Monday, October 29, 2018

Treasured part of Atlanta history will now be visible to the public, but some preservationists say it should not have been moved

Zero Mile Post after its move. (Atlanta History Center)

A granite post that marked the birth of the city of Atlanta and survived the Civil War has been moved from the location it occupied since 1850 to a museum several miles to the north, sparking criticism by preservation and civic groups.

While the Atlanta History Center and Georgia Building Authority say Friday's relocation will protect Zero Mile Post and better interpret its story, some organizations are unhappy with the agreement, saying the precious landmark should have stayed where it is.

The aged rectangular post, which marked the southeastern terminus of Western & Atlantic Railroad, will be paired at the AHC with the restored 1856 locomotive Texas in a new exhibit about Atlanta’s origin and railroad history. The Texas is famous for its role in the Civil War’s Great Locomotive Chase in April 1862. Opening day is set for Nov. 17.

“It was this railroad that provided the impetus for the beginning and subsequent growth of the city of Atlanta and marks the center of the city from which the Atlanta city limits were measured,” says the National Park Service. The Western & Atlantic was vital for the Confederacy, sending both supplies and troops to the front.

Post at old location (NPS)
Cut a few years before, the post was moved to its longtime home in 1850, when the town took on the name Atlanta. For 70 years it sat in the open, but the growth of the city’s viaduct system led to the Central Avenue Bridge above it and the feature was enclosed in a building in the 1980s. With the exception of a few groups, the marker had not been visible to the public since 1994.

Maria Saporta, founder of the Saporta Report, wrote in February, “If you want to find Atlanta’s heart – our zero mile post – good luck. It is buried beneath a downtown parking deck in a state-owned building surrounded by chain-link fences in addition to spiked metal bars topped with barbed wires.” (Her column argued that developers in what’s called the Gulch area downtown should have included a multimodal station in their plans. She has since decried the move of the post in a Nov. 5 column.)

Zero Mile Post’s fate became the subject of debate when development plans firmed up and news that two bridges – on Central Avenue and Courtland Street – were tapped for replacement. The GBA said it needed to raze the building so that a parking deck between the bridges would have additional exit and entrance options.

Agency: Artifact needed protecting

“We endeavored to get a lot of different perspectives on what do with the post,” including from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said Morgan Smith-Williams, communications director for the state authority, While the agency said it knew the significance of the marker was its location, protecting the artifact was foremost, she said.

This building under a bridge enclosed the artifact since the 1980s (Picket photo)

That’s because of the fear that motorists or pedestrians might damage the Zero Mile Post because it would be much more exposed, said Smith-Williams.

“The original marble marker is fragile -- any outdoor location would expose it to the elements and potential for vandalism, and endanger its survival,” the history center said Monday in a press release.

A replica of Zero Mile Post that has long been at the Atlanta History Center in the Buckhead neighborhood will replace the original. It will be accompanied by a marker with text provided by the Georgia Historical Society, officials said.

Click Georgia Battlefields Assn. map for wartime spots

“The marker and replica post will be positioned along sidewalks that will be constructed around the original site, increasing the visibility and awareness of this preserved historic spot on a daily basis, something that could not be done previously,” the AHC said.

It said the use of replicas is commonplace, particularly when fragile items are exposed to the elements. "By doing this, the artifact is preserved, but the historical significance of the location is also acknowledged."

City Council wanted it to stay put

The relocation has faced opposition, including from Atlanta City Council, which in May adopted a resolution calling for Zero Mile Post to stay put.

It said the artifact, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, “is arguably the single most important object relating to the story of Atlanta’s founding.”

The resolution noted that the post “survived the construction of the 1853 Union Depot, Gen. William T. Sherman’s destructive entrance and exit from the City in 1864, the construction of the viaducts in the 1920s, more demolitions and fires, and has remained in the ground since 1850.”

It added that it could have been a draw for visitors once the surrounding, unoccupied building was removed.

The old marker for Zero Mile Post

That’s the viewpoint of the Atlanta Preservation Center, which has Zero Mile Post on its endangered list. The group argues the downtown street grid grew around the marker and railroad lines.

David Mitchell, director of operations for the group, said news of the move Monday was a dark day for preservation. “It is always better to leave things in their original location.”

