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Voices and Visions of Youth and Wisdom
A community wide look at Cobb

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Cobb County Government
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Marietta, GA 30090
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Cobb County History
Our 175 Annivesary Celebration
Celebration Video (2 hours)  arrow Celebration Photos

Cobb County held its 175th Anniversary Monday, Dec. 3, at the new Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. The event pre-show began with the third place Bands of America Grand National Champion Kennesaw Mountain High School marching band playing in the plaza and small ensembles of the Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra performing on each level of the lobby. Artwork created by local artists and students was on display as well.

The high-energy anniversary celebration performance included a production number from the Pebblebrook High School Center for Excellence in Performing Arts touring ensemble, performances by a 250 voice honor chorus from metro area elementary schools and dance numbers by the Georgia Ballet, Dance Stop Studio and the Ruth Mitchell Dance Company. The second half of the performance featured the Cobb Symphony Orchestra, Theatre in the Square and a video montage of the history of Cobb, performances by Miss Cobb County and a few surprises.

County History

Video Interviews   arrow Cobb Today

Cobb County was one of 10 northwest Georgia counties carved out of Cherokee Indian lands in 1832. As the county celebrates the 175th anniversary of its founding, it has become a significant part of the booming Atlanta metropolitan area. Named in honor of former U.S. Senator, Representative and Superior Court Judge Thomas Willis Cobb of Greensboro, the land was first home to Native American settlements including Sweet Water Town on Sweetwater Creek (southwest of Marietta), Big Shanty (later Kennesaw) on Noonday Creek (five miles north of Marietta) and Buffalo Fish (southeast of Marietta). Marietta, settled in 1833 and designated the county seat in 1834, developed in the geographical center of the new county. Marietta received its official charter in 1852. Located in the upper Piedmont region, Cobb County had few large plantations, developing instead around small subsistence farms. Towns and settlements grew after the U. S. Army removed the Cherokees to western lands in 1838. By 1850 Marietta was a popular resort community with several hotels attracting summer visitors seeking a cooler, healthier climate than the Georgia and South Carolina coast. Other towns established in the 1830s were Springville (later Powder Springs, 1838) and Roswell (1839). (The thriving industrial center of Roswell was part of Cobb County until 1932.) Acworth became a community in the early 1840s and received its city charter in 1860. Big Shanty, which got its name from the shanty town for railroad construction workers in the late 1830s, received its town charter as Kennesaw in 1887. Smyrna Camp Ground, which later shortened its name to Smyrna, was a well known religious encampment in the early 1830s and an early railroad stop in the 1840s. Smyrna was incorporated in 1872. Austell was settled in the late 1800s and chartered in 1885.

During the Civil War (1861-1865), General William T. Sherman led an invading Union army from Chattanooga, Tenn., toward Atlanta as part of the Atlanta Campaign. Several bloody battles were fought in Cobb in June and July 1864, including the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. The Union assault on Kennesaw Mountain failed to dislodge Southern forces from their entrenched positions but part of the Union force was able to outflank the Confederates, forcing them to abandon the mountain and move south to defend Atlanta. Federal casualties amounted to almost 3,000 while the Confederates lost 800 troops. Union forces occupied Marietta on July 3, 1864 and remained until November when they burned most of the town, including 100 buildings and houses. Acworth, Kennesaw, Austell and Smyrna also suffered destruction by the Federals.

After the war’s effects subsided, Cobb Countians saw the railroad rebuilt, small industries established, houses and stores repaired and replaced as commerce gradually resumed. By 1940, the number of Cobb farms had declined by 50 percent and the area changed from agriculture to industry.

In 1942, the Federal government built a large manufacturing plant in Marietta where Bell Aircraft Corporation produced 665 B-29 bombers that helped the United States defeat Germany and Japan in World War II. By 1945 the large government-built assembly plant provided employment for more than 28,000 workers. After the war, the “bomber plant” closed but was reopened in 1951, during the Korean War (1950-53). Lockheed Aircraft Corporation took over production and became the nation's leading producer of transport planes, from the workhorse C-130 Hercules (first production model rollout in 1955) to the giant C-5 Galaxy (rollout 1968).

