Ar­ti­facts tell story of how trains built At­lanta

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - By Jeff Martin

AT­LANTA — A newly re­stored steam lo­co­mo­tive known for chas­ing a stolen train in the Amer­i­can Civil War is help­ing to tell the story of how rail­roads fu­eled At­lanta’s growth since its ear­li­est days.

The At­lanta His­tory Cen­ter is us­ing many rail­road ar­ti­facts, a new ex­hibit hall and ac­tors play­ing the roles of his­toric rail­road fig­ures to show how rail­roads forged At­lanta into one of the South’s most im­por­tant trans­porta­tion and busi­ness hubs.

The newly re­stored 1856 lo­co­mo­tive “Texas” is paired with the Zero Mile Post, which marked the ter­mi­nus of the Western & At­lantic Rail­road and At­lanta’s epi­cen­ter. The 800-pound (363 kilo­gram) marker was re­cently moved from down­town At­lanta to the his­tory cen­ter in the city’s Buck­head neigh­bor­hood.

“Lo­co­mo­tion: Rail­roads and the Mak­ing of At­lanta” opened this month. It aims to tell the story of At­lanta — and how rail­roads shaped the fu­ture life of the city and the re­gion, said Sh­effield Hale, the his­tory cen­ter’s pres­i­dent and CEO.

“This lo­co­mo­tive, par­tic­u­larly when paired with the Zero Mile Post, is our ori­gin story,” Hale said. “This is why we’re here.”

“We’re here be­cause Western & At­lantic Rail­road chose this to be the spot,” he added. “This is the ori­gin story, this is our Planet Kryp­ton.”

The lo­co­mo­tive is lit up at night can be seen from the nearby side­walk and street through ex­pan­sive win­dows — part of Hale’s broader vi­sion to con­nect the his­tory cen­ter with the sur­round­ing com­mu­nity and make it more ac­ces­si­ble and invit­ing.

The Texas it­self has been de­signed with stairs, so vis­i­tors can climb into it, touch it and see first­hand how it a steam lo­co­mo­tive worked.

“The fact that they can get into the lo­co­mo­tive and see the coal, look into the en­gine box and do all that, we think is go­ing to make it just pop in terms of his­tory,” Hale said.

The Texas made his­tory dur­ing the “Great Lo­co­mo­tive Chase” of the Amer­i­can Civil War. U.S. Army troops north­west of At­lanta com­man­deered a lo­co­mo­tive named The Gen­eral in 1862. They then headed north­west to­ward Chat­tanooga, Ten­nessee, de­stroy­ing bridges and parts of the rail line along the way.

Con­fed­er­ate forces hopped aboard The Texas to chase the stolen train, even­tu­ally catch­ing it.

Be­fore go­ing on dis­play in At­lanta, The Texas un­der­went a year-and-a-half restora­tion by Steam Op­er­a­tions Corp. at the North Carolina Trans­porta­tion Mu­seum in Spencer, North Carolina.

In its per­ma­nent home in the his­tory cen­ter’s new Rollins Gallery, the ar­chi­tec­ture is rem­i­nis­cent of old train sta­tions and train sheds, and in­cludes sev­eral rail­road signs and a pas­sen­ger bench that dates back more than a cen­tury. Also on dis­play are rem­nants of two of At­lanta’s main train sta­tions: A 1905 bronze build­ing ded­i­ca­tion plaque and an op­er­at­ing sig­nal from At­lanta’s Ter­mi­nal Sta­tion; and the “Track 1” sign from At­lanta’s 1930 Union Sta­tion.

These ar­ti­facts are meant to tell the broad story of rail­road­ing in At­lanta, said Jack­son McQuigg, the his­tory cen­ter’s vice pres­i­dent of prop­er­ties Mu­seum the­atre per­for­mances will also help tell the story, he said. They will fea­ture per­for­mances from peo­ple play­ing the roles of his­toric rail­road fig­ures that in­clude pi­o­neer­ing wo­man brake­man Ger­tie Ste­wart; and South­ern Rail­way chair­man W. Gra­ham Clay­tor Jr.

/ AP-Jeff Martin

At­lanta His­tory Cen­ter Vice Pres­i­dent of prop­er­ties Jack­son McQuigg stands in front of a re­stored 1856 Texas lo­co­mo­tive as he talks about a new rail­road ex­hibit at At­lanta His­tory Cen­ter in At­lanta.

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