Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Kennesaw battlefield a step closer to expanding, adding historic Wallis House

The Wallis House about 10 years ago (Georgia Battlefields Association)

A dilapidated 1853 farmhouse that at one point was in imminent danger of being demolished may soon became part of Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, which could use it to more fully tell the story of Union strategy in the battle and the role of African-Americans in the Civil War.

Efforts to have eight acres containing the Wallis House and Harriston Hill added to the park in north Georgia have been more than a decade in the making. The U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 24 voted in favor, with a similar bill to be considered next by the Senate.

“It is very exciting for us. We know that once this happens this is just a first step,” said park Superintendent Nancy Walther. “We are really thrilled about the opportunity and it is nice to ride the surf in.”

The two-bedroom home, built by Josiah Wallis, had several uses during the Kennesaw campaign in June 1864. It was first used as a Confederate hospital, then was the headquarters for Union Maj. Gen. O.O. Howard. His boss, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, was at the house during the Battle of Kolb’s Farm to the south.

“Adjacent to the Wallis house is Harriston Hill, which offers a sweeping vista of the valley leading to the Confederate line atop Kennesaw Mountain,” a National Park Service official said in 2010. “From this position, it is clear why General Howard picked this site for his headquarters and signaling position.”

The campaign to save the house, give it permanent protection and have it help tell the story of the battle during the Atlanta Campaign is a long one.

(Courtesy of GBA)

Cobb County, just northwest of Atlanta, for years saw an incredible housing boom and development. While that was a boon for newcomers, preservationists and historians decried the loss of Civil War sites or land to development.

The county, working with the Georgia Civil War Commission and the Cobb Land Trust, spent $320,000 to buy the property in early 2004 so that 43 homes could not be built on it and adjoining parcels, Walther told the Picket.

The park needs congressional approval in order to expand its boundaries and accept donation of the house and hill from the county.

Several years ago, then-Superintendent Stanley Bond helped lead a community effort to recommend ways to increase African-American visitation to the park – and tell the story of slaves, freed individuals, U.S. Colored Troops and more.

O.O. Howard
Bond told the Picket in February 2011 that he hoped the Wallis House could house an expanded exhibit on African-American soldiers and civilians. There’s a direct connection, because of the home’s association with Gen. Howard.

Howard University, a historically black school in Washington, D.C., was named for the white officer, founder of the university and commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau.

Walther said while there currently are no formal plans for interpretation at the Wallis House, she cited Bond’s efforts to more fully tell the stories of African-Americans and people who lived near Kennesaw Mountain. “We want to tell the whole story,” she said.

The Wallis House, near a subdivision, is just west of the main park on Burnt Hickory Road near Barrett Parkway. A paved parking lot and a sidewalk leading up to the property line were put in several years ago.

Vegetation has grown up around the house and while relatively structurally sound, the residence would need a lot of work before opening. People in the community have wanted the park to clean it up, but that could not be done because the land was in a holding pattern until congressional action.

The superintendent said she has been inside the structure.

“When it was still inhabited it was a nice enough home. It’s not large, maybe 1,200 to 1,500 square feet. There are outbuildings. It has been vacant for so long it is very dilapidated. We want to take it back to the original structure. Part of the house is (postwar) additions. We would be ripping those out.”

The cost of restoration and other aspects of the project could be about $1 million, said Walther. “There is a lot of support to help with the renovation of the house.”

That’s considerably less than a previous $5 million estimate.

It could be five years or more before the Wallis House is open for interpretation.

First will come the submission for federal funding, which could take two to three years. “The first matter is to formulate a plan of action,” Walther said. “Funding will be the backbone of everything that will happen.”

Walther said the staff is excited about the opportunity to provide students and others more education. That can be done through Kennesaw Mountain’s natural and manmade features – and the Wallis House.

“When you can touch history, it can have a lasting impression on you.”

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