Since World War II Cobb County's population has grown steadily, from 38,272 in 1940 to 607,751 (72.4 percent white, 18.8 percent black, and 7.7 percent Hispanic) in 2000, according to the U.S. census. Cobb is the third largest county in Georgia. By mid-2003 more than 27,000 businesses were licensed in Cobb County. In 2005, the largest employers were the Home Depot, Lockheed Martin, Publix, Wal-Mart, and WellStar Health System. Growth in population and wealth contributed to the county's expanding political power. In the 1990s, Cobb was the home base for Newt Gingrich, Republican Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Roy Barnes, Georgia's governor from 1999 to 2003.

As newcomers flocked to the county, the population gradually became more diverse. By 1990, for the first time, less than half of Cobb's residents were natives of Georgia. Between 1980 and 2000 the proportion of African Americans rose from 4.5 percent to 18.8 percent, as a generally affluent black population joined the migration to the suburbs of Atlanta. By 2003 the county's diversity extended to top leadership positions. An African American, Lee Rhyant, was general manager of the county's largest industrial employer, Lockheed Martin. The supervisor of Cobb's 4,600 county employees, David Hankerson, became Georgia's first African American county manager in 1993. Betty L. Siegel, appointed president of Kennesaw State University in 1981, was the first woman ever to head a unit of the University System of Georgia. With Lisa A. Rossbacher's selection as president of Southern Polytechnic State University in 1998, women headed both of the county's public universities until Siegel's retirement in 2006. With half of Georgia's population living in metropolitan Atlanta and the vast majority of these residing outside Atlanta's city limits, Cobb County became typical of the progressive New Georgia of the late 1900s.

Cobb County Timeline:

Cobb County formed, becoming the 84th Georgia county to be established. The county is named after Thomas Willis Cobb, U.S. Representative and U.S. Senator and Superior Court Judge.

Marietta is designated the county seat after its settlement in 1833.

The state of Georgia begins purchasing rights–of-way for the Western and Atlantic Railroad between the Tennessee and Chattahoochee Rivers. By early 1840s, a significant amount of the line is graded and tracks are finally laid.

Springville (later named Powder Springs) and Roswell are established as the second and third Cobb County towns. Big Shanty (later Kennesaw) grows as a settlement of shanties for housing railroad workers. Federal soldiers forcibly relocate almost all the Cherokees to lands in the west. Thousands die on the march, which is later called The Trail of Tears.

The communities of Acworth and Smyrna Camp Ground (later Smyrna) are formed, primarily from railroad stops.

Trains begin to run from Marthasville (Atlanta) to Marietta.


The Cobb area experiences significant economic growth as a result of convenient railway transportation as well as abundant cotton harvests and lumber production.

Georgia Military Institute is established in Marietta, opening to students in July 1851. The Georgia Military Institute (GMI) becomes the principal source of education for new engineers and teachers in the state during the decade prior to the Civil War (1861-65). Originally funded by private subscription and donations, GMI begins its official relationship with the state in 1852, when the legislature charters the school and presents it with muskets, swords and a battery of four cannons. Although GMI begins with only three instructors and seven students, it quickly attracts a large number of cadets from Georgia's wealthiest families. Between 1853 and 1861, GMI's student body fluctuates between 150 and 200 cadets.

GMI's 110-acre campus includes a parade ground, an academic building, four student barracks and a residence for the school superintendent.

When Georgia secedes from the Union on January 19, 1861, cadets begin serving as drill instructors for the new Georgia volunteers at training camps in the state, thinning the ranks of GMI students. Others leave to serve in new Confederate army units formed in 1861 and 1862. The school closes in 1864 as the Union army approaches Marietta. GMI cadets are assigned to active duty in the Confederate Army of Tennessee. Sherman's troops burn the GMI buildings in Marietta in 1864. The school is never to be rebuilt.

1861 – 1865

The Civil War: numerous events take place in Cobb County- “Marietta Operations” and “Battle of Kennesaw Mountain”.

The Great Locomotive Chase. The Great Locomotive Chase or Andrews' Raid was a military raid that occurred April 12, 1862 during the Civil War. Volunteers from the Union Army stole a train in an effort to disrupt the vital Western & Atlantic Railroad (W&A), which ran from Atlanta to Chattanooga. They were pursued by other locomotives, and the raiders were eventually captured, with some being executed as spies. Some of Andrews' Raiders became the very first recipients of the Medal of Honor.

Marietta is burned – Two buildings are left standing in downtown area; more than 100 buildings and houses are destroyed along with numerous mills, factories and other buildings throughout the county. Big Shanty (Kennesaw), Acworth and Smyrna suffer major destruction and mills and industries in South Cobb meet the same fate.

