The Ghost Town of Etowah
Eugene Field, in the “Night Wind,” asks:
“Have you heard the wind go Yooooooo? ‘Tis a pitiful sound to hear. It seems to chill you through and through With a strange and speechless fear.”
But I want to know if you've ever heard a river moan and groan as if really grieving for something lost and gone forever?
As the old Etowah River rolls on seaward in its baso profundo tone , its undercurrent is deep and swift -with grief for a ghost town of Georgia -----one that has made the very river, itself, famous in the South ----- Etowah, better known to the citizens throughout Bartow County as "Cooper's Iron Works."
“How queer it is that so young and flourishing a manufacturing center should stand in ruins today,” I remarked to Mrs. Roe Knight who has the distinction of being the oldest and only surviving citizen still living in the shadow of this “Ghost town.” “That's not queer,” she replied in a slow, trembling voice; “Sherman's march to the sea ruined many things.” Here her son, Joe, interrupted with. “As Henry Grady expressed it, ‘Sherman was a little careless with fire in the South.’’
Seeing my interest in the old place, she had me take the rocker near her in order that she might more easily paint for me a word picture of this vanished city. "In 1845, Honorable Mark A. Cooper selected a vast tract of land along the banks of the Etowah, just east of Cartersville and a few miles off the Dixie Highway, in a section whose picturesqueness has often be called the "Switzerland of the South.” Very soon he began to construct his manufacturing interests.
“For a time," she continued, "during the building up of the Etowah Works, there were three partners owning the lands, water power, and improvements — Mark Anthony Cooper, Leroy M. Wiley, and Moses Stroup. Now, those three mountain peaks yonder (we were on the porch and had a swooping view) the proprietors named after their own Christian names, regulating the names according to the altitude of the mountain and the height of the man."What fun it was picking out Mt. Anthony, Mt. Leroy and Mt. Moses, besides learning that there's a most interesting bit of Confederate history connected with Mt. Anthony, the highest of the three peaks.
The late Eugene Cooper relates it in his "Keepsake Photos” as follows: “In 1860, shortly after the nomination of Lincoln, Stephen A. Douglas and others, the first disunion flag of the Southern Confederacy was hoisted above this rock capped pinnacle.The staff (made from solid hickory) was nailed fast to the central shoots of a tough mountain pine whose roots were nature rock-wedged and whose height rose above all the other trees.
“When General Lee surrendered, the historic flag and staff were still standing. Until the winds and weather wore out the silk flag, it was conspicuous from the old bridge and could be seen from many directions.”
But, back to the town itself, about which I was so anxious to learn, Mrs. Knight said, beginning again, “The site for the town was near the Rolling Mill dam, where the stream was about six hundred feet wide.From here, power was supplied for operations including: Rolling Mill, saw mill, machine factory, nail factory, lathes, trip hammer, bloomeries, etc.
“The site selected, the land was then laid off into streets, lots, and localities. A few of the most important structures which immediately went up were: the Church, schoolhouse, President’s office, bank, boarding house, and several large stories. The chief boasts of the town, however, were the railroad turntable and the Post Office where the U.S. mail was distributed daily for twenty years. “Etowah was such a prosperous place in those days. ”As she said this, there was a dreamy, far away, and wistful look in her eyes.
From the same little pamphlet, which has yellowed with age, “Keepsake Photos,” I found many detailed and interesting things about this ghost town. So, I’m going to suggest that we play the game of “just supposing. ”For instance, “suppose” that you are out going places and seeing things back in the ‘60s, and that I am your guide while you stop over in the town of Etowah, Georgia.
First, I’ll show you a very modern and up to date flour mill. You see, all its masonry is of solid stone from the Etowah Cliffs. Look, it’s five stories high, too, and there are four very large burrstones of the best French pattern within .It runs day and night, without intermission, unless repairs are needed and that’s very seldom. The mills productive capacity is 250 barrels a day and its offal is a great factor in feeding the many teams in and about the works.
“Etowah Mills Family Flour” has not only borne off many premiums, but has furnished food for thousands of men during the Crimean War in Russia, New York merchants, Southern exporters and the world at large patronize its inimitable but simple brands. During one of its best years, this mill is said to have cleared for its proprietors §30,000. Some mill isn't it?
