The cities of Adairsville and Kingston will commemorate this week the events of April 12, 1862. One hundred and fifty years ago, James Andrews led a Union spy raid behind enemy lines resulting in what is now known as the Great Locomotive Chase.
The chase lasted only a matter of hours running from Big Shanty, now Kennesaw, to an area just north of Ringgold but its legacy is remembered to this day. The engine hijacked by Andrews' raiders, The General, can even be found emblazoned on Adairsville and Kingston's city seals.
Both cities will host events marking the anniversary. Kingston will celebrate with a special ceremony recognizing an unsung hero and Adairsville will spread festivities across three days culminating in Heritage Day on Saturday.
Ceremonies will begin Thursday with Kingston honoring the memory of Uriah Stephens, a Kingston residence and switch operator at the time of the chase. As switch operator, Stephens literally held the keys to Andrews' advancement north. Due to congestion and Stephens' keen discernment, the Northern spies encountered their only resistance during a delay in Kingston.
"I think the sesquicentennial offers us an opportunity to recover the fact that Bartow has never fully appreciated the fact that we are the heart of the chase so we want to showcase that and the other point is that we have a really significant personality in this event that belongs to Bartow County," said Joe Head, local author and historian. "He was the only person that confronted Andrews, the raider, and challenged him. And he has not really been given his due."
The significant role of Bartow County and Uriah Stephens in the chase is detailed in an article by Head entitled "Uriah Stephens: Kingston's Voice of Resistance." In his article, Head describes Bartow as "the Heart of the Chase" -- where a bulk of the day's action took place -- and Stephens as a hero worth honoring.
"As a result of his relentless doubting of James Andrews and reluctance to give up the switch keys, we might also give [Stephens] the symbolic title of 'gatekeeper' and one who contributed to Bartow County becoming the Heart of the Chase," reads Head's article. "It would appear that Uriah Stephens is at least a local historic treasure, but his value may have been overlooked until now. However, the reality is that Kingston and Bartow County actually had a very productive citizen in Stephens and we should be proud to call him a 'favorite son.'"
Thursday at 11 a.m. at Kingston City Hall, Kingston Mayor Ron Casey and Bartow County Commissioner Clarence Brown will sign a proclamation recognizing the historic efforts of Stephens. At 1:30 p.m., a marker in his honor will be unveiled at the Kingston Women's History Museum.
In attendance for these events will be descendants of Stephens. Collaborating organizations have made it possible to host Stephens' great-great-granddaughter and great-great-great-granddaughter.
Nettie Holt, president of the Kingston Women's History Club, invites anyone with an interest in history to join the Thursday ceremonies.
"Our history is important," Holt said. "The Civil War is a prominent piece of history for Kingston, it's probably the most significant.
"There's a number of people who are very interested in Civil War history and what took place and this is just a way to remember history. They say if you forget history then it has a tendency to repeat itself."
Kingston's Thursday events will be presented by the Kingston Women's History Club, the Etowah Valley Historical Society, the Bartow History Museum and the Cartersville-Bartow County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Adairsville Heritage Day
Adairsville too will kick off celebrations on Thursday with happenings at the downtown Adairsville Rail Depot and Age of Steam Museum followed by events on both Friday and Saturday.
On Thursday, the museum will be open for tours with staff in period attire for those marking the anniversary. Friday will feature an afternoon tea at Maggie Mae's Tea Room in the 1902 Stock Exchange, 142 Public Square.
The Friday tea, to begin at 3 p.m., will play stage to re-enactors presenting the program, "A Soldier's Life During the Civil War" with readings from letters written by Civil War soldiers. Cost is $10. For more information, call 770-773-1902.
Adairsville events will come to a head Saturday for the celebration of Heritage Day where re-enactors will roam the streets, period games will be available for kids and a double feature will shown in the afternoon.
"Saturday is the main event. Saturday will be Heritage Day. We will have old fashion games and we will have people doing various demonstrations. ... We have re-enactors that will be here. We have a costume contest for children 2 to 12 for 1860s costumes. We also will have old-fashioned food. So everything will be geared to the 1860 time period," said Director of the Adairsville Welcome Center Cooky King. "It's just a chance for people from Adairsville and our visitors to experience some of what the 1860s would have been like. They can learn about how things were done, taste the food from the time period, play games they would have played. So it ought to be a great opportunity for everyone to experience a little of the 1860s and celebrate the chase, which is so important to our history here."
Beginning at 10 a.m., the streets of downtown Adairsville will be open to the public to discover life in the 1860s. The Adairsville High School shop class constructed telegraph simulators and an instructor will be on hand to help guests tap out their name in Morse code. Admission is free but games and food will cost extra.
At noon, the Sans Souci Women's Club will hold a cake walk and at 1 p.m. movies will begin at the United Methodist Church Family Life Center. At 1 and 3 p.m., movies depicting the Great Locomotive Chase will be open and free to the public. The evening's events will conclude with door prizes being drawn at 5 p.m.
"We're hoping they'll just come out and have a good time and help us commemorate the 150th anniversary of the chase," said Adairsville Downtown Development Director Linda Bass. "It's just an opportunity to try and get people downtown. So many people don't know that our little downtown is down here and it's just something to bring in the historical aspect of it and have a little fun."
If you go:
Kingston: Thursday, April 12; Proclamation signing at 11 a.m.; Monument dedication at 1:30 p.m.
Adairsville: Thursday, April 12; Depot museum open for tours. Friday, April 13; Afternoon tea at 3 p.m.. Saturday, April 14; Games, demonstrations and movies from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.