Local, Politics

Kennesaw Mountain On The Verge Of Adding 8 Acres — And More History

The Wallis House served as a Confederate hospital and then a headquarters for the Union Army.
The Wallis House served as a Confederate hospital and then a headquarters for the Union Army.
Credit Kaitlin Kolarik / WABE

After more than a decade of trying, Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park is likely – finally – going to get to grow.

The park stands to add two historic sites from the Civil War that would allow the park, which now mostly focuses on the Confederate Army’s side of the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, to tell a broader story.

The Wallis House, a white-painted old farmhouse set back from the road on a little weedy hill, is one of those sites. It was built in 1853, said Nancy Walther, superintendent of Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield.

“The Wallis family actually lived here; they were displaced when the war broke out and came through Atlanta,” she said, looking around in one of the original rooms in the house.

The house didn’t stand empty after the family left. The Confederate Army used it as a hospital. Then the Union took it over.

Now, the National Park Service is on the cusp of owning it.

Over time, extra rooms have been added to the house. There’s a washing machine in the back, a bathroom with relatively up-to-date fixtures, carpet, art on the walls. But once this belongs to the park, they’ll start stripping that all away, Walther said.

Kennesaw Mountain is the site of a battle that Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman lost on his way to Atlanta, though he eventually made his way through. The National Battlefield is a place to learn that Civil War history, but with the Wallis House, the park will be able to expand the kinds of stories it tells.

“The story is not just soldier life. It’s civilian life, it’s families, it’s the kids,” said Marjorie Thomas, chief of interpretation at the park. “What was life like back in the 1860s?”

According to the park, the Wallis family didn’t own slaves. In the 1860 census, they had three kids, and grew corn, oats, cotton, potatoes and sweet potatoes. They made butter and harvested honey. And they owned horses, cows, oxen and pigs.

Right now, Cobb County owns Wallis House and is ready to transfer it to the Park Service. So, with all these plans and ambitions, what’s been the holdup?

The U.S. Congress.

To expand the boundaries of a National Park, you need an act of Congress.

“I’ve been working on it since I’ve been in Congress,” said Republican Barry Loudermilk, who represents Georgia’s 11th District. He was elected in 2014. Before him, his predecessor, Phil Gingrey, also worked on expanding the park.

“So it’s been a long time coming and somewhat frustrating process,” Loudermilk said.

Frustrating, he said, because there wasn’t any real opposition, it just got caught up in partisan politics.

“It was just a political tool to put a hold on the bill to use it as leverage for other things,” he said.

Last week, it finally passed. The bill to expand Kennesaw Mountain got rolled into a big, bipartisan public land conservation bill that created new parks and expanded others around the country. In Georgia, two other parks – one near Macon and one on St. Simons Island — will also be able to expand their boundaries.

The bill passed with wide margins in both the House and the Senate and is now waiting for the president to sign it.

“I’m not going to breathe a sigh of relief until actually his signature is on it, but I don’t see that there’s anything that he would oppose,” Loudermilk said.

Loudermilk said expanding the park is important to him because, right now, you mostly get the Confederate side of the battle. The expansion would add an important Union Army perspective.

Kennesaw Mountain is visible through the trees on top of Harriston Hill. (Kaitlin Kolarik/WABE)

Marjorie Thomas is happy about being able to add that, too.

“This will give us a more balanced, well-rounded interpretive program,” she said, from the top of a hill just down the street from the Wallis House.

We’d walked up the hill – after parking outside a subdivision named Wallis Farm – through thick underbrush, to find a view of Kennesaw Mountain.

“This would have been the area that the Union would have been,” Thomas said.

Harriston Hill was used by the Union to signal troops down below. The Confederates were even higher up – on Kennesaw Mountain.

Marjorie Thomas, chief of interpretation at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, said she’s excited to broaden the stories the park tells with the additional historic sites. (Kaitlin Kolarik/WABE)

“So the Union could see the Confederate line at the top of the mountain,” said Thomas.

This hill is part of the expansion, too. If it happens, park visitors will eventually be able to have this same view.

Park Superintendent Nancy Walther said after the stops and starts in Congress, she’s excited to add Harriston Hill and the Wallis House to Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park.

“Already I’ve had people reach out to me and say, ‘Really is it true?’ And I say, ‘One more step and we’ll be there.’”

Walther said once President Donald Trump signs the bill, work on a trail up Harriston Hill could start pretty quickly.  The Wallis House restoration could take a few years.