Now, this building is the Barrel factory. Seldom do we stop to think that the use of sacks for packing and storing, and shipping is quite an innovation on the method in vogue during ’45 – ’55 and some years later. You’ll be interested to know that the materials for the flour barrels are procured from the forest right here around Etowah. The usual daily output of this factory is between 250 and 300 barrels and half barrels, 100 nail kegs, casks, tubs, and other articles.
Since you are rather pushed for time, we’ll hurry along. This is the Brewery. Yes, the proprietors gave their consent for it to be erected for making “lager beer” as a temperance measure in behalf of the German workmen of the Barrel factory.
Suppose we stop here a moment. This is the “River Furnace” also of stone, you see. It is used for smelting iron, and has a capacity of twelve tons per day – a yield unusually large from one blast.
This large mill we are coming to is known as the “Etowah Rolling Mill.” It covers several hundred square feet, and contains three fully equipped sets of tiers of double ridged rollers, counting the mill for puddlers blooms, also turning lathes and other features. Its capacity is 8 to 9 tons a day. Adjoining this is the Nail Factory, with a capacity of 10,000 pounds daily.
Next, we must go to the Iron Warehouse because it plays quite a prominent part in the commercial affairs of the town. Why, it’s even connected with the Rolling Mill by means of a broad gauge railway track. This building, of rock too, is used for storing oar supplementing loads of finished bar iron, nails etc. destined for shipment. Every size of merchant bar iron known to this age can be furnished here. Just look at these entrance doors – built of dimensions to admit the regulation box car. You will agree with me, I’m sure, that the construction of this one building shows the proprietors of Etowah to be men of remarkable forethought.
The shaft yonder by the side of the road is the “Friendship” Monument, said to be the only one of its kind in the world. When severe business reverses came to Major Cooper, thirty-two friends, at the same time, came to his rescue, and enabled him to keep his manufacturing interests going. So, this simple marble shaft was erected by a grateful debtor to his patient creditors. Have you ever seen anything more unique?
Let’s go on a short distance up the River road, away from the noise and humdrum of machinery and see the Cooper mansion. Architecturally speaking, it is one of the wonder of this generation.
From the variety of hard woods native to North Georgia, Major Cooper selected the best and handsomest for the mantles, doors, and window facings. All such parts were kiln dried with extra thoroughness, after which the entire suites were made so that all the inner woodwork of a room would be of the same species of timber. The parts were then finished with oil and wax which brought out their richness and natural coloring in great beauty.
To me, this planting of English boxwoods across the spacious front of the sloping lawn is most attractive. No one can ever mistake who lives here---Mark A. Cooper. Isn't that what the boxwoods spell?
Let’s not play this game any longer, though; it's too much like a haunting dream.
Today the same old rugged laurel capped peaks tower so high that they almost seem to kiss the blue of Heaven; the river with its never ceasing, doleful roar still flows on seaward, and those romantic spots on the banks of the river, where the belles and beaux of the ‘60s sat and dreamed ‘neath the light of the Southern moon has converted the old furnace into quite an unusual shelter for the ford.
The five story north wall of the flour mill is covered with clinging vines, while inside the ruins, where busy men once worked, tall trees steadily grow skyward and even seem to mock at the very walls when under the spell of the wind. The bank ruins are easily recognizable by the wide vault space hewn out of the rocks in the back wall.
Just off the main road there is a rustic entrance to a rocky wall which leads to the massive rambling ruins of the old hotel on a bluff overlooking the river and the mouth of Allatoona Creek which flows between two mountains. Here scenic beauty is unsurpassed.
The Galts of Cartersville, with their artistic sense of the beautiful in nature, have transformed one room of the hotel into a delightful summer camp. In the other part of the ruins adjoining this, wild flowers and tremendous dogwoods are growing.
As for the Friendship Monument – the Bartow Chapter of U.D.C. realized that if it remained at the mercy of “happy-go-lucky” campers and picnickers, it would soon become a pile of broken marble. Thus, due to their untiring efforts, with the help of the city officials, the historic shaft, rock base and all were moved to Cartersville, and with much pomp and celebration, was unveiled in the public park April 26th, 1927. It stands not only as a lasting memorial to the thirty-two friends of Honorable Mark A. Cooper, but as a proof that gratitude and benevolence did actually meet without being introduced.
The names on the Friendship Monument:
‘Tis sad to think that Etowah, the town which in antebellum days bid fair to become the Birmingham of the South, must go down on the pages of history as a ghost town of Georgia.