By: Brandon Cohran
History with a capital ‘h’ is often an early warning for people to become uninterested very quickly. It’s dates, places, the names of this or of that, and the worst part is, is that it never, ever, changes. Today, tomorrow, next week, and next year, History stays the same. Public history, however, is constantly in motion and is creating new opportunities for history to intersect with everyday life. The purpose of public history is to do exactly that – create an intersection between history and public spaces. In Carrollton, there are several institutions and resources available to anyone who wants to experience history beyond the textbooks. Public History students and faculty at the University of West Georgia have impacted this community for almost two decades. Before public projects ever happened, faculty and students of the Center for Public History conducted countless oral histories of and collected photographs and objects from people who lived in the area.
Carrollton, Georgia, is a city steeped in history. The city incorporated in the mid-nineteenth century, and after the railroad expanded close to Carrollton, the textile industry started in Carrollton with the opening of Mandeville Mills in 1899. Today, the extant structures of mill no.1 and its various additions were converted condominiums, and the mill is on the National Register of Historic Places. The former home of Clifton Mandeville, founder of the mill, still stands near downtown and displays the beauty of the Victorian-style home. Across the street, at Feathers & Twigs, there is an interpretive sign outdoors, which details the former home, as well as other historic homes along Maple Street. This sign is one of five interpretative panels for the Textile Trail located in Carrollton, which are supplemented by a self-guided walking trail brochure. This signs were curated and designed by three public history graduate students, Andy Carter, Keri Adams, and Jennifer Teeter, working with the Center for Public History.
In addition to the old cotton mill, Carrollton is home to the Southeastern Quilt & Textile Museum. This museum allows visitors to experience textiles in a unique and exciting way as they have many textiles in their collection and feature exhibits with them. The interpretation done at the museum allows visitors to not only get a better understanding of the history on the textile industry, but also to see products that were created during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Georgia. The museum features quilts dating back as far as the 1790s, and many of them feature local and state artists. Typically, there about 30 quilts on display at any time, and visitors are welcome to interact with them – just wear gloves! Every semester, the Southeastern Quilt & Textile Museum hosts a graduate student from UWG. This spring, Museum Studies Certificate student Chloe McNeil serves as the museum’s Operations Manager and Curator in which she is tasked with daily administrative operations, curator of collections, and education programs. Public History graduate student Kymara Sneed works part-time in guest services.
Outdoor interpretation is abundant throughout Carrollton. There are 23 historic markers throughout Carroll County, and Carrollton boats six of them. These historic markers feature people or events pertinent to Carrollton’s history. Adamson Square, in downtown Carrollton, in the past few years has experienced a revitalization of the history behind the square. There has been an effort to keep a historic look and feel to the buildings around the square. One of the buildings, Horton’s Books & Gifts, is the oldest bookstore in the state. The downtown Carrollton Historic District and surrounding streets were placed on the National Register in 2007.
In addition to the historic markers scattered throughout Carrollton, there are also several walking tours available, many of which involved work done by graduate students from the University of West Georgia. These trails vary from the historic district walk to the historic cemetery tour – which is currently being updated for Carrollton Main Street – by Melanie Sigman in collaboration with Geosciences faculty member Dr. Andy Walter. Brochures for these tours are available via mobile apps, or at the Carrollton Main Street office, or Log Cabin Visitor Center on Lake Carroll. The City Cemetery guide, which is offers a detailed commentary about the cemetery, the different sections of the cemetery, and it highlights some of the people who are buried there, such as the aforementioned Clifton Mandeville, and Newton Allen Horton – the namesake of Horton’s Bookstore.
To venture out of Carrollton just a bit, but to discuss another trail, my colleague Chanell Lowery, tomorrow, on March 13th at 5pm at Bowdon City Hall, is launching a Bowdon Spur Walking Trail Tour. As part of her thesis project, Chanell developed a walking tour in which visitors will learn about Bowdon’s textile heritage and how the community had a regional and national influence still seen today. In her research, she discovered untold stories about the LaMar Manufacturing Company’s first African American employees, a pay stub from Warren Sewell Clothing Company, and the process of apparel manufacturing yesteryear. One of the most important narratives that Bowden’s apparel heritage is important because it shares common threads seen in history throughout the United States. Also, Bowden’s apparel companies have adapted to the textile hardships by changing their business focus to supplying tailored garments for the U.S. military.
Public history, to us at the University of West Georgia, is important because history through public engagement often facilitates lasting impressions on people about the place they live or visit. Why read about quilts from the local cemetery to see where people of the past are buried rather than driving by and glancing at the obelisks? It is our goal to promote the use of history to teach where, when and how events happened locally, statewide, and nationally. The city of Carrollton is actively bringing public history to its visitors in a variety of ways. As long as the community stays involved, and new ideas are embraced, public history will continue to encourage engagement with visitors and residents of the city.
A special thanks goes out to all of the previous students who have worked on this project along with my current team members Emily Harrington, Chanell Lowery, and Tinaye Gibbons. In addition, a thank you to the Center faculty Drs. Julia Brock and Ann McCleary, and Keri Adams.