Monday, November 30, 2015

Then and now: Railroad depot after fall of Atlanta and burned lard oil factory

(Library of Congress)

The Civil War brought a cacophony of sights and smells to Atlanta, a burgeoning railroad town that would literally soar from the ashes after all the fighting and burning were done.

Atlanta’s importance to the Confederacy could not be overestimated. It was a transportation nexus and prize manufacturing and logistics center. Key to its role were four railroad lines, including the Western & Atlantic, which ran a 137-line line from Atlanta to Chattanooga.

The W&A was approved in 1836, shortly before a settlement called Terminus was founded. The area was renamed Marthasville, with the final name change to Atlanta in 1847.

(GBA map)

George Barnard took the top photo of the Western & Atlantic depot and the massive roundhouse in November 1864, a couple months after the city fell to Union forces. With the negatives was this note: “These were all destroyed a few days afterwards.” William T. Sherman left nothing of military value behind as he marched his men to Savannah, Ga.

Many of the downtown railroad tracks remain in the same beds today. They are under and surrounded by buildings important to modern Atlanta, including CNN Center, Philips Arena and the Georgia Dome (all in the background of the modern shot). The old Atlanta Journal-Constitution building is on the right.

Charlie Crawford, president of the Georgia Battlefields Association, believes Barnard took the depot shot from Bridge Street (now called Broad Street).

(Library of Congress)

Within a mile of the depot were scores of buildings also vital to the Confederacy, such as offices and military warehouses.

This second photograph was taken after the city’s fall. How can we tell?

A close inspection of the box cars shows the words “USMRR” – the U.S. Military Railroad, which operated on captured lines.

On the left of the historic photo is Holland Warehouse, the home of the Atlanta lard oil factory.  Author Stephen Davis wrote that it burned Aug. 24, 1864, after it was struck by a Union shell during the bombardment of Atlanta.

The Atlanta Intelligencer a few days later reported that the shell set to fire 120 bales of cotton, destroying the warehouse.

Lard oil was popular in the mid-19th century before coal and petroleum oil controlled the market. It was cheaper than whale oil, but was smelly and considered of lower quality. It had several uses, including for lanterns.

According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, Atlanta Mayor James M. Calhoun asked businessman Sidney Root to form a “board of direct trade” during the Civil War. Resulting industries included the lard oil factory and paper mills.

The old photograph shows the Macon & Western line beginning a bend to the South. Crawford suspects it was taken from the depot. It’s impossible in a modern view to get the exact angle and proximity, but this version may be close.

(The Georgia Battlefields Association map shows the locations of wartime buildings)

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