Bartow County Profile and Information Guide
- Last Updated on 17 May 2011
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Profile and Information Guide
Bartow County, formerly Cass County, was established in 1832 as a political subdivision of the State of Georgia. Bartow is one of several counties in North Georgia created by the Georgia Legislature prior to the forcible removal of the Creek and Cherokee Indians by the federal government.
Early white settlers reached Bartow County around 1800 and, for the most part, peacefully coexisted with their Indian neighbors, until the Indians were removed during President Andrew Jackson’s administration.
Before white settlers arrived, Native Americans had already begun a rich history and culture in what is now Bartow County. At different times, the Etowah River Valley was occupied by settlements of Native Americans, some that existed more than 1,000 years before the first Europeans (Spanish explorers) came to Bartow County in the 16th century. Several important Native American archaeological sites are located in the county. The most recognized is the Etowah Indian Mounds, a state historic site operated by the Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources, which borders the Etowah River south of downtown Cartersville. West of the Etowah Indian Mounds on the river is the Leake Mounds site, which predates the Etowah mounds by approximately 1,000 years. Unfortunately, these mounds were excavated years ago; although, one mound may still be intact under State Highway 113 west of Cartersville. The excavation of the Leake Mounds did not destroy the significance of the site as one of our nation’s most important areas of the Middle Woodland Period (100 B.C. to 400 A.D.). Bartow County and the City of Cartersville have recently acquired portions of the Leake Mounds to preserve it as greenspace and as an archaeological site.
Before the removal of the Indians from North Georgia, a lottery was held for tracts of land to encourage settlement of the region. Land lots in Bartow County consisted of either 40 acres or 160 acres. The 40-acre lots were thought to contain deposits of gold and were deemed more valuable per acre than the larger non-gold lots.
Although gold was mined profitably in Bartow County, iron ore deposits found in hills near the Etowah River established mining as one of the county’s most important industries. Jacob Stroup, a Pennsylvania miner, and Mark Cooper from Georgia started the Etowah Mining and Manufacturing Company in the 1840s. Afterwards, Cooper established a successful iron works operations along the Etowah River. Remnants of Cooper’s Iron Works can still be viewed at the U.S. Corp of Engineers Day Park on the north side of the river below the Allatoona Dam.
Although he became a very successful businessman and a leading Bartow County citizen, at one point in his career Mark Cooper was facing financial ruin. To stave off bankruptcy, Cooper borrowed $200,000 in 1854 from 38 friends. The loans provided Cooper with the capital he needed to continue his mining operations. He recovered financially and was able to repay the money he had borrowed by 1860. As a gesture of appreciation, Cooper erected a monument listing the names of his benefactors. The monument, known as the Friendship Monument, is perhaps the world’s only monument erected by a debtor to honor his creditors. It is now located in downtown Cartersville’s Friendship Plaza, adjoining the historic railroad depot.
Cooper’s company encouraged other mining operations in Bartow County, which lies within one of the world’s most geologically diverse and mineral rich regions. The mining industry became a cornerstone of the economy. Bartow County and Cartersville are labeled as the oldest continuing mining district in the United States, and active mining operations continue today.
The first white settlers in the county, some of whom arrived before the removal of the Indians, established farms and plantations in the Etowah Valley. Agriculture, mining and the mercantile organizations that supported them became mainstays of the county’s economy in the latter half of the 19th century and well into the 20th century.
African Americans first came to Bartow County as slaves serving the cotton plantations along the Etowah River Valley before the Civil War. From these early African Americans descended some of the most respected citizens of Bartow County. The descendants of slaves who were brought here experienced great prejudice and hardships, but they endured those challenges and would achieve great success for themselves and future generations. The many heroes of this effort are names that are not as well known as the great leaders of the Civil Rights movement, but who were just as effective in bringing change within their community. Because of their leadership, Bartow County did not experience the turmoil that affected so many southern towns and cities, but instead enjoyed a peaceful transition from the “Jim Crowe” era through the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s to the 21st century, where African American clergy, educators, physicians, attorneys, business leaders and government leaders are key in shaping the economic, social and political future of our county. Most notable is Robert Benham, who was elected to the Georgia Court of Appeals in 1984, the first African-American to win a statewide election in Georgia. He was later appointed and elected to the Georgia Supreme Court, where he still serves.