“I would have liked to have seen further conversation to whatever alternatives could have been provided,” he told the Picket. “This belongs to the city of Atlanta and its citizens and no singular entity has governance over what belongs to the general public.”

Mitchell said engineering students at Georgia Tech could have helped come up with a plan to protect the original post once it was out in the open. Many other monuments are exposed to the elements, he said.

“The stone has been there for 150 years. It is 5 inches wide by 7 feet tall. You are telling me this is thwarting a multimillion project?”

In a newsletter during the summer, the Georgia Battlefields Association noted: “We’re confident the post will be preserved, but where it will be preserved is uncertain. Its significance derives from its location, which adds to the complexity of the issue.”

Smith-Williams, the spokesperson for the Georgia Building Authority, said the replica will be in the same location, but will be “more sturdy and weatherproof than the original.”

A second replica will be placed near by the Georgia Railroad Freight Depot, she said. The arrangement with the AHC is a five-year lease.

“I think this is a win-win for Georgians,” Smith-Williams said. The original historic artifact is with the authority that is best-suited to preserve it.”

Post was near railroad car shed destroyed by Federals

Ongoing debate over the decision

The history center said it will be a good steward of the “irreplaceable artifact” of Atlanta’s railroad history.

“Positioning the Zero Mile Post beside the recently restored Texas locomotive, one of the two remaining Western & Atlantic locomotives [the other being the General] that would have passed by that very mile post scores of times during its service offers valuable interpretive possibilities, AHC President and CEO Sheffield Hale said in a statement. "Railroads build and created Atlanta, and these two objects tell Atlanta's origin story like no others."

Kyle Kessler, community program manager for the Center for Civic Innovation in Atlanta, called the move a “major disappointment.”

He quoted the National Park Service by saying, “Moving a property destroys the relationships between the property and its surroundings and destroys association with historic events and persons.” The move threatens the status of the post on the National Register, he added.

Kessler said the “clandestine operation” came before adequate input from agencies and the public.


Many of those who commented Monday on the AHC’s Facebook page, which showed a video of the marker being pulled into the Texas gallery, were critical of the move, saying there should have been more discussion. “Happy for you guys, but really disappointed in Atlanta and how they protect history. Other states don’t do it this way,” one commenter wrote.Others were more supportive.

Markers like Zero Mile Post informed train crews where they were along a route. One side of this marker is engraved with "W&A RR OO" – the W & A indicating the Western & Atlantic Railroad and the double-zero designating the beginning of the rail line. The other side of the marker is engraved “W&A RR 138.”

When removed from the ground, entirely exposed, the 800-pound marker measures 7 feet 5 inches, and weighs approximately 800 pounds. That is how the Atlanta History Center will display it, as opposed to 42 inches exposed in its old location.

The center said the Solomon Luckie lamppost will be in an adjacent gallery, adding to the story of the city's early history. Luckie, a free African-American, was killed during Union shelling of the city in summer 1864.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Grant will go for Va. battlefield purchase

The Shenandoah Battlefields Foundation (SVBF) will receive up to $255,000 in grant money to preserve local battlefields, the Winchester star reported. According to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, more than 562 acres of battlefield overall will be placed under protection through grants from the Virginia Battlefield Preservation Fund. The  $255,000 grant will be used to purchase a 2-acre land tract in Frederick County associated with the Third Battle of Winchester. • Article

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Dalton agrees to sale of historic depot

By the end of 2020, the historic railroad depot in Dalton, Ga., could once again be a center for dining and nightlife. Members of the City Council voted 3-1 this week to approve a $300,000 bid from Dalton's Barrett Properties for the depot. The depot -- which needs extensive remediation and upgrades inside -- had its moment of fame on April 12, 1862 – during what became known as the Great Locomotive Chase. • Article
• More about the Civil War history of the depot.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Soldier buried near brothers gets headstone

A Civil War soldier nearly lost to time is no longer forgotten. Cpl. Milton Airey, 43rd US Colored Infantry, was 27 when he died on Oct. 17, 1867. According to his obituary, he was buried in his uniform, but his grave remained unmarked. That is, until Saturday when a Pennsylvania cemetery's president and a group of nearly 30 people dedicated a new marble headstone in Airey's honor between the markers of his brothers. • Article

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Smoldering resentment: Walking tour will look at how volunteer firefighters in Alexandria, Va., dealt with Federal occupation during war

US military led this fire operation in Alexandria in 1863 (Library of Congress)

Before the Civil War broke out and hordes of Federal soldiers crossed the Potomac River to occupy the city, volunteer firefighters in Alexandria, Va., brimmed with pride and purpose.

