The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain was one of the most important events of the Civil War’s Atlanta Campaign. Fought on June 27, 1864, the battle brought national attention to Cobb County. For decades after the war, entrepreneurs attempted to cash in on that fame by advertising the area to tourists. Some took this idea a step further and decided to add a hotel to the top of the mountain.
The first of these audacious plans came in 1888, when the Marietta and North Georgia Real Estate and Investment Co. announced its plans to the public. (The company is referred to in some newspapers as the M&NGRE&I Co., which seems almost as long as the company’s full name!) The group, led by J.H. Mountain, planned to build a streetcar line from Marietta to Kennesaw Mountain, a separate line to the summit and a $75,000 hotel at the top. At the time, the mountain was owned by William J.M. “Bill” Hames, who was part of the company initially. He and another partner, H.C. Birch, backed out in November 1888, and the project fizzled. The same company helped develop a neighborhood near Marietta National Cemetery in 1889, then vanished from existence. In 1896, Mountain allegedly defrauded the town of Garlington, South Carolina, and fled the law by traveling to Atlanta. He spread a false rumor that he had jumped from a bridge into the waters of the Chattahoochee and escaped to Alabama, where he finally was arrested.
The next plan for a Kennesaw Mountain hotel was announced in 1915, more than half a century after the battle that put the site on the map. This project was led by William Tate Holland, Virgil McCleskey and C.M. Dobbs, who were able to purchase the mountain from Hames. The men, who formed Holland Realty Co., were inspired by a similar venture on top of Lookout Mountain and, much like the plan from almost 30 years before, planned to construct a streetcar line to Kennesaw Mountain.
The route of the streetcar would have paralleled the state-owned Western & Atlantic Railroad, then operated by the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway. To protect the state’s investment, a law was passed in 1916 that banned all tracks running roughly parallel to the railroad. This ended all plans for a Marietta-to-Kennesaw Mountain streetcar line, and Holland Realty Co. was forced to put its development on hold.
As Cobb County moved into the Roaring Twenties, more people began traveling by automobile. This was further spurred by the opening of the Dixie Highway in 1915, which is known now as Old 41. In 1922, Holland Realty Co. announced it would build a road to the top of Kennesaw Mountain. According to an article in the April 20, 1924, edition of the Cobb County Times, the new development would have “a macadamized toll road … a dancing pavilion and eating lodge; a museum building; a swimming pool, and the possibilities of a tourist hotel to crown the top of Little Kennesaw.”
By 1924, Holland Realty Co. had morphed into the Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield Association, and the groundbreaking for the toll road was planned for May 24, 1924. Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first commissioner of Major League Baseball, was invited to attend the ceremony. When Landis had visited the year before, he was presented with a baseball carved out of rock from Kennesaw Mountain. While he was unable to attend groundbreaking, Gov. Clifford Walker was in attendance. The road opened a year later and had a 50-cent toll, which, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator, would be equal to $8.72 in 2023 dollars.
In 1925, the Ben Padgett Co. announced it would be serving as the real estate agent for 200 half-acre lots on the slopes of Kennesaw Mountain. One advertisement, from the July 3, 1925, edition of the Atlanta Constitution, said “Kennesaw mountain [sic] is destined to become one of the south’s greatest developments. A museum, casino, swimming pool, memorial park, etc., will make the residential development one of the south’s greatest. IT’S ALWAYS COOL ON KENNESAW.” Two days later, the newspaper had five ads for the company on a single page. It is unclear why these lots were never sold, but this was the last development plan for the mountain.
In the 1930s, Kennesaw Mountain became part of the National Park Service. It is hard to imagine how different our area might be if this Cobb County landmark had not been preserved.
– Andrew Bramlett is vice president of the Kennesaw Historical Society and an honorary member of the Kennesaw Cemetery Preservation Commission.