“I came across a great quotation about architecture, from Winston Churchill of all people,” said Joe Kirby during a lecture at the in Kennesaw on Saturday. “He said that at first, we shape our buildings, and then, our buildings shape us.”
Kirby’s talk, titled “Marietta Revisited: Then and Now,” was part of the Kennesaw Historical Society's lecture series highlighting the history of Cobb County. The organization hosted a last month.
In addition to authoring several books about the history of Marietta, Kirby is the current editorial page editor for the Marietta Daily Journal, a publication he has worked for since 1986. His lecture shares its namesake with the title of a book he published alongside Damien Guarnieri in 2007.
“We had an idea of matching old photos with new photos, taken at the exact same place, showing how things have changed, or in some cases, how things have not changed,” Kirby said. “These books are sort of a combination of local history and an argument in favor of preserving local history.”
Kirby’s lecture focused on a number of local landmarks, including the Kennesaw House, which was constructed in the 1840s. Originally a four-story building, the structure was partially destroyed during the Civil War, and played a prominent role in perhaps Kennesaw’s most famous Civil War event.
“This is where some of Andrews’ Raiders stayed the night before the ,” Kirby said. “They spent the night here, and then they caught the train when it stopped in Marietta. When it stopped in Kennesaw, they hijacked it.”
Kirby said the Kennesaw House was also a popular destination for wealthy residents of coastal Georgia and South Carolina during the 1880s. Following the Civil War, Kirby said that Marietta became “a resort community” and was marketed as a particularly appealing vacation spot for visiting ex-Union soldiers.
“There were a lot of towns back then that [advertised] having springs with medicinal qualities,“ Kirby said. “We were sort of elevated. Compared to Atlanta, we’re about 400-500 feet higher, plus we were on the railroads, so we were easily accessible.”
“People forget how new this area was,” Kirby said. “White people had been here, basically, for only about 30 years. They started building in the 1830s when the railroad came through here, and the Cherokees were moved out.”
“You had a fair number of wealthy, connected people here,” said Kirby. He said that the development of Marietta was greatly influenced by the founders of Roswell Mill, who located to the area in the 1840s.
“After the war, the Union Army went back to the battlefields where Sherman’s Army had fought during its invasion, and they disinterred thousands of Union men who had been buried on the battlefields,” Kirby stated. “They brought them to what is now the Marietta National Cemetery, overlooking Marietta.”
Kirby said that 16 acres of land was donated for the cemetery by a Marietta man named Dewitt Clinton Cole, a Union sympathizer who had been jailed by Confederates during wartime. At the end of the Civil War, Cole contributed the territory for use as both a Confederate and Union cemetery.
“The townspeople, as it turned out, didn’t want to bury the Confederate dead with the Union dead,” Kirby said. “During the war, a Confederate cemetery had already been established over along on what is now South Marietta Parkway, the South Loop, there right by the railroad track.”
“So now, there's about 3,000 Confederates over there, most of them are unknowns, and I believe there were about 15,000 Union dead buried here, many, many of whom are also unknown,” Kirby said.
Kirby concluded his lecture by examining the history of the Strand Theatre.
“For decades, this was where to go to see theater [in Marietta], but as the Square began to sag, beginning in the 1960s, you started getting competition, first from drive-in theaters, and then from other theaters and then multiplex theaters and mall theaters, and pretty soon, this thing was too outmoded.”
“People forget how rundown and seedy Marietta Square had got in that era,” stated Kirby.
“Pretty soon, you had a Square that was really rundown, and compounding that, you had a shelter for homeless people half a block off the Square,” Kirby said. “You also had a day labor pickup point at the Square, so you had scruffy looking people on the Square, all day, smoking, covertly drinking and hanging around, so it was not an appetizing place to go.”
Kirby said the Strand was sold in the 1970s. “They tried using it for offices, they had a teen night club in there for awhile, there was a church in there for awhile. They used it for rock concerts, which caused all kinds of problems.”
Kirby said that renovation efforts led by local realtor John Williams in the 1980s played a pivotal role in restoring not only the Strand Theater, but the entire Marietta Square area. Additionally, Kirby said donations to the restoration project were contributed by actor Paul Newman and actress Joanne Woodward, who was raised in Marietta.
“We build our churches, and our schools, and our houses, and they have a distinctive shape,” said Kirby. “As we live in them, and worship in them, and go to court in them, or just happen to drive by them everyday, they sort of have an influence on us, and who we are.”