19th century firefighter (Library of Congress)
Firefighting companies – Friendship, Hydraulion, Relief, Star and Sun, among them – maintained equipment and kept their fellow residents safe from infernos that could rampage through a row of homes or businesses in no time.

It wasn’t just about saving lives and property: The companies were part of the fabric of the community.

“They were involved in boosterism and came out for parades and such,” said Kristin Lloyd, acting director of the Friendship Firehouse Museum in Historic Alexandria. “If there was a fire, everybody in the community helped. We had laws on how many buckets each household had to have to fight a fire.”

Friendship, the oldest of the fraternal groups, was formed in 1774.

There was a lot of prestige in which company got to a fire first (mind you, the men ran – horses were not yet in use) or threw quenching water the farthest. A strong performance could get you written up in the local newspaper -- so there was occasional competition and raucous moments.

But those good old days faded quickly on May 24, 1861, a day after Virginia seceded from the Union. Thousands of Union troops poured in from Washington and turned the bucolic river port into a major military supply and hospital center. Martial law was declared. A curfew was enforced. And one very famous incident led to the first death of a Union officer in the conflict.

Suction pumper at Friendship Firehouse Museum (City of Alexandria)

Once some administration took hold and it became apparent it needed to become involved -- in part because so many able-bodied residents were gone -- the Union army took over firefighting in the city.

The 11th New York Infantry, known informally as the First Fire Zouaves, for a time took the lead.

While the military occupation did modernize firefighting – the Federals brought in the first two steam pumpers – it put a lot of locals on the defensive, requiring them to take an oath of allegiance to the United States or use a password to assist in putting out a blaze.

That uneasy relationship is the subject of the "We've Been Burned: Alexandria Firefighters During the Civil War" walking tour this Saturday. Participants will learn how the volunteer companies were treated and what happened to their firehouses, among other topics. The city tour will stop by four surviving firehouses in the charming downtown historic district.

Participants will learn that several of the volunteer companies disbanded by 1863, partly because so many members were fighting for the Confederacy.

Friendship museum (City of Alexandria)
But there was at least one other reason for the decline in the volunteer efforts, according to a history of firefighting in the city: “Company disbanded … due to destruction wrought by Yankees on equipment.”

The venerable Alexandria Gazette wrote glowingly about Federal troops and local firefighters harmoniously working together. But records kept by volunteer companies often painted another picture, said Catherine Weinraub, a museum aide for Historic Alexandria who will lead the biannual tour.

A Friendship notation speaks volumes about its members’ smoldering resentment:

"When a fire occurred the military assumed control of the fire apparatus and directed its action while old and efficient firemen were rebuked, annoyed [sic] and sometimes knocked down by men who were wholly ignorant of the mode of attaching to plugs or Engine or of judiciously using the pipe when a suply [sic] of water had been secured.”

Firefighting was a whole lot different

The United States has seen quite a transformation in how its communities fight fires. Following rudimentary “bucket brigades” during colonial days, volunteer companies sprang up, fostering a celebration of youth, heroism and camaraderie.

It soon became a business in some cities, such as in New York and Baltimore, where street gangs used firefighting as a way of fighting each other and to control turf. Insurance companies often had contracts with private or volunteer crews.

A colum written in 2011 for Huffington Post had this to say: “The way it functioned was the first club at the scene got money from the insurance company. So, they had an incentive to get there fast. They also had an incentive to sabotage competition. They also often ended up getting in fights over territory and many times buildings would burn down before the issue was resolved. They were glorified looters.”

Postwar Hydraulion volunteers (Alexandria Fire Department)

Lloyd said there was no evidence of such chaos in Alexandria. There are no known insurance company plaques on buildings, she added.

Alexandria was divided into four wards. Every station had its own bell. The closest person (to the fire) would ring the bell in the ward in which it was discovered. While there was an attempt to organize response by company, firefighters would rush to just about any fire after grabbing equipment at their firehouse (this was before they would be stationed around the clock in a building).

The fastest member of a company would run to a fire plug, or hydrant, and try to hold it until his colleagues showed up with equipment. That meant keeping other units from tapping in. “He is not going to let that happen,” Weinraub told the Picket.

