glover shop are displayed throughout this leg of the museum. Parts from an old 040 locomotive fill the center of the main Glover exhibit as well as the country’s only restored belt-driven locomotive assembly line.
Leaving the Glover exhibit, wind your way along a path painted with train tracks and through a tunnel leading to the museum’s prized artifact, The General. Many would say this great locomotive is the highlight of the historical tale of General James J. Andrews and the Great Locomotive Chase. Touring through the exhibit visitors learn of this daring general’s move to steal the Confederate’s train, General, and ride triumphantly through Kennesaw. The exhibit details the chase and the Union participants known as Andrew’s Raiders with photos and information on all 22 raiders.
“The General is our most well known artifact,” says Museum Director Jeff Drobney. “I think the story that surrounds the General is what attracts people. It’s tied to the first Medals of Honor and it’s an iconic story. And to many Baby Boomers they remember the Disney movie.”
The brightly colored locomotive adorning a brass number three is a sight to see, standing 25 feet tall and weighing 25 tons.
“The General,” says Bob Ferris, of the museum’s visitor services, is most visitors’ favorite artifact. “That’s what, ah, 25 percent of the people come to see. I get five or six words when I ask about [The General] and that’s, ‘it was awesome, incredible, it was amazing.’ I never hesitate to ask people how was their tour.”
Education for all ages
Added in October 2008, the Jolley Education Center offers hands-on learning for children of all ages. Consistent with the history and exhibits displayed in the rest of the museum, the children’s center introduces its young visitors to 19th century history through interactive videos, games, books and activities.
Taking a guided tour or walking the museum on your own gives children the chance to stop and try their hand at Morse Code, using a working telegraph, or pretend they’re a Civil War soldier or shop lady with some period dress up clothes. Interactive videos and activity stations are present throughout the education center teaching the history of trains and the railroad system.
For younger children, there’s the pre-K activity room complete with a plush climb-on train, books, videos, toys and plenty of space to play.
Judy Parker, the museum’s early childhood educator, says she tries to offer something for everyone with the activities and exhibits displayed in the children’s center.
“I think they tend to like, well, it’s funny, they really like the diesel simulator and a close second is the try-on clothing,” says Parker of some of the younger visitors’ favorite exhibits. “I guess that’s something some kids really don’t do past the age of three or four. We catch the adults trying on the clothes also.”
Guided tours of the children’s center, as well as the entire museum, are available for families, home school and large school groups.
In addition to the exhibits inside the Jolley Children’s Center, the museum offers programs throughout the week and weekend specifically for parents and their children.
At 10 a.m. on Thursdays the museum hosts their Mommy and Me program. The hour-long program is designed for 3 to 5-year-olds and includes activities such as storytelling and a brief tour of the museum followed by an activity or craft.
“No matter what the theme of the day is we have to see the General,” Parker says of her tours that accompany the Mommy and Me program. “Depending on how many infants we might have in the group that day, I usually climb up and ring the bell.”
Parker is also planning a new children’s program, called Make It and Take It, slated to start at 10 a.m. on Saturday mornings beginning in September.
The Saturday program gives children six and older the opportunity to make a historical-themed craft that ties in with the focus of the museum. Parker says the idea is to give children the chance to make a craft while having the opportunity to do some hands-on learning. She said the program is designed to give ample time to have fun with the craft project and then tour the museum while their craft dries.
“I feel that just from talking to the parents that they’re looking for something other than just a play place,” Parker says. “I like to think we provide a well rounded education along with the play.”
The first Make It and Take It activity will be on September 5. Inking and quilling will be the theme for the class and children who attend will do writing with feather and ink made out of berries—a practice common in the 19th century when resources and materials were scarce.
Complete schedules of all upcoming activities and programs, as well as upcoming and new activities, are available on the museum’s Web site at http://www.southernmuseum.org.
Existing and upcoming exhibits
As a member of the Smithsonian Affiliations Program, The Southern Museum receives 90-day exhibits complementary to the museum’s Civil War and locomotive exhibits.
“Anytime we can be associated with the Smithsonian it’s great,” says Drobney. “It gives us the opportunity to bring in Smithsonian exhibits and artifacts to share with people in Cobb County and in Georgia.”
Native Words, Native Warriors is the museum’s current traveling exhibit on loan from the Smithsonian. The exhibit focuses on the role the American Indians played in military communication during World War I and II.
The displays and photographs detail the life and languages of the Navajo and Comanche Indian tribes and the significance their secret language played in the military tactics of the war. Known as Code Talkers, these American Indians were enlisted to communicate details of the war, keeping military logistics secret from American enemies.
Pictures of Code Talkers in their military dress and a display featuring an old military Jeep and EE8 Field Telephones—the primary means of communication for soldiers in World War II—help to further illustrate the great part these Native American tribesmen played in the war.
A 10 minute video, interactive maps and Navajo Indian word scramble accompany the exhibit, which runs through October 4.
October will bring another new exhibit to the museum, says Drobney. A living history timeline will bring to life parts of the old South with reenacters in period dress to tell stories from the past and bring to life some of the history featured in the museum’s displays.
More information on the upcoming event, and others, can be found on the museum’s Web site at www.southernmuseum.org.