The Journal
The Latest from the History Center
Newsletter June 10th - 14th
June 16, 2019

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This past Tuesday we saw the inaugural performance of our 2019 Chautauqua series The 1830s: A Decade of Removal with Colonial Williamsburg’s Alex Morse portraying Cherokee Chief John Ross. Great weather and an enthusiastic crowd made for an evening of thoughtful entertainment and lively engagement. The Chautauqua style of Museum Theatre incorporates the performer/interpretive historian answering questions from the audience in character – with the audience having to frame their questions in the year from which the character is speaking! In this case that was 1841, allowing for some perspective on the tumultuous events of Removal while also putting the audience in the shoes of John Ross in wondering what the future may hold. The questions reflected this, with Alex as Ross being asked if he regretted decisions he made during removal as well as what he hoped for his people in the future now that they were west of the Mississippi. As the audience felt they were meeting an actual person there were also personal life questions, such as how his parents met, and if he brought his slaves with him to the new territories. These are the type of diverse questions we hope to inspire with our Chautauqua series, as they indicate that those in attendance do come to see historic characters as real people who faced problems and daily life with real hopes, dreams, concerns, and actions – just as we do today. And after spending an evening being educated and entertained by this real person from the past they perhaps leave the History Center with some perspectives for their own time.

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Group tours at the History Center are a great way to enjoy time with friends and family while exploring the rich history of our region. This week our Director of Education Ken Johnston led a tour for residents from Lanier Village Estates. Our exhibits cover 11,000 years of Northeast Georgia history, so there's a lot to learn! Our guided tours make it easy and entertaining for visitors to understand the context and connections of our region's history and ask questions along the way. It's a great way to support the History Center, make memories, and feel connected to the past. Group rates are only $5 per person with a 20 person minimum. Book your tour by calling 770-297-5900 or emailing us at

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By David French, Museum Services Manager

Many Gainesville residents have heard the story that the old steam engine, Gainesville Midland #209, was originally built for the Tsar of Russia, but was never delivered due to the interference of the Russia Revolution in 1917. I certainly heard this story, and on face-value found it completely believable! After all, the configuration of the wheels on #209 (2-10-0 by the Whyte system) matched perfectly with engines that were sent to Russia and is atypical in North America. But in history, things are not always as they first appear!

While doing research on the Gainesville Midland Railway, I came across Douglas Van Veelen’s book The Gainesville Midland and Her Sister Short Lines. Much to my surprise, Van Veelen lists the engine #209 as built by Baldwin in March of 1930! Where Mr. Van Veelen got this date was not clear in the book, and unfortunately, he passed away in March of 2018. But if correct, a 1930 build date would preclude a “Moscow Connection” for engine #209. The research game was afoot!

Being somewhat of a railroad buff, my first thought was to investigate the builder’s plate on the locomotive. Most engines have them, and it displays information such as the builder, build date, and serial number (much like a car’s VIN). Builder’s plates are easy to find and are usually located in the same place on all steam engines – bolted to the smoke box. But alas, #209’s builder’s plate is missing…

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In addition to the build date, Van Veelan listed #209’s serial number as 61233. My next strategy was to see if any photographs of #209 showed the builder’s plate clearly enough for the serial number to be read. Then I found this photo in the History Center’s collections:


This photo shows a delegation of Gainesville City employees just after the city obtained #209 from the Gainesville Midland to be but on display. Note that this photo also shows Hunt Tower in the background, indicating that the engine is sitting in the lot that is now The Arts Council. The digitized scan of this photo does not do the sharpness of the original justice, but inspecting the builder’s plate under a magnifying glass reveals:



61233! The magic number! Furthermore, based on still existing Baldwin builder’s plates (such as the one below from 1926), any serial number beginning with a 6 must be long post-1917.


So where did the story of the Tsar’s locomotive come from? Well, there are two angles here. The first is, as I mentioned, the odd 2-10-0 wheel configuration. This configuration was favored by the Russians, and many locomotives exported to Russia were built in this way. Furthermore, the Gainesville Midland did operate several locomotives that were originally intended for Imperial Russia. One of them still exists! According to Van Veelen’s research, Gainesville Midland engine #206 was built to be sent to Russia. The locomotive currently resides in the North Carolina Transportation Museum, albeit repainted as Seaboard Air Line #544 (the S.A.L. was the parent company of the Gainesville Midland, and also operated the locomotive at one point).

