History Lives on Marietta Square
A day at the square is both a touchstone for the past and a way to relish the present.
One of my favorite things about Marietta is “The Square.”
I took my daughter, Elinor, there Saturday. It’s one of her favorite places, too. Being a history writer, I couldn’t help bringing the topic of its history to bear. For me, Marietta Square is a historic microcosm.
“The cool thing about this square,” I tell her as we get out of the car, “is that it has been here for almost 180 years, even if it didn’t always look like this.” Indeed, even as I say this, I remember the sad state into which the square had fallen during and after the Civil War.
In the 1840s and 1850s, the square was as beautiful a place as it is today. Then as now, it was encompassed by a fence, but during the final years of the War Between the States that fence went the way of all fences in Cobb County: It was torn apart to be used in fortifications.
After the war, in the first years of Reconstruction, one of the missing fence’s practical functions became apparent to everyone: It had kept the animals out.
For four years after the war, various livestock shared the park with humans. Even as merchants began rebuilding, animals threatened to undo the work. Pigs rooted up the bricks and stones of the new sidewalks, and goats ate saplings planted to replace the shade trees cut down during the war.
An 1869 ordinance required all livestock in the city limits to be penned, and in July 1870 the new fence around the park was completed.
Elinor and I pass the current fence and enter Glover Park, which teems with visitors. As always, there is a large assortment of canines showing off their owners. I remark at how well the grass and flowers are tended, and she pauses to watch a photographer.
We stop in front of the statue of Alexander Stephens Clay, rich in its green patina.
“He was one of Marietta’s great men,” I tell her, “but it was really his son, Lucius Clay, who was the hero. He’s the one who brought Dobbins here, although it was called Rickenbacker Field back then, and it was mostly because of his influence that Bell Aircraft built its bomber plant here, which is now Lockheed. So really you could say that he was responsible for our prosperity today.”
I look at my daughter. She is 13, so most of what I am saying seems lost on her. Kids her age live in the present—an admirable quality. She has barely glanced at the statue; her eyes instead are busy scanning the side streets for Eddie’s Trick Shop, Antiques on the Square, the Australian Bakery and the D.K. Gallery, all of which are required stops for her whenever we come into town.
Eddie’s is always first. I enjoy browsing there almost as much as my children do, but even amid the latex masks and mullet wigs I am reminded of the building’s history: The floorboards are wavy.
As is the case with many Saturdays, today is a special day on the square: One of the streets has been blocked off where both a farmers market and an artists market have been set up. We peruse the vendors’ booths in the heat, and I am reminded how splendid it will be to visit the square when autumn comes.
When I finally rejoin her, she is walking silently from exhibit to exhibit, her hands clasped under her chin, her eyes both intense and serene. She is taking in every detail, although she makes few comments.
Outside, standing on the bricks beside the railroad tracks, my enthusiasm overflows again. “Right here,” I say. “Right here is where they stood! Here, where we are now!” My arms are spread out to indicate the space. “Andrews and his men bought their tickets over there” (I point to the neighboring train depot) “to different locations along the line so that nobody would know they were together. Then they waited right here to board the train from Atlanta. When it stopped in Big Shanty, everyone got off for breakfast. That’s when they unhitched the passenger cars from the locomotive and stole it!”
Elinor says nothing to this. She knows the story. She has read my columns, and she has heard me talk about the theft of the General at least a hundred times. The phrase “beating a dead horse” comes to mind, so I decide to lay off the history lessons for a while.
We finish off the day with dinner at Shillings. Here in the South, dinner is a midday meal, not to be confused with supper. But I don’t say this to her.
In fact, it is she who gives the last history lesson of the day. She points at the ceiling and says, “Dad, look up!”
The ceiling is punched tin. It must be 100 years old at least.
“Isn’t that cool?” she says.
Yes, Elinor. It’s very cool.