Hoping to capitalize on the tremendous growth of the area during the second half of the 19th century, the Western and Atlantic Railroad developed a brochure in 1885 to advertise passenger schedules, and to describe the cities and attractions in the area. Joseph M. Brown, who later served as Governor of Georgia, was working for the railroad at the time. Serving as General Passenger Agent, he was responsible for providing content for the brochure. Brown decided to include a description of each city along the rail line. When writing about Marietta, he wrote that it was “the little Gem City of Georgia.” The phrase stuck - for a while.
After a few decades, “The Gem City” was used less and less to describe Marietta. Eventually, new phrases and slogans like "It's Hip to be Square" were developed, and “The Gem City” began to fade into obscurity. Fast forward to the early 2000s when Cobb Landmarks is working on a Marietta history book. Written by Douglas M. Frey, the book explores Marietta's history with stories of fifty historic Marietta houses. When it came to naming the book, there was a clear choice. It would be called Marietta: The Gem City of Georgia. Today Cobb Landmarks is keeping the phrase alive with a line of products available in the Gift Shop at the William Root House Museum.
Gary Lassiter, a descendant of Hannah and William Root, recently contacted Cobb Landmarks to say that he had something to give to the organization. The imaginations of the Cobb Landmarks staff members went wild. The last time Lassiter had stopped by the William Root House Museum, which is owned and operated by Cobb Landmarks, he ended up donating a stack of some forty Root family letters written between 1830 and 1890, as well as a collection of books, countless family photos, and a variety of personal items from Hannah, William, and the Root children. A direct descendant of Mary Root, Hannah and William’s only daughter, Lassiter has collected and preserved Root family heirlooms his entire life.
Lassiter arrived at the Root House on January 17th with a large package in tow. Before revealing the contents, he began to tell a story that sounded familiar to Cobb Landmarks Executive Director Trevor Beemon. The story was about a Presbyterian Minister named John Simpson, an ardent patriot during the Revolutionary War and grandfather of Hannah (Simpson) Root.
A resident of Chester County, South Carolina, John Simpson had been the pastor at Fishing Creek Church since 1774, but decided to join the local militia led by Thomas Sumter in 1780. That same year, Lord Cornwallis, the British commander in the south, ordered British Legion commander Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton to find Sumter and his men. Notorious Loyalist commander Christian Huck was sent to capture Simpson at Fishing Creek Church on Sunday, June 11, 1780. Huck had intended to find Simpson and his congregation at the church, but he found no one there. Huck ordered the church be burned and started toward Simpson’s home.
Simpson’s wife, Mary, was informed of Huck’s impending arrival and took her children to hide in an orchard near the home. When Huck arrived, his men ransacked the house and set the house, library, and barn on fire. When the British soldiers departed, Mary ran into the burning library to save as many books as she could. Suffering from burns, Mary was able to save two aprons full of books, including the family Bible - this family Bible, which Lassiter now held in his hands.
If the story sounds like something straight out of Hollywood, you’re right. Both Banastre Tarleton and Christian Huck inspired the character Colonel William Tavington in the movie, The Patriot. The film’s character, Reverend Oliver, is loosely based on John Simpson. The events of June 11, 1780, are also commemorated each year during a reenactment held at Historic Brattonsville in South Carolina. The event includes a reenactment of the burning of Simpson’s home and his wife’s retrieval of the family Bible.
Beemon, who had studied the Revolutionary War in college and had attended the reenactments held at Brattonsville several times, was shocked to be holding the Bible that had been part of such an incredible Revolutionary War story.
Research into the Bible confirms that it was published in 1700. Likely damaged during the fire, the Bible was rebound in 1788. The Bible was handed down to Hannah Root’s father, Leonard Simpson, and was then handed down to Hannah and William Root upon Leonard’s death in 1856. The Roots had the Bible rebound again in 1860, and a final time in 1888. Though the Bible has been rebound several times, it still retains its original front and back covers, which include signatures from Rev. John Simpson, William Root, and William’s sons, “Willie” and “Jim.”
Cobb Landmarks plans to build a special case and design an exhibit panel to tell the story of this rare artifact. The Bible will be displayed in the Root House, returning it to the place it resided during the mid-1800s when the Root family owned it. “Cobb Landmarks is truly honored to have this Bible in our collection and we thank Gary Lassiter for his generosity and his faith in our organization to care for this treasure,” said Beemon.
Earlier this year, Marietta City Schools announced plans to relocate its Central Office to the site of the old Lemon Street High School near the Marietta Square. The new structure would be designed to replicate the c. 1930 Lemon Street High School building that had been demolished in 1967. Plans for the new building included a museum dedicated to telling the story of Marietta City Schools from 1892 to the present day. The plan was very exciting, but one thing wasn't clear - the future of the c. 1950 Lemon Street Grammar School located directly across the street. The district needed more space, and the old Grammar School building was in need of substantial upgrades and repairs. A rumored demolition plan prompted Trevor Beemon, Executive Director of Cobb Landmarks, to reach out to Marietta City Schools.
"For me it was important for Cobb Landmarks to get in touch with Marietta City Schools early in the planning stages of their project," said Beemon. "I want Cobb Landmarks to be a resource for our partners. I have found that opening up a dialogue and helping walk through different options usually leads to a successful outcome for everyone." When Trevor met with Grant Rivera, Superintendent of Marietta City Schools, he was happy to hear that preserving the Lemon Street Grammar School was a priority of his. "We have always known, due to its unique history, that the building is worth saving," said Rivera. Cobb Landmarks expressed the importance of maintaining the historic exterior of the structure at the very least, but hoped for more. "The question was whether we could afford to save the building while being good stewards of taxpayer dollars," said Rivera. "We are pleased to say that, after careful study, we will be able to do both."
Currently used as a warehouse for the District, the Lemon Street Grammar School will be returned to its original use: educating Marietta's students. Marietta City Schools plans to preserve the building's exterior and key architectural features while rehabilitating the interior, making it conducive to a modern learning environment. The building is slated to open in 2021 as the new home to the Marietta Performance Learning Center, a division of Marietta High School. A small exhibition inside the school will further tell the story of the once-segregated school system, while outdoor interpretive panels will focus on the history of the surrounding community. "When historic buildings are torn down, a part of the past disappears forever," said Beemon."Preserving buildings like the Lemon Street Grammar School means we care about the places where our community's character was shaped."
The Marietta Board of Education voted unanimously to support the rehabilitation of the Lemon Street Grammar School during their June 11, 2019 meeting.
Cobb Landmarks & Historical Society is honored to be the recipient and guardian of two important and substantial collections of historical documents, correspondence, photographs, maps, and newspapers donated by the Marietta Daily Journal and the Bill Kinney family. These collections form a unique picture of the history of Marietta and Cobb County over the last century and will provide an invaluable tool to local history researchers in the future.
Bill Kinney, Jr., who died in 2016 after a lifetime in Cobb County, was longtime editor of first the Cobb County Times and then the Marietta Daily Journal when those papers merged. His obituary refers to him as "a living, breathing encyclopedia for everything Cobb County." He retired in 2013 after 75 years covering the people and politics of Marietta and Cobb. His "Around Town" column was the premier source of local news for many years, and his name still appeared on the masthead as Associate Editor Emeritus until his death.
The Kinney collection contains some personal items - including his typewriter - as well as personal papers and correspondence covering events ranging from the establishment of Kennesaw Battlefield Park, the Leo Frank case, the building of the Bell Bomber Plant, the founding of Kennesaw College, and much, much more.
The Marietta Daily Journal collection comprises a vast collection of reporter notebooks, film, photography, and audio recordings.
Cobb Landmarks thanks the MDJ and the Kinney family for entrusting us with this rich collection of local history materials. Cobb Landmarks' long-term plan is to digitize each collection. This project will be funded through grants and/or private donations. Cobb Landmarks is currently seeking funding. The vision is to provide access to these and similar files through a searchable database through the Cobb Landmarks website and to establish a research library located in Marietta.
Cobb Landmarks & Historical Society has received the personal works and research materials of the late Joe Kirby, local historian and longtime columnist and Editorial Page Editor at the Marietta Daily Journal.
The family of the late Joe Kirby has donated his personal collection of photographs, books, research materials, notes, and awards to Cobb Landmarks & Historical Society. Longtime columnist and Editorial Page Editor at the Marietta Daily Journal, Joe wrote several local history books, including The Marietta Country Club: A Centennial History, 1915-2015, The Bell Bomber Plant, and The Lockheed Plant. He also co-authored Then and Now: Marietta and Then and Now: Marietta Revisited, and served as Contributing Editor to Civil War News for many years. Joe passed away on October 30, 2015.
Joe earned a degree in history and communications from James Madison University in 1977. Following graduation, he worked as a general assignment reporter for The Chieftain in Toccoa, Georgia. After moving to the Roswell Neighbor in 1986, Joe took a job at the Marietta Daily Journal in 1987 and was named Editorial Page Editor in 1992. Joe held this position until his death. During his time with the Marietta Daily Journal, Joe received numerous awards, including The Freedom of Information Award, as well as awards from the Georgia Press Association and the Associated Press (Georgia).