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So that’s the story! Engine #209 wasn’t built for Russia. But it is still a touchstone of Northeast Georgia’s Railroad history, and for that we at the History Center still think it’s pretty cool.

(By the way, if you have any information on where the missing builder plate is please contact the History Center!)

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From the Archives this week is Japanese currency from the Philippines, brought home by Army Air Corps Officer and Oakwood resident, Mr. Ed Kurtz. Mr. Kurtz was in the Army Air Corps Squadron in November 1945 and stationed in Japan. The currency was donated to the History Center in 2004, along with an unfired Japanese rifle.

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The Fifty Centavos and Ten Pesos bills, shown here, were known as Southern Development Bank Notes. Once the Japanese had captured the Philippines, they confiscated the nation’s currency and replaced it with the Centavos and the Pesos. The Centavo and the Peso were used in the Philippines from 1941 to 1945.

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Open Reception & Presentation for New Special Exhibit
July 2nd at 7:00 PM

The process of Indian removal in the 1830s that culminated in the Trail of Tears was not merely struggles between personalities and legislatures. Indeed, the mechanisms by which the United States enabled and justified removal were fundamentally in the judiciary. This exhibit will explore Georgia v. Tassels, Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, and Worchester v. Georgia. These three cases not only set the stage for Cherokee removal from Georgia, but in many ways defined the differences between two divergent, but often similar, cultures.

As lead partner for this exhibit, the Northeast Georgia History Center will host an opening reception on Tuesday, July 2nd at 7 pm. Dr. Jamie Mize, will give a presentation on Cherokee Removal, focusing on the politics and personal dynamics of the Treaty Party led by Major Ridge. Admission to this event is free to the public, courtesy of the Georgia Humanities.

Dr. Jamie Myers Mize is a historian of American Indians of the Southeastern United States, specifically the Cherokees. She received her BA in history from Truett-McConnell University, her MA from the University of North Georgia, and her PhD degree from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. Her research focuses on Cherokee masculinity and how gender expectations informed Cherokee men’s political decisions during an intense period of American colonialism in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. She has taught courses on American Indian history, the history of global indigenous peoples, early and modern American history, and twentieth century world history.

Special Exhibit: Court Cases of Cherokee Removal in Georgia
July 2nd - 10th
General Admission

This exhibit will be on display at the History Center for a short time only, from July 2nd to July 10 when it will travel to the Chieftain’s Museum in Rome. It will return to Gainesville for Native American Heritage Month in October.

New Gainesville Chautauqua 2019 Season: The 1830s – a Decade of Removal
July 9th and August 13th
$6 cash/card at the door or Free for Museum Members

Our Chautauqua series for the 2019 season explores the decade of the 1830s; the years that saw the passage of the Indian Removal Act and its implementation, and the treaty negotiations between the Indian Nations and the Federal Government - whether perceived as realistic or perceived as forced. We’ll hear from a Chief who looked to make the best deal as quickly as possible, a Chief who delayed removal as long as possible, and the President who sought to ensure removal as essential to his view of the United States.

July 9 - Choctaw Chief Greenwood LeFlore - portrayed by Matt House

Chief Leflore negotiated and signed the treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek within four months of the passage of the Removal Act, thus securing the best lands in the Indian Territory for the Choctaw – and then stayed behind in Mississippi while his tribe went west, taking U.S. Citizenship and becoming a wealthy cotton planter who owned 400 slaves and 15,000 acres of land.

August 13 – President Andrew Jackson – portrayed by Ken Johnston

Andrew Jackson, the man perceived in the popular imagination as being almost single-handedly responsible for the Indian Removal Act and the resultant Trail of Tears. Jackson could be ambivalent regarding Native Americans, treating the Red Stick Creek as enemies at Horseshoe Bend, while the Cherokee and Choctaw as allies at Horseshoe Bend and New Orleans, respectively. Whether Jackson viewed Indian Nations as enemies or allies, though, his first and overriding priority was White settlement and expansion; and as Jackson saw it the Nations had best accommodate Removal for their own good - regardless of how the Native American Nations themselves saw it.

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For more fascinating photos and information on our region's past, follow our social media!



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A scenic view in Towns County, Georgia in 1952.

The Northeast Georgia History Center at Brenau University - 322 Academy St NE Gainesville, GA 30501 - 770.297.5900 -