Like other areas in the South, the Civil War’s presence here is woven into our past and present. The county was the scene of several bloody encounters between Northern and Southern forces, most notably the Battle of Allatoona Pass on October 5, 1864, which was fought in the wake of the fall of Atlanta. The one-day battle took place near the Bartow/Cobb County line. Confederate forces would retreat from the Allatoona forts after the battle. It was one of the war’s worst in terms of casualties for troops engaged. Of the 5,200 participants, nearly one-third were killed or wounded.
The Great Locomotive Chase is a popular Civil War story that partly took place in Bartow County. Union troops led by civilian spy James Andrews stole the “General”, a locomotive in Cobb County, with the mission to tear up railroad tracks and communication lines in and around Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tenn. A Confederate train conductor used the “Texas,” found in Adairsville, to pursue the “General.” The chase also passed through Kingston. The “General” was eventually caught in Ringgold. The City of Adairsville celebrates this event annually with its Great Locomotive Chase Festival.
At the beginning of the war, Bartow County was known as Cass County, having been named for Lewis Cass of Michigan, a prominent political figure in several presidential administrations including Abraham Lincoln’s. In 1861 Cass County was renamed Bartow County in honor of Georgian Col. Francis S. Bartow, who was killed at the first Battle of Manassas in Virginia.
Cassville, located in the central part of the county, was Bartow’s most prominent town before the war as well as the county seat. It was the location for two colleges, numerous churches, shops and the county courthouse. The town was destroyed by Union troops under General William Sherman. The courthouse was burned along with many important documents and records. Cassville did not recover from the destruction and today it is a small unincorporated crossroads, awaiting resurgence as the county grows.
Before the war the main north and south railroad had bypassed Cassville to pass through Cartersville, then a small market village. After the war Cartersville emerged as the principal town in the county and was made the county seat. A new courthouse was built in the 1870s along the railroad, but due to noise caused by passing trains another courthouse was built in 1903 at the corner of Market Street (now Cherokee Avenue) and Erwin Street. The new courthouse, built in the neoclassical style with great round columns in front and a prominent dome still serves as an auxiliary facility for Bartow County government. The Frank Moore Administration and Judicial Center, occupied in 1991 became the official courthouse and houses the Superior Court, Juvenile and Probate Courts and most of the county’s administrative offices (located at 135 Cherokee Avenue). The former First Baptist Church building across from the 1903 Courthouse was purchased by the county in 2004. The Magistrate Court and other county offices are located there.
The 20th century saw the rise of manufacturing as the dominant sector of the county’s economy. The first major manufacturing operation to locate here was the American Textile Company in 1903. The ATCO plant was later operated by Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. Bartow County’s 21st century economy is a diverse mix of agribusiness, manufacturing, construction, retail and other commercial and professional businesses. As the county enters into its most rapid growth era, maintaining the links of our historic past and the preservation of important historic and archaeological sites will be priorities in our planning efforts.
Notable Bartow Countians include former Georgia Gov. Joe Frank Harris, current Georgia Supreme Court Justice Robert Benham, evangelist Sam Jones, newspaper columnist Charles Henry Smith (“Bill Arp”), Rebecca Latimer Felton, the first woman to serve in the United States Senate, author Cora Harris, Major League Baseball player Rudy York, Confederate Major General Pierce Manning Butler Young (also consul-general to St. Petersburg, Russia and minister to Guatemala and Honduras for President Grover Cleveland) and Amos Akerman, United States Attorney General for President U.S. Grant.