Marietta: History

Europeans Take Over Indian Lands

For many years, Cobb County was the home of the Creek tribe, descendants of the Mississippian tribes that inhabited the northwest section of Georgia from approximately 800 A.D. The Creeks were driven south of the Chattahoochee River by the Cherokees in the early 1800s. Cobb County was still part of the Cherokee Indian Territory when Marietta's earliest European settlers came. They began to arrive in the early 1830s from other parts of Georgia, when they won land lotteries used to allocate the Indian lands. Other early migrants, most of English and Scotch-Irish descent, traveled south to Georgia through the mid-Atlantic states. The Cherokee land had been divided into 40-acre gold and 160-acre farm tracts with most of Cobb County originally settled by gold-seekers and people looking for good farmland. Despite several treaties to protect the rights of the Cherokees, in 1835 these Native Americans were forced to move west, and the whites moved in for good. Although some of the Native Americans left voluntarily, more than 17,000 were relocated by the federal government to Oklahoma by way of the infamous Trail of Tears. Traces of its Native American heritage remain in Cobb County in place names such as Sweetwater, Allatoona, and Kennesaw. Some of the Indian trails were widened to accommodate wagons, which in time brought in more settlers and launched trade in the county.

Early History of Marietta

By 1833, nearly 100 people had settled in the area of Marietta, chosen as a town site in part because of the springs located near the present town square. The county was named in honor of Judge Thomas Willis Cobb, Georgia Congressman, U.S. Senator, and later a judge of the Ocmulgee Circuit of the Superior Court and the city for his wife. Marietta's first courthouse, a single room log cabin, was built in 1834. By the mid 1830s, several river ferries began operating to transport people, wagons, and livestock across the Chattahoochee.

In the mid-1840s, Marietta had more than 1,500 residents. By the next decade, it was a popular resort town for people from "the low country," who were attracted in part by the mild climate and the alleged therapeutic powers of local spring water. The state-owned Western & Atlantic Railroad began runs in 1845 and was completed in May 1850, providing access to a ready market for farmers and manufacturers and reducing the costs of conveying merchandise. Cities and towns sprang up along major rail lines running through Cobb County. In 1852 Marietta's formal incorporation took place. From 1850 to 1861, Marietta was considered a carefree town and was once described as "the fastest town in Georgia." During this period, businesses included tailor shops, warehouses, grocery stores, general stores, carriage and wagon shops, a tin and gunsmith shop, a bakery, professional services, and other small businesses.

Civil War Brings Destruction

On April 11, 1862, the first disruptive effects of the Civil War were felt by the city's people when a group of 22 undercover Union agents arrived. After staying overnight at Kennesaw House, a former hotel, which still stands west of the town square, the agents boarded the W & A Railroad northbound train at the Marietta Station. At Big Shanty (now Kennesaw), the Union spies took control of the train. They were later caught by "Andrew's Raiders" after a now-famous locomotive chase with the backward pursuing "The Texas" overtaking "The General" near Ringgold, Georgia. The hard times of the War Between the States culminated with the Union occupation of the city on July 3, 1864, following battles around Kennesaw Mountain. During that time, the courthouse and all county records were destroyed when General Sherman's troops burned every public building on Marietta's town square.

Prosperity Slowly Returns in Post-War Period

After the Civil War, recovery was slow for Marietta as for the rest of the South. Over time, however, the city began to prosper as new businesses moved in, and an 1860s account reveals that the city once again was beginning to attract visitors. In the 1870s, a new jail and courthouse were built, and summer tourists were honored at a reception in the city square. County finances gradually were improving, but the blackened ruin of the county courthouse remained as a reminder of the "War of Northern Aggression," as it was termed in the South, until the construction of a new building began in 1872. Industrialization came to the Marietta area in the late nineteenth century, gradually overtaking agriculture as the major factor in the county's economy over the next half century. The Marietta Bank (now called First National Bank of Cobb County) opened in 1888, and a paper mill, two chair and two marble companies, a textile mill, and a machine works sparked the economic recovery. By 1899, street lights illuminated the town, a local telephone company was operating, and there was a railroad depot in downtown Marietta. Still, the rural parts of Cobb County endured low cotton prices for years. In 1900 as many as 56 percent of the county's farmers paid rent as tenants with typical fees amounting to a fourth of their cotton crop along with a third of their corn. By 1905, an electric railway operated between Marietta and Atlanta, spawning residential development as Cobb County residents commuted to jobs in Atlanta.

Schools were established early in Marietta, and the city set up its independent school system in 1892. In 1919 the city organized the first Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) in the county. (In fact, The National PTA was founded in Washington, D.C. by Alice McLellan Birney (1858–1907), a former Marietta resident.)

Early construction of highways was concentrated in Marietta from 1917 to 1921, and the county began a federally-subsidized road program at that same time. Old Highway 41 was paved in 1926, allowing ready access between Marietta and Atlanta and encouraging trade.

Aircraft Industry Aids Recovery

Cobb County's economy remained dependent on agriculture until 1940 when manufactured goods produced amounted to twice the value of agricultural products. Hard times took over during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and World War II played a part in the recovery. In 1941, Rickenbacker Field (now Dobbins Air Force Base) was built south of Marietta along with the adjoining 200-acre Bell Aircraft Plant. During World War II, B-29s were produced at the plant and employment reached 28,000 people. With the local population able to supply only a small part of the work force for the large plant, newcomers poured in, necessitating the construction of new housing projects. About that time a 45-acre complex was built and named Larry Bell Park, in honor of the President of Bell Aircraft Corporation. The plant closed in 1946, but reopened in 1951 as the Lockheed-Georgia Company. Some of the aircraft produced there include B-47s, C-130s, C-141s, C-5As, C-5Bs, and the Jetstar. Employment at the plant of the Bell Aircraft Corporation, Georgia's largest employer at that time, reached more than 31,000 people by the 1960s.

Businesses and the real estate industry burgeoned when thousands of people moved to Cobb County and the Greater Atlanta area. Construction of Interstate 75 through the county in the 1950s increased the impact of tourism, and brought outside investments for industry and housing. During the following years major developments included the opening of the first major office parks in the 1960s, the opening of Cumberland Mall in 1973, the opening of the first major hotels and shopping malls and the establishment of the Cobb Convention and Visitors Bureau in the 1980s, and the construction of the $47 million Galleria Convention Centre in 1992. With the area's economic growth showing no signs of slowing, by mid-2003 more than 27,000 businesses were licensed in Cobb County.

Cobb County, of which Marietta is the county seat, is Georgia's third largest county and growing. The city's and county's station as a commercial hub of north Georgia, blended with its "old South" charm and close proximity to Atlanta, combine to make it one of the fastest-growing counties in the country.

Historical Information: Cobb County Public Library, 266 Roswell St., Marietta, GA 30060; telephone (770)528-2320