Executive Director Richard Banz of the Southern Museum joins the Atlanta Real Estate Forum podcast to discuss the museum’s rich history and exhibits. Banz joins hosts Carol Morgan and Todd Schnick for the Around Atlanta segment and chats about a temporary exhibit on loan from the Smithsonian!
Banz has a background in history and education and one thing he enjoys about the metro Atlanta community is the history it has to offer. The Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History, known to locals at the Big Shanty Museum, is located in Kennesaw. The museum initially opened in 1972 and in 2003 greatly expanded and became affiliated with the Smithsonian Museum, one of the few museums in Georgia to have this honor.
Exhibits at the museum include general displays, educational programming and displays about the Civil War and railroads. Railroads are the overarching theme of the museum running through everything on display. There is also a large section on industrial works, specifically the Glover Machine Works founded after the close of the Civil War. The Jolley Education Center is a learning center for kids of all ages and there is also a research center onsite that compiles all archives and artifacts that are available for research.
“There is no better place to live, work and play than metro Atlanta,” exclaimed Banz when discussing the rich history of the region.
The Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History is owned and operated by Kennesaw, Georgia a progressive city in metro Atlanta. The city also owns the Smith-Gilbert Gardens, another worthy place to visit when in the area.
According to Banz, during the pandemic in 2020, the city wanted to reopen as soon as possible and made efforts to open safely in June. Upon reopening, social distancing and temperature checks were implemented to ensure the safety of staff and visitors. By the end of summer, the museum was in full swing again! Hours were changed to 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday to allow the staff plenty of time to sanitize. Since the reopening, Banz has noticed visitation has picked up and notes that the museum is in a good groove.
A main attraction of the museum, The General, is a locomotive built in 1885 in Patterson, New Jersey and is an outstanding example of the locomotive power used by the United States in the 1880s. In the Great Locomotive Chase of April 1862, a great effort was made by raiders in a plan to travel to Marietta and Kennesaw, then known as Big Shanty. When the train stopped in Kennesaw, the raiders commandeered the locomotive until captured 89 miles later. The General is internationally known because of this story.
The old Western and Atlantic Railroad was an influential 138 miles of rail lines that connected Atlanta to Chattanooga. This network of travel began in the late 1830s when the State of Georgia decided to link the two cities together. By the 1850s, the railroad was in full operation and during the Civil War, both sides used the rail lines as necessary supply lines. The Great Locomotive Chase took place because the Union raiders believed if they caused enough chaos, it would benefit the Union. The first medals of honor issued by the United States were in the aftermath of the chase. There were 19 in total and two are available for viewing in the museum.
A great benefit of being a part of the Smithsonian network is that it allows The Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History to bring artifacts from the Smithsonian to the metro Atlanta area.
Currently, the museum has a temporary exhibit featuring objects on loan from the National Postal Museum that highlights many wonderful objects connecting mail to the railroad system. Railroads were a primary way to transport goods in the United States in the 1800s. And visitors can still visit the Kennesaw Depot today, located directly across the street from the museum.
If a town was not big enough to justify a stop, mail was hung on poles and collected while the train passed through town. A replica of this system can be visited in the United States Postal Museum.
“Railroads and trains are generally loved by people of all ages and backgrounds. It’s just a phenomenal bond that we see as people come together to celebrate trains,” said Banz.
The temporary exhibit features the story of Owney, a stray dog that wandered into a post office in New York and eventually became the unofficial mascot of the United States Postal Service. He traveled alongside postal workers on the rail system delivering mail and at each stop, he would receive a metal tag exclusive to the city he stopped in. Owney became so famous that he eventually traveled the world by steamboat until he died in 1897. He is preserved and on display at the National Postal Museum. The Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History has one of the metal tags Owney received on display in the temporary exhibit.
The museum is available to host schools and offers a virtual school option. The museum hosts a plethora of other events as well:
- Mommy and Me. Every Thursday, the museum hosts Mommy and Me at 10 a.m. and noon.
- Southern Spirit. The Southern Spirit events are on September 17 and November 19. These events feature adult beverages, food and drinks, live music and a featured local artist.
- Trains! Trains! Trains! returns in January 2022. This is a great event for kids to interact with all kinds of train layouts.
The museum is happy to accept donations. For more information on exhibits or volunteering, call 770-427-2117 or visit www.southernmuseum.org. The museum also has a private foundation, The Kennesaw Museum Foundation, where those interested can support.
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