Executive Director Richard Banz said the research center will be the museum’s first expansion since 2003, when an educational center for children was built. The research center will be a place where history buffs can access records, documents, photographs, news articles and other artifacts with the help of museum staff.
The museum is the only history museum in the state affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, Banz said.
Through donations — primarily from the Southern Railroad Historical Association, Norfolk Southern, the Kennesaw Museum Foundation, the city of Kennesaw, Georgia Power, the Vaughan Foundation and a few others — museum officials have collected $1.1 million for the research center expansion project, Banz said.
One donor stood out, he said. Gary Eubanks, an attorney in Marietta, donated $40,000 for the operations of the center. His contribution helps with utility costs, staff salaries and purchasing equipment for storing the artifacts.
“Most museums or research facilities like this are closing down,” Banz said. “We’re going in the other direction.”
The center will have search aids similar to a library card catalog for people to find what they’re looking for, he said. The artifacts are in a warehouse, but the goal with the center expansion is to make them permanently accessible.
“There are papers from all the past presidents of the Southern Railroad, nearly a million photos of old railroads, blueprints of cars, information about the role railroads played in civil rights and news articles about Jim Crow laws,” he said.
To add a personal touch, museum staff has collected letters from soldiers and families during the Civil War, military diaries and photos, along with other family donations. Examples include family donations of medals of honor from those fighting for railroad policies.
Curious citizens, historians or Smithsonian staff have come to conduct research in the past, Banz said. There have also been people trying to make models of locomotives who have been able to do so with blueprints from the Kennesaw museum.
Artifacts date back as far as the 1830s, he said.
A groundbreaking will take place later this year, and construction will take nearly nine months, Banz said. The museum staff doesn’t have a date yet for the groundbreaking.