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Inaugural History Symposium Generates Enthusiastic Response at Reinhardt University

“I took the tour yesterday, and I really appreciate all the information, which to me is amazing.”

“I think we [Etowah Valley] have as much or more to offer for tourism and heritage preservation than any area in the South, except  maybe Virginia …  There are over 400 Civil War sites in Georgia alone, and nobody knows about, maybe except in this room, the iron industry in this area. I think there’s potential there... and I would love to see it happen.”

“I just wanted to say how much it has meant to me, a fifth generation Cantonian, to learn about the Etowah River Valley.  I didn’t know we were a frontier, that everything went east and west and not only north and south to Atlanta.   It was not part of our oral history… this has been a discovery for me.”

Professor of History Dr. Kenneth Wheeler (left) and Reinhardt alumnus and local history expert Richard Wright helped spearhead the regional history symposium, Etowah Valley Iron-Making and the Coming of the Civil War, so they could share “little-known and never-heard-before stories that will dramatically reshape our understanding of the development of the [Etowah Valley] region.”
Professor of History Dr. Kenneth Wheeler (left) and Reinhardt alumnus and local history expert Richard Wright helped spearhead the regional history symposium, Etowah Valley Iron-Making and the Coming of the Civil War, so they could share “little-known and never-heard-before stories that will dramatically reshape our understanding of the development of the [Etowah Valley] region.”

The inaugural history symposium, Etowah Valley Iron-Making and the Coming of the Civil War, held at Reinhardt University on March 30 and 31, 2012,  explored the history of antebellum iron production in Georgia and was very well received by its more than 100 attendees.  With support from the Reinhardt History Program, the Georgia Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities and through appropriations from the Georgia Assembly, the event included tours of historic ironworks in nearby Bartow County; a keynote address which focused on Jacob and Moses Stroup, key Etowah Valley furnace builders and iron makers; a lecture about the Civil War coming to Etowah Valley; and a panel discussion.

The keynote lecture was presented by James R. Bennett, an expert on the Stroup family and the current Commissioner of Labor in Alabama.  He wrote Tannehill and the Growth of the Alabama Iron Industry (1999).  Dr. Kenneth H. Wheeler, professor of history at Reinhardt, gave the Civil War lecture.  He and fellow presenter G. Richard Wright have co-authored and delivered scholarly papers on the antebellum iron industry in the Etowah Valley to professional associations, including the American Historical Association.  Wheeler and Wright also co-authored “New Men in the Old South: Joseph E. Brown and his Associates in Georgia’s Etowah Valley,” which appeared in the Georgia Historical Quarterly in 2009.  Wright, a Reinhardt University graduate, led the furnace tours and is a local history expert with special interest in the antebellum iron industry.

            Wheeler said he was delighted with the participants’ interest and enthusiasm.

            “The Friday tours to the iron furnace included a mixture of Reinhardt students and people from the community, along with a few attendees… from Missouri and Alabama because they are descendants of Etowah Valley furnace-builder and iron-maker Moses Stroup,” Wheeler said.  “Staff and faculty members from Reinhardt also attended, as did some alumni.  It was an impressive and eclectic gathering.”

            Wheeler found that even life-long residents had much to learn about the area’s industrial background.  “At the furnace site, one gentleman told me that he had lived in this area all his life and had never seen one of these furnaces or known about the early industrial history of the Etowah Valley.”

            Joanne Smith, an officer with the Etowah Valley Historical Society in Cartersville, Ga., took part in the event.  “It’s exciting to see so many people involved in the community about history.  Coming from Cartersville, I didn’t realize that all these studies were going on so it’s wonderful for us to see all this involvement and energy here.”

James Bennett, Alabama commissioner of labor and expert on Jacob and Moses Stroup, key Etowah Valley furnace builders and ironmakers, gives the plenary address on industrial development in the Antebellum South.
James Bennett, Alabama commissioner of labor and expert on Jacob and Moses Stroup, key Etowah Valley furnace builders and ironmakers, gives the plenary address on industrial development in the Antebellum South.

Bennett's plenary lecture on Friday evening outlined the impact Moses Stroup and his ancestors and descendants had on iron-making across the Deep South, including South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.  Through anecdotes, historical records and photographs he painted a history of the area that was interesting and engaging. 

“His talk was inspirational when one realizes that Bennett was in a similar situation in Alabama decades ago,” Wheeler said.  “Over the years, through his continued efforts, people in Alabama restored one of their furnace sites at Tannehill and turned it into Tannehill State Park, which is one of the most-visited parks in Alabama and welcomed over 500,000 visitors last year.  Numerous persons at our symposium left wondering if our own industrial relics in the Etowah Valley can be protected and preserved in some way, and their story told to future generations.”

On Saturday morning, Wheeler began the Civil War story in the 1830s as gold rushers inundated the area and ended up pushing the Native Americans west in the Trail of Tears.  He demonstrated how natural resources (the water, iron ore, charcoal, and limestone), transportation (the Western and Atlantic railroad), and available manpower (free and slave) influenced the development of iron works.  He explained how politics and powerful men, some well known like Georgia’s Civil War Governor Joseph Brown, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and Union General Tecumseh Sherman, and some not so well recognized like Mark Anderson Cooper, John W. Lewis, and Gustav Smith, shaped this area and its successes and failures before, during and after the Civil War.

Next came a panel discussion from Wright, Wheeler, Dr. David Parker from Kennesaw State University, an expert on the 19th-century American South who has co-edited and contributed to a newly published book, “Breaking the Heartland: The e Civil War in Georgia,” and Dr. Maurice Melton from Albany State University, who is a specialist in Confederate naval history and Southern industrialization, and has authored “The Confederate Ironclads.”  The event ended with the panel fielding questions from the audience.

Reinhardt Assistant Professor of History Philip J. Unger helped plan the event and said he and Wheeler received much encouragement to offer additional scholarly presentations on the region in the future.  A book discussion series, “Making Sense of the American Civil War,” is being planned for the fall of 2012.

For more background on the seminar >

Reinhardt Assistant Professor of History Philip J. Unger (from left) emceed the panel discussion, which included Dr. Maurice Melton from Albany State University, a specialist in Confederate naval history and Southern industrialization; Richard Wright, Reinhardt alumnus and local history expert; Dr. Kenneth Wheeler, Reinhardt Professor of History; and Dr. David Parker from Kennesaw State University, an expert on the 19th-century American South. The event ended with the panel fielding questions from the audience.
Reinhardt Assistant Professor of History Philip J. Unger (from left) emceed the panel discussion, which included Dr. Maurice Melton from Albany State University, a specialist in Confederate naval history and Southern industrialization; Richard Wright, Reinhardt alumnus and local history expert; Dr. Kenneth Wheeler, Reinhardt Professor of History; and Dr. David Parker from Kennesaw State University, an expert on the 19th-century American South. The event ended with the panel fielding questions from the audience.