Remarks at Kennesaw Depot Park, April 2, 2022

This is a rough transcript.

Thank you. More importantly, thank all of you for coming out here today. It’s a little chillier than we anticipated, but that’s OK; we’ll be on the bus in just a moment.

…I love railroads; I love trains. That’s basically my back story, and basically, I’m a hobbyist who let his hobby spiral out of control. I think is probably the best way to describe it. And a few years ago actually started a website, Railfanning.org, all about railroads and railroad history. Then I decided I’d start writing books and get involved with museums, and I don’t know where it’s going to go next.

I apologize to Ruth in advance for wherever it might go.

Before we board the bus, I just wanted to give you a little bit of an overview about the Western & Atlantic that’s going to lay the foundation for everything we’re going to be talking about today.

And the Western & Atlantic has such an interesting history, and that history of that railroad is still being written today. The tracks we see right here are today leased to CSX Transportation but [are] actually owned by the state of Georgia. The state of Georgia effectively owns a long strip of land between Atlanta and Chattanooga, and they lease it to a private company, and they’ve leased it to a private company since 1870.

And what I think is so interesting about the lease today to CSX Transportation — the state of George has leased it to the same company, in essence, since 1890. It was the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis, it was the Louisville & Nashville, it was the Seaboard System for five minutes, and then it was CSX Transportation.

So it’s basically been the same company that’s held the least since 1890.

The state chartered the Western & Atlantic Railroad in December of 1836, and it actually took about 14 years to fully build the railroad. Although the first train operated on Christmas Eve of 1842 and some operations began in 1845, it wasn’t until 1850 that the complete railroad, the tunnel at Tunnel Hill, mainly, was completed, so it took 14 years to actually build this line.

And I think a lot of people today are familiar with the Western & Atlantic for the Civil War era, in particular the Andrews Raid or the Great Locomotive Chase. I presume everybody has at least heard of it.

…We’re going to be talking a lot about the Great Locomotive Chase and the events that happened and where they happened and pointing out different places that were integral to that. But what I think is so interesting about the Great Locomotive Chase when you think about it in the context of the Western & Atlantic going back to 1836, the Great Locomotive Chase is what seven, eight hours of the railroad’s history?

It’s a really brief moment in time, but it’s one that has captured, really, our imagination. The story is still probably as loved today as it was in 1863 when William Pittenger put out his first book about it.

But so many other moments are quite fascinating with the Western & Atlantic. It was mired in a political scandal in the years right after the civil war, which is ultimately what led the state to leasing the railroad to private companies, and it still today roughly follows the same route that it did that was laid down in [the] 1840s. Now, it’s changed a little bit over the years. I’m going to point out some of the changes as we drive along.

But before we head out, I just want to take a quick minute since we are in the town of Kennesaw … if we turn back the clock in a minute about 160 years, it would have looked something like this. This is the community of Big Shanty, and this is roughly about where the depot would have been. I think it’s fair to say there was nothing really at the time; this is pretty much all there was in town.

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