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
In the mid-1990s people started talking about moving the monument back to Cartersville and the talk spread to Atlanta where Mark Cooper Pope lives. Pope wanted the monument back in Cartersville, too, and generously lent resources to make it possible. In 1999, in conjunction with the Cartersville Sesquicentennial Celebration, the Cartersville City council approved moving the Friendship Monument back downtown and named the square where the monument would be placed “Friendship Plaza.”
But Friendship Plaza is more than a tribute to Mark Cooper. In addition, visitors will notice plaques on the fence next to the railroad that are Cartersville’s tribute to her other notable citizens. They include:
- Joe Frank Harris, Governor of Georgia from 1981-1989;
- Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Benham – also Georgia’s first African-American Justice;
- Attorney Warren Akin, who argued the first case before the Georgia Supreme Court in 1848;
- Amos Akerman, who in 1870 organized the United States Justice Department while serving as Attorney General in the Cabinet of President Ulysses S. Grant;
- Woman’s rights advocate and political columnist Rebecca Latimer Felton who became the first woman to be seated in the United States Senate (1922);
- CSA General William T. Wofford, who led the last surrender of Confederate troops east of the Mississippi, and was a life-long advocate of eliminating the poll tax and extending the right to vote to Blacks;
- CSA Major General P.M.B. Young became the first Georgian to be seated in Congress after the Civil War and was the youngest Major General in either the Confederate or Union Armies;
- Congressmen William H. Stiles (1843-45) and William H. Felton (1875-81);
- Methodist evangelist Samuel Porter Jones who originated the idiom “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” and for whom Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry (Ryman Auditorium) was built;
- Baptist missionary Lottie Moon, a female pioneer in foreign mission service remembered today as the namesake for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for Foreign Missions;
- Baseball great Rudy York (1913-1970), who still holds the major league record for the most home runs hit in the month of August;
- Thoroughbred Horse Racing Hall of Fame Trainer Horatio Luro;
- Corra Harris, the first woman to be a war correspondent, covering World War I for The New York Post, and author of numerous novels including Circuit Riders’s Wife, upon which the film classic ” I’d Climb the Highest
Mountain ,” starring Susan Hayward was based;
- Bill Arp, late 19th Century humorist and nationally syndicated columnist.
So, should you find yourself sitting in downtown Cartersville waiting for the train to go by, don’t fret. Pull into a parking place, stroll around Friendship Plaza, and acquaint yourself with some of our notable sons and daughters. Then, you might want to cross the street and photograph the World’s First Coca-Cola Wall Sign on the side of Young Brother’s Pharmacy – and pick up a Coke while you’re there. Also stop in at the Cartersville Welcome Center in the 1854 depot operated by the Cartersville Downtown Development Authority.