Kenneth Wheeler

An avid historian of local history, Reinhardt University history professor Kenneth Wheeler has published a book on Georgia’s Etowah Valley with University of Georgia Press.

“Modern Cronies: Southern Industrialism from Gold Rush to Convict Labor, 1829-1894” shows how the southern gold rush shaped the development of the southeastern United States. The area surrounding Waleska, the Etowah Valley, runs from near Dahlonega to Rome. Wheeler shows how the antebellum South, sometimes seen as an agricultural world without industry, played an important role in the Industrial Revolution.

“The Etowah Valley had significant industrial development, from stamping machines that pounded gold ore, to the Western & Atlantic Railroad, which bisected the Etowah Valley and created the cities of Chattanooga and Atlanta, to the iron industry along the Etowah River, which was hugely important,” Wheeler said in a release.

“Modern Cronies” discusses the network of people who created the extractive and industrial enterprises, how they worked together and learned from one another, and how they nurtured young talent.

Wheeler spent several years writing his latest publication, including his time during a sabbatical leave at Reinhardt. He received leave time and research funding from the university, allowing him to use archival resources from Chattanooga Public Library, Clemson University, the University of South Carolina and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. He also relied on various local resources, including private papers and sources from Reinhardt’s archival collections.

“The result, I hope, is a new look at the development of northern Georgia in the nineteenth century from the gold rush and Cherokee Removal through the Civil War and into the decades that followed,” he said. “I have some local talks lined up so people can learn more about the book, and I hope to see some current and former Reinhardt students among the listeners.”

Wheeler has always found interest in local history, “the world around us.”

“At Reinhardt, I had students with questions and stories about the Waleska area and northern Georgia. Over time I got more involved with the Cherokee County Historical Society and I began teaching the History of Georgia course, which raised new questions for me, and the project cascaded from there.”

The book is available for purchase at

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