KENNESAW, Ga. (AP) — A Cobb County lawmaker says he won't fight a state agency's ruling that one of the trains involved in The Great Locomotive Chase is owned by the city of Atlanta.
The decision comes after about three months of research to determine the owner of the Texas, now housed in Atlanta, by Steve Stancil, the state property officer for the State Properties Commission, and legal advice from Attorney General Sam Olens of east Cobb County.
In April, state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, advocated for the train to move to Kennesaw's Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History. Ehrhart said Kennesaw, known as Big Shanty at the time, is where The Great Locomotive Chase began and where the General, the second train involved, is on display.
However, Ehrhart said he can't deny the decision by the State Properties Commission.
"I'm not one to stare a set of facts in the face and argue with them. Unfortunately, the facts don't support our case," Ehrhart said.
Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews, who also advocated to bring the Texas to his city, suggested Kennesaw work with Atlanta in the future to bring the history of the two trains together.
"I hope that the city of Atlanta will provide the proper care for this great artifact," Mathews said.
"It's too bad that it's not going to be on display anytime soon in Kennesaw next to the engine it chased down in the Great Locomotive Chase — the General. We wish them the best of success in their new location and hope that we can find ways in the future to collaborate together and help each other share in telling possibly the best story of the Civil War."
Even though the locomotive may belong to Atlanta, Ehrhart said it still has a place in Kennesaw.
"That was the actual location of the Great Locomotive Chase with the General and the Texas, with the Yankees coming down here and stealing our train and us chasing them. It's a fun history. It was a great anecdote to the Civil War right here in this area. There's just so much history, and I would have liked to see it come home there," Ehrhart said.
Ehrhart said he's disappointed, but he doesn't think there's any way to fight the decision that would lead to victory for Kennesaw.
Kennesaw has no rights to claim ownership to the locomotive based on his research, Stancil said in a statement.
"After a review by the Georgia Department of Law, we believe there is little question that the Texas belongs to the city of Atlanta," Stancil wrote.
The General is owned by the state and is on permanent loan to Kennesaw, according to Mathews.
The Texas has been displayed at the Cyclorama in Grant Park since 1911.
On June 30, the Cyclorama, which features the world's largest oil painting depicting the Battle of Atlanta, painted in 1885 and 1886 by artists from Germany, closed. The painting and the Texas will move to a newly constructed wing of the Atlanta History Center in Buckhead set to open in early 2017.
The Texas was built in 1856 for the Western & Atlantic Railroad, based in Atlanta and owned by the state, according to the Atlanta History Center. The Texas was put to work transporting goods during the war in 1863 after being involved in The Great Locomotive Chase, the history center reports.
With the war over, in 1890, the locomotive was one of 45 trains leased to the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway. The train was worn down over the years and wasn't located again until 1903 when Atlanta historian Wilbur Kurtz found it had been "condemned" and was in Emerson.
A civic group called the Ladies of Atlanta asked in 1907 for the train to be donated to the city of Atlanta, and the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway agreed in 1908. The train has belonged to Atlanta ever since, according to the Atlanta History Center.
The Great Locomotive Chase, the title of the 1956 Disney film depicting the historic event, happened 153 years ago. On April 12, 1862, a crew of Union and civilian men led by James Andrew, known as Andrews' Raiders, stole the General while it was stopped in Kennesaw, Stancil said.
"The Yankees jumped on the train and took off toward Chattanooga with it," Stancil said. "Of course, their idea was to knock down the telegraph lines and burn bridges or do anything they could to disrupt the rail line."
Confederates soon embarked on a miles-long chase after the General, some on foot, others in carts or other modes of transportation.
Eventually, the Confederates boarded the Texas, and, after a nearly 90-mile chase, caught up with the General just before reaching Chattanooga. Some of the Union soldiers caught were later hanged, according to a description of the chase from The Southern Museum. Other Union soldiers involved in the event were given Medals of Honor posthumously.
Even with the official decision from the state, one Cobb County historian is still yearning for the train to return to Cobb.
Dan Cox, founder and CEO of the Marietta Museum of History, said he would like to have the Texas, too. Cox's museum is housed in Kennesaw House off Marietta Square, once a Civil War-era hotel in which several of Andrews' Raiders stayed on the night prior to the hijacking.
"I think it probably needs to come to Marietta to tell you the truth," Cox said. "Kennesaw really doesn't need it as bad as we do. I figure if we could get the Texas here, it would help tourism between both cities because people would come to see this one and then go see that one."
Cox admitted that "everyone wants it" and the debate about who the locomotive belongs to has been ongoing for about 10 years.
"I know Kennesaw wants it. They're a great place. They've probably got one of the best museums in the state up there, and it's very well-done, very well-organized, very well-funded. But, I just thought if it's going to be moved and Atlanta didn't want it, it would be ideal for us to get it because it certainly would increase tourism here in town and give us a hook to get people off the highway like the General has up there," Cox said.
Maria Saporta, editor of The Saporta Report, published a column Wednesday written by Sheffield Hale, president and CEO of the Atlanta History Center, titled "Sorry Cobb — Atlanta's identity is intertwined with our locomotive — 'the Texas.'"
Saporta writes at the end of the article that Cobb County saw the move of the Cyclorama as a chance to steal the Texas.
"The change of location gave Atlanta's neighbors to the north (Cobb County) a glimmer of hope that they could kidnap the Texas — just like they did the Atlanta Braves," Saporta wrote.
Ehrhart said he doesn't appreciate the comment and characterized it as the attitude of "poor winners."
"You don't celebrate on the court in front of the other team. That's just rude," Ehrhart said.
Information from: Marietta Daily Journal, http://mdjonline.com/