Joe was also very involved in the community and served on the boards of the Cobb Library Foundation, Kennesaw Mountain Historical Association, the Marietta Kiwanis Club, and the Marietta Museum of History, and was a longtime member and supporter of Cobb Landmarks.
Cobb Landmarks has recently embarked on a $600,000 capital expansion project entitled The Next Generation, which will enlarge Cobb Landmarks' William Root House Museum campus, adding executive offices, a lecture and event space, and a conference room and research library. Because of the significance of the collection and the donation, Cobb Landmarks is pleased to announce that it will be naming the new research library the Joe Kirby Research Library in his honor. Cobb Landmarks is pleased to be the permanent home of the Joe Kirby collection and looks forward to making these priceless materials available to researchers and historians in the future.
ABOUT COBB LANDMARKS: Cobb Landmarks & Historical Society has succeeded in preserving and protecting some of Georgia's most historically relevant buildings through the generosity of dedicated supporters - people who care deeply about local history. Each year, Cobb Landmarks provides engaging programs and activities that reach thousands of preservationists, tourists, teachers, college students, and school-age children. Many of these programs are centered on the organization's two historic properties, the William Root House Museum & Garden and the Power Cabin.
ABOUT THE NEXT GENERATION: Cobb Landmarks plans to move the historic 1830s Manning Cabin to the William Root House Museum property. Once relocated to the Root House site, the 875 sq. ft. cabin will be used as an exhibit space and as an event and lecture space. A large addition to the cabin will contain executive offices, a research library and conference room, public restrooms, and a small catering kitchen. Cobb Landmarks also plans to make the space available to rent for private events and meetings.
LEARN MORE: cobblandmarks.com/nextgeneration
581 Kennesaw Avenue NW, Marietta, GA
$2,499,900 | 5 bed | 4.5 bath | 5,407SqFt | 5.5acres
Oakton, a 5.5-acre estate that includes Marietta’s oldest surviving house, is back on the market. The house was built around 1838 by Judge David Irwin, and it served as the headquarters for Confederate Major General William W. Loring during the battle of Kennesaw Mountain in 1864. Oakton is one of the most historic estates in all of Georgia. A masterful combination of architectural styles, the five-bay stucco facade features octagonal bay windows, ornamented porch posts, a dramatic entry with a decorative glass transom and sidelights, and deep gabled dormers. The landscape includes boxwood gardens that date from the 1870s and outbuildings that have been meticulously restored and maintained.
The following speech was written by Marietta resident Douglas M. Frey and was delivered to the Marietta City Council on September 13, 2017:
My name is Douglas Frey and I live on Trammell Street, which is within walking distance of here. I’m in Councilman Johnny Walker’s ward. I moved here with my wife from East Cobb almost twenty years ago because of a house, an historic one, and it’s that house that keeps us here. That and Marietta Square and Kennesaw Mountain and the historic houses on Church and Cherokee Streets, and those on Kennesaw and Whitlock Avenues.
But it’s more than just pretty houses. It’s the people who built and lived in them, and their stories that intrigue us. It was this curiosity that led me to write a book on Marietta’s architectural history – The Gem City of Georgia.
I think you’d agree that it is our history that makes us unique. People want to move to Marietta to be surrounded by our lovely historic homes, even if they don’t live in one themselves. Where else can you eat Sushi in an antebellum warehouse? Panini sandwiches in a former bank? Or croissants from one of the first drugstores in the city?
We’re surrounded by history and this is what gives us comfort and creates the incredible sense of community that we can never take for granted. Take away any of those things I just mentioned and the reason for us to stay diminishes.
That is why I appreciate this occasion to speak with you about an opportunity that could be as everlasting and bountiful as the acquisition of Glover Park has been to our city. I’m asking you to carefully and sincerely consider saving the historic home known as Oakton through its purchase.
Oakton is older than the William Root House, the Kennesaw House, the Archibald Howell House, Tranquilla, or Brumby Hall. It was built not long after the founding of our city, so its history begins with the removal of the Cherokee Indians, and spans “The War Between the States,” where it was occupied by Confederate and Union soldiers. When Marietta began to recover from the war, Oakton attracted coastal elites, who remodeled the home into its current style and used it as a summer retreat for many decades. And Oakton has been lived in and lovingly cared for by the same family for nearly 80 years. It is Marietta’s oldest home and twenty years from today, will celebrate its 200th birthday.
