Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Locomotive Texas will stay in Atlanta after state ruling in ownership dispute

Two locomotives that were the stars of a famous chase in Georgia during the Civil War will not be reunited.

That’s because a state agency recently found that the Texas, used by Southern pursuers during the April 1862 “Great Locomotive Chase,” is indeed owned by the city of Atlanta.

A little background: The locomotive and the Atlanta Cyclorama painting have been in Grant Park for more than a century. The city decided last year to move both to the Atlanta History Center’s Buckhead campus.

Officials in Cobb County, northwest of Atlanta, saw an opportunity to try to prove that the Texas actually belonged to the state, opening a possible claim. They want the locomotive to be housed at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw, paired with the General, the object of the chase.

While the chase did not take place in Atlanta, the history center says extensive research uncovered documents and news accounts that go in its favor.

“We are certain it belongs to the city,” Gordon Jones, senior military historian and curator, told the Picket last month.

1908 The Atlanta Georgiam article on the matter (AHC)

Steven L. Stancil of the State Properties Commission, which initiated state research on the ownership, recently wrote, “After a review by the Georgia Department of Law, we believe there is little question that the Texas belongs to the city of Atlanta.”

A Cobb lawmaker told the Marietta Daily Journal this week he won’t fight the ruling. Rep. Earl Ehrhart had argued the locomotives should be together. “It just makes all kinds of sense in the world to be housed somewhere in Cobb. This is where the historical event actually took place, and I know that it would be well cared for by that museum for sure,”

A page on the AHC website shows documents cited in Stancil’s determination. The history center said the successor company to the Western & Atlantic Railroad in 1908 donated the Texas to the group Ladies of Atlanta, which in turn gave it the city’s park commission.

This followed a statement from Gov. Hoke Smith, who was concerned about the declining condition of the locomotive. The state consented to the transfer.

“I commend very cordially the idea of preserving this historic old engine,” Smith wrote. “The limited grounds around the state capitol made it impossible for the state to accept and preserve it. I write to assure you that the transfer of the gift as you indicated in your letter meets with my very cordial approval.”

Patrick W. Leed, Georgia assistant attorney general, wrote Stancil in April that his review showed “little reason to dispute Atlanta’s exclusive ownership” of the Texas, which was built in 1856 and saw service for nearly five decades.

On April 12, 1862, the Texas (above) took part in the famous Great Locomotive Chase, or Andrews Raid. Steaming in reverse, the locomotive pursued the fleeing General that had been commandeered by Union soldiers and civilians in disguise.

James Andrews and his band of raiders tried to destroy much of the Western & Atlantic Railroad and communications as they rushed northward. They achieved little success and eight of the nearly two dozen captured participants, disguised as civilians, were later hanged in Atlanta as spies. Andrews was among them.

Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews suggested Kennesaw work with Atlanta in the future to bring the history of the two trains together, the MDJ reported. The General, itself an object of a legal dispute in the 1960s, is owned by the state and is on permanent loan to Kennesaw, according to Mathews. 

Plans are being made at the AHC to have the Texas tell a wider story of the founding and growth of Atlanta transportation and there is value in having the trains in different locations to tell two stories, said Hillary Hardwick, vice president of marketing communications.

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