History of the Southern Museum | Southern Museum | Kennesaw

The Soutern Museum as it loooks today

The Southern Museum as it looks Today

Museum History

Opened in 1972 as the Big Shanty[1] Museum in Kennesaw, Georgia, it showcased the famous General locomotive. Dedicated to telling the story of April 12, 1862 "Great Locomotive Chase," an event that briefly elevated the engine and the City of Kennesaw to prominence during the Civil War.

Kennesaw Civil War Museum ca 1990s

The Kennesaw Civil War Museum ca 1990s before the transition into the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History

Early Years and Expansion

While the General remained the main attraction, the museum began to collect and interpret other artifacts from the Civil War, eventually changing its name to the Kennesaw Civil War Museum.

Glover Machine Works

In the mid-1990s, an impressive locomotive-building collection of the Glover Machine Works of Marietta, Georgia became available and was curated by the museum, forming the foundation of what the Museum has become today.

Expansion of 2003

Beginning in 2001, a two-year renovation and enlargement of the facility culminated into a nearly 50,000 square foot facility housing three permanent exhibits:

  • Railroads: Lifelines of the Civil War
  • Glover Machine Works: Casting a New South
  • The Great Locomotive Chase featuring the General Locomotive

Smithsonian Affiliate

As a Smithsonian Affiliate, Southern Museum is also home to various temporary and traveling exhibits. The Prestigious Smithsonian affiliations Program allows the Museum to host traveling Smithsonian exhibits, book Smithsonian historians for lectures, and feature Smithsonian artifacts within its permanent collections.

Educational Expansion of 2007

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.

Archival Research Center

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.

The Future

Always growing and ever evolving, the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History offers something for the train lover or history buff in all of us! Come to Kennesaw and see this exciting facility for yourself!

1 The Western & Atlantic Railroad led to the establishment of several towns along the railroad tracks, including Big Shanty, which would eventually become known as Kennesaw. The settlement was the highest point located between the Etowah and Chattahoochee rivers.

A cluster of natural springs was located along the railroad right of way. The high ground and water supply encouraged the camp of railroad workers to build houses or shanties. Because the area was on a hill and led to the houses, it became known as the Big Grade to the Shanties, eventually shortened to Big Shanty.

In 1850 the Western & Atlantic Railroad acquired a section of land that would later serve as the location for the depot and Lacy Hotel; establishments built for travelers along the rail line. Before the Civil War Big Shanty was a farming and railroad community; the area had grown to include a train depot, post office, cotton gin, blacksmith shop, doctor’s office, and a few stores.

Website Search

Become a Member

When you become a member, you get two great memberships in one!

Learn More

Join Our Mailing List

Subscribe to the Southern Museum's mailing list

Join Now

Book a Field Trip

Reinforce your classroom work with an educational student field trip to the Southern Museum!

Book Now


Purchase tickets online here and pick them up at the front desk when you come visit us at the Museum.

Buy Now