Two hundred years is a big deal. Oakton is arguably the city’s most historic house and we are in peril of losing it. And if that sad prospect were not enough, the home sits on a treasure trove of ancient oak trees and a boxwood garden that was planted in the 1870s, a garden still flourishing and one that was so admired it was one of only three Marietta gardens featured in the 1933 book, “Garden History of Georgia.” Of the 160 Georgia gardens featured in the book, Oakton is one of only a handful that survives. Those irreplaceable gardens would likely be lost, as well.
Now, I have to tell you that I am uncomfortable being here. I normally don’t believe governments should be involved in projects that could be served by the private sector. But we see time and time again that sometimes, our government has to play an active role in things that we are reluctant to get involved in, but we know would not get done were it not to lead the charge.
We see city action in the removing of urban blight on Franklin Gateway and are seeing its revival as we speak. And we see our city preserving our heritage through the declaration of local historic districts and the county actively identifying land to preserve for parks and greenspace.
So, as hesitant as I am standing before you, I know in my heart that you believe as I do, that that there are some things that must be fought for so as not to be discarded and forgotten. Marietta continues to grow in population and prosperity. It’s all around us, from the constant expansion of Kennestone Hospital to never-ending improvements on the Square. And one of the major factors responsible for that growth is the historic nature of the city, mainly manifested in its old neighborhoods and houses. Lose one and others are sure to follow.
As you perform your due diligence, I want to remind you that the city has successfully cared for Brumby Hall and our first public library, the Sarah Freeman Clarke Library on Church Street. And in our midst is the old Federal Post Office building that now serves our community as a vibrant art museum.
These examples may cost the taxpayers money but the value they add to the city cannot be measured. Or can it? In 2013, Cobb County tourism supported 16,210 jobs, generated $1.4 billion in direct tourism spending, and over $30 million in local tax revenue.
We may also look to our sister city of Smyrna and its purchase of the Taylor–Brawner House. That purchase has made such a positive impact on the city that Smyrna officials are currently restoring another historic property nearby for its citizens, the picturesque Reed House on Atlanta Road. In Kennesaw, we see the success of Smith-Gilbert Gardens with a historic home that dates to the 1880s. But perhaps the best example of city stewardship of antebellum properties is found in Roswell, which has received national recognition for its efforts and made Roswell a magnet for tourism. Maybe it’s time to begin a new chapter in the history of Oakton and expand its place in our collective memory.
I only ask that as you entertain this idea, please imagine the pleasure you’ve had throughout the years driving by Oakton and glancing up through the maze of oaks to the beautiful house on the hill, nestled at the base of Kennesaw Mountain. And, now, think of it gone and ten to twenty houses in its place.
That is the reality that confronts us. A vital component of the legacy of The Gem City of Georgia is in your hands. Please help our community save Oakton.
Photo by Jim DiVitale
Oakton, a 5.5-acre estate that includes Marietta’s oldest surviving house, is at risk of being lost to demolition and redevelopment. The Kennesaw Avenue property has been for sale for over 2 years, and the owners have not yet found a buyer who plans to preserve the historic property. The house was built around 1838 by Judge David Irwin, and it served as the headquarters for Confederate Major General William W. Loring during the battle of Kennesaw Mountain in 1864. The home has spent most of its 179-year history in the stewardship of the Wilder and Goodman families.
Oakton is one of the most historic estates in all of Georgia. A masterful combination of architectural styles, the five-bay stucco facade features octagonal bay windows, ornamented porch posts, a dramatic entry with a decorative glass transom and sidelights, and deep gabled dormers. The landscape includes boxwood gardens that date from the 1870s and outbuildings that have been meticulously restored and maintained. But Oakton has no protection from demolition or redevelopment because it is not located in a local historic district.
Preservation of any city’s most historic buildings is an investment in both the past and the future, protecting real places that represent a community’s history so that they may be shared by future generations. Cobb Landmarks & Historical Society, Inc. (Cobb Landmarks) has been preserving, protecting, and promoting the William Root House Museum & Garden for over 20 years, and the City’s other museums also do a fine job sharing Marietta’s rich history. Oakton’s distinguished history and faithful preservation up to the present moment make it a local landmark worth saving.
The time to save Oakton as a valuable link between Marietta’s past and future is now, before a contract with a real estate developer puts the house in irreversible jeopardy. Cobb Landmarks encourages the City of Marietta to acquire the Oakton estate as a local historic landmark, joining Brumby Hall & Gardens, the Sarah Freeman Clarke Library, and the City Water Works buildings under City ownership and care. The estate could be used as a community center, house museum and garden, or some other type of public facility. While there is time to determine its long-term public use, the future of Oakton needs to be secured now, before it is too late. Cobb Landmarks calls on the City of Marietta to take this important step.