History of the Southern Museum
The Southern Museum was first opened in Kennesaw in 1972 as the Big Shanty Museum. This early iteration of what is today a Smithsonian Affiliate housed the steam locomotive General and was dedicated to telling the story of the April 12, 1862 “Great Locomotive Chase,” and event which briefly rose that engine and Kennesaw to prominence during the Civil War.
Over time the museum changed its name to the Kennesaw Civil War Museum and began to collect and interpret other artifacts from the War. The General, for obvious reasons, was still the main attraction at this humble facility. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the impressive locomotive-building collection of the Glover Machine Works of Marietta, GA became available that the museum was able to grow into what it has become today. Following a two-year renovation and expansion, the facility reopened in 2003 as the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History. The nearly-50,000 square foot facility houses three permanent galleries – Railroads: Lifelines of the Civil War, Glover Machine Works: Casting a New South, and The Great Locomotive Chase – and is home to various temporary and travelling exhibits as well. In addition to this broader focus, the museum also became a member of the prestigious Smithsonian Affiliations Program. This program allows the Museum to host traveling Smithsonian exhibits, book Smithsonian historians for lectures and feature Smithsonian artifacts within its permanent collections.
In 2007 the museum expanded again with the opening of the Jolley Education Center, an 8,000 square foot facility devoted to educating and entertaining youth through railroad history. This area offers classroom space for programs and rentals, as well as separate space for the very young to safely play alongside their older siblings. The Jolley Education Center also houses a “40 & 8” Merci Boxcar, a gift from the French people to the state of Georgia following World War II.
The newest addition to the Southern Museum came in 2016 with the opening of a new Research Center. This 8,200 square foot structure houses the museum’s large and ever-growing collection of archival material: documents which trace the growth and operations of some of the South’s largest railroads.
Always growing and always evolving, the Southern Museum offers something for the train lover or history buff in all of us! Come to Kennesaw and see this exciting facility for yourself!