The Historic Train Depot in Downtown Kennesaw is over 100 years old, but it is not the first such structure to serve the community. Construction on the nearby railroad was completed in 1850, and within a decade, a small, two-story hotel served as the primary stop for passengers. A drawing from the 1860s that appeared in the popular magazine Harpers Weekly also depicted an actual depot in the area, then known as Big Shanty, but the accuracy of the image continues to be debated. At the end of the Civil War, the Lacy Hotel and nearly every other structure in Big Shanty was destroyed, making verification of these early structures difficult.
The Western and Atlantic Railroad (W&A) resumed operations following the war, and in the 1870s, the line erected a new depot in Big Shanty. When Big Shanty incorporated and changed its name to Kennesaw in 1887, the local depot served as the center point from which the city limits were established. In 1890, the Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis Railway (NC&StL), assumed the lease to operate the W&A. In the course of operating the line, the NC&StL eventually replaced the 1870s depot with the one seen today, though the exact layout varied slightly from the current configuration. The Depot was redesigned in 1925 by reducing the size of the freight room while expanding and lowering the passenger and office areas.
The Depot remained in operation until 1968 when passenger service to the area ceased, and the City of Kennesaw subsequently purchased the structure. In the 1990s, the City refurbished the exterior of the Depot. The interior was remodeled in 2000, including new paint, the wooden platform surrounding the freight section of the structure was completely rebuilt, and an exhibit about local history was added to what used to be the passenger side of the building.
Recently, the staff of the Southern Museum completed a month’s long project to update and revitalize the local history exhibit inside the Depot. The displays, which include panels, cases and murals, now explore key topics in the history of the Kennesaw region. These displays include the indigenous peoples who once occupied the land, the impact of the Civil War, the significance of the railroad, the development of Downtown Kennesaw, cultural offerings of the City and the history of the Depot itself. The Depot’s bay window now boasts a rotating display of upcoming programs and attractions sponsored by the City of Kennesaw.
Kennesaw has a long and rich history, parts of which are not explored at the Southern Museum given its focus on railroads and the Civil War. The new exhibit inside the Depot is thus a welcome addition to the cultural legacy of the City.
The Historic Kennesaw at the Depot is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM