On Jan. 19, the city of Kennesaw broke ground on a new amphitheater for Depot Park. The amphitheater is one of the finishing touches on the park, which has a long and storied history.
The first depot in our community (a wooden structure built before the Civil War) was located near the Big Shanty Eating House, later known as the Lacy Hotel. The railroad built the hotel in 1859 to serve passengers, and it became famous in April 1862 as the starting point of the Great Locomotive Chase. Both the hotel and the depot were burned in 1864, during the war.
The depot’s replacement was another small wooden structure, built shortly after the war, and a new hotel was built around the same time. When Kennesaw was incorporated in 1887, the city limits were set at “one-half mile from the depot of the Western and Atlantic Railroad Co.”
After 20 years of use, the depot needed improvements. In 1891, the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railroad announced a replacement was in the works. It opened in 1893, and the Marietta Journal’s correspondent called it “an honor to the place and very much needed.” That same year, the old structure was moved away from the railroad tracks, near where the amphitheater will be built. Its ultimate fate is not known.
The 1893 depot was expanded in 1902 and again during the 1920s. By the 1950s, the days of passenger service were numbered, and city officials began planning for the structure’s future. In 1954, the City Council considered turning it into City Hall. There also were plans in 1959 to turn it into a museum about the Great Locomotive Chase. Neither of those plans came to pass. Passengers last used the depot in the early 1960s, and the city purchased it in 1962. Since then, it has been used for a variety of purposes and now is a local history museum and special-events space.
The city first leased the area around the depot in 1975 and eventually purchased it from the state. Other pieces of land in what is now Depot Park were bought in 1987 and 2017. One of these properties is the historic B.H. Carrie House at the corner of Big Shanty Drive and Cherokee Street. The yellow house was built around 1890 by Benjamin H. Carrie, a former mayor. It was relocated a short distance from its original site in the 2000s to make it more accessible. Currently, it’s being refurbished to be the green room for the new amphitheater.
Plans for Depot Park have been in the works since 1995, when a “historic village” was proposed. Homes from the 19th century would have been relocated to the site, along with a blacksmith shop and a tannery. A replica of the Big Shanty Eating House also would have been constructed. The plan did not come to fruition.
Another project, announced in 2008, involved building the tunnel under the railroad tracks and a new home for the Kennesaw Library. The tunnel opened in 2010, but the library plan never was realized.
The ribbon cutting for Depot Park was held on June 22, 2021. The park features a walking path, several bridges and its highlight and namesake, the Kennesaw Depot. The addition of an amphitheater will complete the middle portion of the park.
Gateway Park is just to the south of Depot Park, on the same block. It opened in 2018 and features a large sign designed by students from Kennesaw State University. Interestingly, there once might have been another park on the site. Local historian Mark Smith, writing in the 1980s, described a baseball field with “home plate … near the present intersection of Sardis and South Main Street, with the batter hitting towards the northwest.” When a bridge was built on Main Street over the railroad tracks, the ball field was closed. Council minutes indicate this happened before 1936.
The Kennesaw Depot originally was the heart of the community, as it was the railroad that created Kennesaw. When the city was incorporated, the depot kept its status as the literal center point of our town. With the construction of Depot Park, it once again can return to its rightful place as a focal point for the community.
– Andrew Bramlett is vice president of the Kennesaw Historical Society and an honorary member of the Kennesaw Cemetery Preservation Commission.
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