MARIETTA — Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park just got a bit bigger.
Legislation that adds about eight acres to the park was signed into law by President Donald Trump on Tuesday.
The expansion of the park will include the historic Wallis House and Harriston Hill. The eight acres, owned by Cobb County and the Cobb Land Trust, is expected to be donated to the National Park Service. The additions would not be contiguous to the existing park boundaries but would be a detached unit of the main park.
The Kennesaw Mountain expansion was rolled into a larger natural resources bill, dubbed the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act after late Michigan Congressman John Dingell, who died in February.
All U.S. lawmakers representing Cobb — Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue and Reps. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, and David Scott, D-Atlanta — voted in favor of the bill. It passed the Senate on Feb. 12 and the House on Feb. 26.
In a statement, Isakson thanked everyone involved in getting the bill passed.
“I appreciate the dedication of state, local and federal officials for working with me to see this through to preserve Georgia’s rich history, to expand recreational activities and to provide a boost for our tourism industry. I thank the president for signing it quickly into law,” Isakson said.
Lawmakers have been pushing legislation that would add the eight acres for years: This year was the fourth time the bill has been filed.
Loudermilk said in a statement that efforts to expand the park began under his predecessor, former Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Marietta, in 2010.
“The signing of this bill marks the end of nearly a decade of legislative work and begins an era of historic preservation at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. ... The National Park Service can now acquire the historic Wallis House and Harriston Hill properties which, once restored, will greatly enhance the visitors’ experience at the park and open the door to a greater understanding of the events that took place there. I am proud to be a part of preserving a piece of our nation’s history, and I thank the countless individuals and organizations who have worked so hard to see this happen,” Loudermilk said.
Nancy Walther, superintendent of the park for the last seven years, said the news of the expansion finally becoming official was “like Christmastime” for herself and her staff.
“It’s this huge relief that we finally can move forward and continue to protect this parcel of land. … We always worried that an 1853 home with one match could go up (in flames). So protecting it is exciting for us, and being able to step in and take it back to what it looked like in the 1850s — I can’t tell you how excited we are. We are just ecstatic,” she said.
The MDJ has previously reported that Cobb spent about $800,000 to buy the land. The Wallis House was in danger of being demolished by a developer in 2002, but the county agreed to purchase the 1.2 acres the Wallis House sits on as well as the 5.5 acres that includes Harriston Hill with the intent to eventually donate the properties to the National Park Service.
Meanwhile, the Cobb Land Trust purchased 1.13 acres at the foot of Harriston Hill to provide access to the two properties. That tract is also expected to be donated.
Still, the National Park Service would need to spend about $1 million up front to restore the historic Wallis House and an additional $1 million over the next five years for general upkeep, according to Amanda Maddox, communications director for Isakson.
Walther said the additions that have been made to the Wallis House over the years will be demolished and the home restored to its 1853 condition.
“It’s going to be a lot of work, and we’d like to involve the community with help with in-kind work and in-kind volunteer service, donations to help move this project forward as quickly as possible,” she said.
It will be at least five years before the home is completely restored, new facilities are built and the additions ready for visitors, Walter added.
“It’s a little overwhelming, but at the same time, it’s nice to be able to finally dig in and get going.”
The Wallis House, built by Josiah Wallis in 1853, and the adjacent Harriston Hill played major roles during the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, the last major Civil War battle before the fall of Atlanta.
The house was occupied by the Wallis family until the Civil War, when it was used as a hospital by the Confederate Army. It was also used as Union headquarters by Gen. William T. Sherman during the Battle of Kolb’s Farm and by Gen. Howard during the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain.
Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park encompasses more than 2,900 acres and sees more than 2 million visitors annually.