The railroad is rebuilt and manufacturing begins to recover by 1870.

1880s and 1890s
Marietta and other communities begin to recover with cotton production outpacing agricultural cultivation. Austell becomes a town.

Mary Phagan, a Marietta native and a worker in the National Pencil Factory in Atlanta is brutally murdered in April, 1913. The sensational story spreads across the country, and Jewish plant manager Leo Frank is tried and convicted of the murder. Frank is serving a life sentence in the Georgia State Penitentiary in Milledgeville when, in August 1915, a mob takes him from prison and hangs the prisoner near the present-day corner of Frey's Gin and Roswell Road (near the present location of the Big Chicken). New evidence brought forth in 1982 leads to a posthumous pardon of Frank in 1986. The lynching is a catalyst in the formation of the Anti-Defamation League in 1913.In 1915 the county gained notoriety for the lynching of an Atlanta Jewish businessman, Leo Frank, allegedly the murderer of 13-year-old Mary Phagan, formerly of Cobb County.

The state begins a road building program including U.S. Highway 41, the first four-lane highway in the state. Cobb native James Carmichael is hit by a car on the highway shortly after it opens and is crippled for the rest of his life. Years later, Carmichael is instrumental in bringing the Bell Bomber Plant (later Lockheed-Martin) to Cobb. He is also a driving force in getting other companies to locate in the Cobb area, most notably Scripto.

The Great Depression, along with boll weevil infestation of cotton crops, contributes to a major decline in agriculture in Cobb.

The onset of World War II brings major industry to Cobb County. More than 28,000 citizens from Cobb and throughout Georgia find work at the Bell Aircraft Company plant in Marietta.

James V. Carmichael (1910-1972) James V. Carmichael is one of Georgia's most prominent business leaders in the second wave of southern industrialization from the 1940s to the 1970s.

He serves as general manager of the mammoth Bell Aircraft plant in Marietta during World War II (1941-45). After the war he builds Scripto, Inc. into an international leader in writing instruments. Taking a one year leave absence from Scripto in 1951, he becomes the first general manager of the Georgia division of Lockheed (later Lockheed Martin). A two-term legislator in the 1930s, Carmichael runs for governor in 1946 as the candidate of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Despite never again running for elective office, he continues to exercise political power behind the scenes and plays a role in building a two-party system in Georgia.

1941 - 1942
Construction begins on Rickenbacker Field. Built as an alternative to Atlanta’s Candler Field (now Hartsfield/Jackson Atlanta International Airport), Rickenbacker Field is was named for former Army pilot, WW I Ace and Eastern Airlines President Eddie Rickenbacker. In 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the War Department announces that the airport’s name will be changed to Marietta Army Airfield and operated under the U.S. Army. The Bell Aircraft Corporation builds a factory for the construction of B-29 Bombers next to the field and begins operations in the spring of 1942. Production of the B-29 ends in 1945 at the conclusion of the war. Also after the war, as the Air Force is split from the Army, the airfield is renamed Marietta Air Force Base. In 1950, it is renamed again, becoming Dobbins Air Force Base, in honor of Captain Charles M. Dobbins of Marietta, whose airplane was shot down during the war. The aircraft plant is reopened in 1951 by Lockheed-Georgia to refurbish the B-29s, and continues operating today. Now known as Lockheed Martin, the plant currently makes the C-130 Hercules and the F-22 Raptor.

A Georgia native, General Lucius D. Clay of Marietta, is credited with being the principal architect of the interstate highway system. In 1954 President Eisenhower appoints Clay, who had managed the Berlin Airlift and presided over the rebuilding of Germany after World War II (1941-45), to chair a committee charged with mapping out a national interstate highway system. Clay's leadership brings the Interstates 75, 85, and 20 through Atlanta, cementing the city's destiny as a transportation hub.

McCollum Field opens in 1960 with a single 4,000 foot (1,219 m) runway, with a stub taxiway connecting the runway with the ramp area, 60,000 square feet (5,570 m²) of aprons and a single administration building. First designed as a small field for general aviation, McCollum Field is today designated as a reliever airport for Hartsfield-Jackson Airport and DeKalb-Peachtree Airport. Cobb County is also the primary general aviation airport for the Atlanta suburban population. With an average of 475 takeoffs and landings each day[3], it is the third busiest airport in Georgia. From its opening, the airport grows steadily over the next 30 years with its greatest developments occurring in the early 1990s.

