"The community revolved around the [iron] furnace, which is still standing down at our Cooper's Furnace Day Use Area," said Chris Purvis, park ranger for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns and manages the day use area at 1052 Old River Road, S.E., Cartersville. "The furnace was built by the Stroup family, I believe it was, around 1848. Soon after, they took in a partner whose name was Mark Cooper. He later ran for governor of Georgia and he was a well-known person in this area during the mid-1800s.
"By the 1860s, Cooper had bought out his partners and he was the owner, and the furnace and the community around the iron furnace had grown. They had all kinds of flour mills and rolling mills. So it was a community maybe [of] as many as 1,000 people. And several homes and different industries [were built] on the riverside."
To help preserve the history of Etowah, a state marker has been restored and installed, highlighting how the iron manufacturing town formed in the 1840s and thrived under the direction of Mark Anthony Cooper and his Etowah Manufacturing and Mining Co. The cast-iron sign claims that during its height in 1864, Etowah featured 2,000 residents, a foundry, an iron furnace, rolling mill, corn mills, saw mills and flour mill.
"When the Civil War began, Cooper ended up selling the furnace to the Confederate government and the Confederate government at that time used it to make arms for the Confederate Army," Purvis said. "Then [in] May of 1864, [Union Gen. William T.] Sherman's army came through the area and basically destroyed almost everything. Until about 1940, there was still a lot of remnants of some of the mills and things like that. But mostly everything was destroyed in May of 1864. His army came through, burned everything. The only thing that is still standing is the furnace down at our day use area.
"When the dam was completed in 1950 ... we saved the furnace and we made that a day use area ever since, and it's been a very popular area. It's just right below our office. ... [Any of the town's ruins] would have been mostly right where the dam is. There were some remnants, but again a lot of people think that there was a full town underneath the lake and that is not correct. There may be some foundations that you may see, but by the time the dam was built there was really nothing left."
Installed on June 1, the state historic marker is situated on the corner of Highway 293 and Old River Road near Emerson, about four miles from the former town of Etowah.
The project was spearheaded by J.B. Tate, a Cartersville resident who found the item being stored with other damaged state markers at the Etowah Indian Mounds Historic Site. The Etowah marker, which is about 70 years old, had been out of commission for numerous years, he said. Along with sandblasting and painting the marker, the project also entailed providing a post and support base.
"I've been involved in Bartow County history for several years and I was always amazed at the number of people who had never heard of the town of Etowah and knew virtually nothing about it," said Tate, a professor emeritus at Kennesaw State University and a member of the Etowah Valley Historical Society. "So in their mind, Cooper's Furnace stood alone, where as that was just a component of a much bigger operation. So several years ago, I found out that all these state historical markers that you see up and down the highway -- that the markers that get [damaged by, for example] people knocking them over, they store those markers at the Etowah Indian Mounds. They have a special building down there with all the state markers in this area.
"So a man [who works at the historic site], his name is Buster Garland, told me they had one on Etowah. So I went down and met with Buster and he showed it to me. The sign was in rough shape. People had shot bullets through it so it needed some real repair."
In a labor of love, Tate helped fund and coordinate the marker restoration and installation. To bring the project to fruition, various individuals and organizations donated their time and materials. Some of its supporters included Garland, landowner Jim Dellinger, Cartersville Public Works Department, Bill Davey and Frank Perkins.
"My vision is we have all these places in the county that do not have markers that deserve a marker," Tate said. "This is a magnum opus project here. What I have in mind for these other sites, and this will be advertised over several years, is to put more modest markers up that cost [$200] to $300.
"[One could highlight] 'Pretty Boy' Floyd, the famous gangster. His house is still in downtown Adairsville. ... Those of us interested in local history are very lucky to live here. Bartow County is just loaded with more history than all the surrounding counties nearly put together."
For more information on Etowah, area residents can visit the Visitor Center at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Allatoona Operations Project Management Office. Located near Ga. Highway Spur 20, the center is open Sunday to Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Further details and directions can be obtained by viewing www.sam.usace.army.mil/allatoona or calling 678-721-6700.