Firefighting could be a dangerous occupation: In 1855, six members of the Star company and one with Friendship were killed in a warehouse wall collapse on King Street. The fire was the work of an arsonist. The tragedy hit the town hard.

Local boys were disenchanted

Six years after that tragedy, tension in Alexandria reached the boiling point over President Abraham Lincoln’s election and the secession vote.

Federal units, including the 11th New York infantry, were sent to the city, effectively ending the sale of enslaved persons while taking control of buildings and businesses that were of use to the Northern war effort.

Death of Ellsworth (Library of Congress)
“Alexandria is filled with ruined people; they walk as strangers through their ancient streets, and their property is no longer theirs to possess,” wrote George Alfred Townsend for the New York Herald in 1863.

The 11th New York was organized by Col. Elmer Ellsworth. “He thought firefighters would make good Zouaves,” said Lloyd. Many firefighters that served in the Union army were of Irish descent.

Ellsworth on May 24, 1861, became the first Union officer to die in the Civil War when he removed a Confederate flag from the roof of the Marshall House in Alexandria because it could be seen from the White House. The owner of the house gunned down Ellsworth before being killed by a Federal soldier.

While the men of the 11th New York Infantry knew how to fight fires, they were soon shipped to the front, leaving the duties in the hands of soldiers with a lot less passion and skill for the work.

“These soldiers were really bored and they didn’t know how to put out fires,” said Weinraub.

Local volunteers were angry because they had to meet so many conditions – including the oath of allegiance, badges, passwords and curfew limitations – in order to take part in firefighting. Sometimes they were just told to go home.

They grumbled about what became of their equipment. This notation was in the Friendship minutes book:

“The Friendship Suction and eleven sections of hose were conveyed to Fort Elsworth and there exposed for weeks to sunshine and rain, and when the Suction was returned at the urgent solicitation of the Company, it was so unsightly and unservieably [sic] that the Company was disinclined to incur any expence [sic] for its repair while subject to such abuse. The eleven sections of hose have not been yet returned, at portion being in use at the Provost Office and the rest at adjacent forts.” 

Quartermaster's Wharf during the war (Library of Congress)

All this came at a time when the city was teeming with soldiers and civilians who were meeting their primal needs, with venues that included saloons and houses of prostitution.

“There was a military governor. Troops were moving in and out, particularly in the beginning of the war,” Lloyd told the Picket. “They were pretty rowdy and rambunctious. A military governor came in and maintained better order.”

The Gazette did its best to keep the community up on the news and it painted a cheery picture of the cooperation between Yankee and local firefighters.

A January 1865 article described a blaze that broke out on a Royal Street frame house and spread.

“The U.S. steam engine No. 2, and the fire engine companies, Friendship, and Sun, were promptly on the ground, and deserve great credit for the efficient manner in which they succeeded in extinguishing the flames and preventing more damage than was done. The military police were present and prevented any loss of property from the burning building.”

(Alexandria Fire Department)
Columbia firehouse is now a restaurant

Major changes were on the way

Despite the strain and anguish of being occupied for four years, Alexandria apparently did not have a major fire during that time. And because it was within the extensive Federal defenses of Washington, there was no fighting and, thus, no civilian casualties.

After the war, the population ballooned to nearly 17,000 residents, many of them Northerners and freed blacks, according to a 2011 Washington Post article.

“The impact (of the war) on Alexandria took years to recover as a city, just as the (fire) companies themselves took a while,” Weinraub said.

Major changes were on the way. By the 1860s, with heavier and more expense equipment, and the need for horses to pull it, communities began establishing professional fire crews. Alexandria created its city department in 1866.

Hose reel at museum (City of Alexandria)

Most of the volunteer companies reorganized for a time after the war and later ceded the job to the city force. Friendship refused to join because its members wanted to keep their name.
“They went back to fighting fires (but) it was becoming less necessary as the city was involved,” said Lloyd. Friendship stopped fighting fires in the 1880s and the rest of the companies eventually dissolved.

Today, the Friendship Firehouse Museum has equipment, including a giant hose reel, and information on the volunteer companies, among other topics. The building got a boost during the 1950s and was deeded to the city in 1991. It is supported by the Friendship Veterans Fire Engine Association.