Southern Polytechnic State University, first called the Technical Institute, opens in Chamblee with 116 students, most of whom are veterans of World War II. In 1949 the school becomes the Southern Technical Institute and is recognized as a college-level institution by the U.S. Office of Education (later, the U.S. Department of Education). The school moves to Marietta in 1961 and in 1970 becomes accredited as a four-year college, one of the first in the country to offer a Bachelor of Engineering Technology degree. In 1980, SPSU achieves independence within the University System of Georgia by ending its ties with Georgia Tech and becoming the 14th senior college and the 33rd independent unit of the university system. Another name change to the Southern College of Technology occurs in 1987 for the school often nicknamed "Southern Tech." In 1996, the school becomes a university and is now Southern Polytechnic State University.

Kennesaw State University (KSU) is chartered by the Board of Regents in October 1963, during one of the most dramatic periods of college expansion in Georgia's history. Home to a large aircraft industry and two air bases, at this time, Cobb County exemplifies the New South that has emerged in the aftermath of World War II (1941-45). Between 1940 and 1960, as Cobb triples in size, the county’s is home to an affluent, well-educated population determined to improve educational opportunities for Georgia's youth.
By the early 1960s the first of the baby boom generation reaches college age, pressuring educators and politicians to construct more classrooms. After World War II, the University of Georgia establishes off-campus centers in a number of towns around the state, with the Marietta Center operating from 1951 to 1966. By the 1960s, however, Georgians clearly prefer autonomous two-year community campuses. In 1963, three new junior colleges are founded by the Board of Regents in Albany, Dalton and in Cobb County.

The Big Chicken
In the early 1960s, Johnny Reb's was a Marietta greasy spoon with a challenge. Owner Tubby Davis faced increasing competition and needed a means of attracting customers to his establishment. "Reb" burgers at 15 cents a shot were no longer unique, but his fried chicken might just do the trick. Davis hired Hubert Puckett in 1963 to design and build the original 56-foot high sheet metal structure. The chicken’s eyes were designed to rotate and the beak would open and close. A ruffle on the top of the Big Chicken's head would move from side-to-side in the wind. In January 1993, storm winds damaged the structure, and public’s affection for the bird led KFC to spend $700,000 to rebuild the landmark. The bird is still a signal to pilots, who use the building as a reference point on approach to Atlanta and Dobbins Air Reserve Base. The new Big Chicken even includes the original design of beak and eyes which move, although this time the vibrations which plagued the first structure have been eliminated. The Big Chicken’s popularity has led to a small cottage industry of sorts, selling souvenirs emblazoned with the monument, including one sweatshirt showing Big Ben in London, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Coliseum in Rome, and the Big Chicken in Marietta.

The last section of I-75 in Georgia connecting Tampa with Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, is completed four miles north of Marietta. Before its completion, travelers were unceremoniously dumped off onto U.S. 41. "I can remember the Burma Shave signs along 41," mused DOT spokesman Jerry Stargell. Retired Deputy Commissioner Emory Parrish told the story of the missing link. "We couldn't get the location set across Lake Allatoona," he said. "The environmentalists got into it because of the lake. We ended up moving it to get it built."

The Home Depot, with world headquarters in Vinings, is founded by Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank. The Home Depot has evolved into the world's largest home-improvement center and the second-largest retailer in the United States. Beginning with just three stores, the Home Depot now boasts stores in all fifty states, Canada, Mexico, and Chile. The Home Depot ended its 2004 fiscal year with sales of $73 billion and earnings of $5 billion.

Mableton native Roy Eugene Barnes (born March 11, 1948) is elected Governor of Georgia. Barnes served one term, until January 2003. His first venture into politics was in 1974 when he was elected to the Georgia state Senate. He served there from 1975 until 1990, when he ran in the Democratic primary for governor of Georgia. He was defeated by Zell Miller, who later won the election and became an ally of Barnes. Barnes returned to politics in 1992, serving in the Georgia state House of Representatives until 1998, when he ran for governor again, this time winning the Democratic primary. Barnes defeated then-Secretary of State Lewis Massey to win the Democratic Primary. He defeated Republican businessman Guy Millner, winning 53% of the vote in the General Election.

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