One of the first things people notice about Downtown Cartersville is the number of trains that go through every day. In fact, about two per hour – 50 per day – bisect downtown. There are two bridges over the tracks and still some complain. But kids love them, and everybody jokes about them. Once, a jokester at the Convention & Visitors Bureau suggested ” A Train Runs Through It,” as a theme line for the City.
Anyway, the reason for dwelling on trains is that it’s very appropriate that traffic stops for them 50 times daily. That’s because most of the traffic stops in front of Friendship Plaza, Cartersville’s downtown park, and the plaza is named in honor of the man responsible for bringing trains here in the first place more than 150 years ago. The man was Mark Anthony Cooper.
Now the reason it’s Friendship Plaza instead of “Cooper Plaza” is that the name is taken from a unique monument Cooper commissioned which stands in the park. It’s called “The Friendship Monument.” Cooper commissioned the monument in 1857 to honor 38 friends who had aided him in a financial crisis, and it’s believed to be the only monument in existence erected by a debtor to honor his creditors. And what got Cooper into financial trouble to start with? Well, trains of course. Here’s the story:
In 1831 Mark Cooper and a friend, Charles P. Gordon, called the first convention to publicly consider building a railroad in Georgia. Cooper and Gordon were from Eatonton, Georgia and both were elected to the Georgia Legislature in 1833 where they continued their efforts. As a result, the state owned Western & Atlantic (W&A) Railroad was completed in 1850 connecting Atlanta and Chattanooga.
Cooper had moved here in the early 1840’s and established a thriving iron production and manufacturing enterprise just south of Cartersville at the town of Etowah called the Etowah Iron and Manufacturing Company. But the iron and other goods produced at Etowah were about two miles from the newly completed W&A Railroad. So in 1847 the Etowah Railroad Company was incorporated to transport the goods to the main railroad. Cooper’s business partner couldn’t pay his share of the tracks and Cooper bought him out. In 1857 Cooper was $100,000 in debt and the Etowah Iron and Manufacturing Company was auctioned. Cooper bought the company back with a $200,000 note to be paid in three years. The 38 friends whose names appear on the Friendship Monument today endorsed the note. By 1859 Cooper paid off note and in 1860 paid tribute to his friends with the erection of the Friendship Monument on the Etowah Town Square.
Along came the Civil War, and Etowah gained prominence as a manufacturing center for the Confederacy. Eventually the Confederate Government bought and operated the iron works. A major target of the Atlanta Campaign, in May, 1864 troops under General William T. Sherman