“They are involved in helping maintain the preservation of the firehouse and they think of it as their heritage and they support other causes related to firefighting,” said Lloyd.

The city still uses this Relief station (Alexandria Fire Department)

Of the other three firehouses on the sidewalk tour, two are private homes and one houses Columbia Firehouse, a restaurant on St. Asaph Street. It got its name from the Columbia Steam Fire Engine Company, which succeeded the Star volunteer group.

The city has a fire station next to the old Relief firehouse, which is one of the residences. It used to feature a tower to dry canvas fire hoses.

The tour is held in the spring and fall.

“We are just hoping to bring more attention to the museum, but also the larger subject of firefighting history and how it is very relevant,” said Lloyd. “All of it informed how firefighting is done to today, how cities are formed today, how codes are formed today.”

The tour lasts from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 13. It begins at the Friendship Firehouse Museum, 107 South Alfred St. The cost is $6 for adults and $4 ages 10-17.  Reservations are required, as space is limited. Call 703-746-4994 or 707-746-3891.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Donation was music to their ears

Two sisters in search of information about a Civil War ancestor have gifted the historical society in Adams, Mass., with an instrument he carried through the Civil War. Judge Bullard enlisted as a private in H Company, 27th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers, in August 1862. He re-enlisted in January 1864 and was later captured by Confederates and held as a prisoner in March and April 1865. • Article

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Someone stole Civil War revolvers, cartridge box and other artifacts, leaving a Virginia battlefield group mad as hell about it

(Winchester Police Department)

Nothing looked out of sort last Saturday morning when the staff at Kernstown Battlefield in Winchester, Va., opened the visitor’s center that formerly served as a tractor barn.

But as they prepared for a Civil War-period ball that evening, a volunteer noticed several artifacts – including revolvers, cartridge box and a Confederate double-barrel shotgun -- were missing in display cases.

The discovery of the theft has set off a campaign by police and the Kernstown Battlefield Association to get the word out so that the items don’t end up at pawn shops or in the hands of private buyers.

“We are heartbroken and furious,” Susan Golden, vice president of the nonprofit group, told the Picket on Thursday. The items came from private collections – including a board member’s and others from a friend of the member.

“They only took Civil War artifacts,” said Golden. “They took only what we they wanted. They knew what they were doing.”

Visitor's center in background (KBA photo)
(Winchester Police Department)

Among the purloined items are an 1861 North Savage .36-caliber revolver, an 1860 Colt 4-screw revolver, an 1857 Smith patent carbine, a US Navy 1863 Navy leather primer pouch and an 1858 Remington .44-caliber revolver.

While a Winchester police news release cites the value of all items at about $5,600, Golden says $10,000 is a more accurate figure. Golden said none of the artifacts were directly linked to the two Civil War battles fought in Kernstown.

The site was closed for a few days before the discovery, but Golden believes the heist may have occurred on Friday, Sept. 28, or early Saturday.

The visitor center’s main doors are reinforced with bars, but the thieves must have used a ladder to access the second floor, disable the motion detectors and go downstairs to steal the artifacts, said Golden.

The thieves had to pull out display cases, she said. “They put everything back absolute perfect.”

Pritchard House (Kernstown Battlefield Association)

The association operates the 400-acre battlefield, the visitor's center/museum, artillery annex and the marquee Pritchard House (above), which contains artifacts relating to the four families that lived in the home from 1854 to 1945. Most of the programming is related to the Civil War, though a few other events, such as highland games, are held on the property’s fields.

“I have had really good volunteers,” said Golden. “If you are a huge Civil War buff they can tell you movement by movement. If not a Civil War buff, they can give you an overview.”

The first battle at Kernstown, in March 1862, was a rare Union victory over Maj. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. The second clash, in July 1864, was a significant Confederate win during the Valley Campaign.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Council wants more time to review depot bid

Saying they need more time to review the proposal, members of the Dalton (Ga.) City Council voted 4-0 Monday night to table a $300,000 bid for the Civil War railroad depot at 110 Depot St. "We only recently received the proposal and have been having some discussions," said City Council member Denise Wood. "We need to do some more due diligence, ask some more questions. We need a few more details about what Barrett Properties wants to do there." According to the company's proposal, the renovated depot would house two distinct businesses, a restaurant in the northern section and a bar in the southern section. The projected opening would be in December 2020. • Article