Author: Brandon Cohran
A new year ushers in new changes, and for us at the Center for Public History at the University of West Georgia, we are making changes as well. Beginning this month, we are looking to bring unique and diverse blog posts to the website in order to offer fun, new, and interesting perspectives about the West Georgia Textile Heritage Trail. As a new graduate research assistant, and the Textile Heritage Trail Curator, I am ecstatic about the Textile Trail project and all of the potential stories and experiences that will come out of this ongoing documentation of regional history.
What is the Textile Heritage Trail, you ask? Why does it matter? Well, the West Georgia Textile Heritage Trail, or Textile Trail, is a research project conducted by students and History Department faculty in the Center of Public History at the University of West Georgia. The Textile Trail is a heritage tourism initiative, whose shared history is curated and researched by students in order to tell the stories of communities throughout northwest Georgia. The Trail spans from Dalton to Columbus, Georgia, along the U.S.Highway 27 corridor, and focuses on this region from antebellum to the present day, while telling the history of the textile industry in the region. The textile industry built small Georgia towns and cities during this period.
Textiles, such as, cotton mills and hosiery mills, as well as chenille, carpet, apparel and garments, led to the manufacturing of rubber wire and tire cord for automobiles. The textile industry throughout central and northwest Georgia, created economic growth and stability, which led to a strengthened infrastructure for small towns along railroads and rivers.
Foundations of the Textile Trail began long before its founding in 2012. It started with the work of History students and faculty that conducted research and oral history projects in proximity to the University of West Georgia in the early 2000s. The first wave of research was an indication of the importance that textiles, primarily cotton, had on the growth of various communities in size and in the economic stability in the Carrollton area. In the spring of 2012, the Textile Heritage Trail became a Center-based project that utilized student work every semester. The years of research and labor became a centralized focus of the Center, and through all of the past and present work, each year new discoveries help us to update our information about the communities along the Trail in addition to creating new entries.
The next milestone for the Textile Heritage Trail came in 2013 in thanks to a grant that the Center received from the Callaway Foundation of LaGrange, Georgia. History student researchers and faculty embarked on new research and image collecting leading to the Trail’s first guidebook, The West Georgia Textile Heritage Trail published as a part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series in December 2015. The Center, through the book project, was able to develop deeper stories and to form stronger community connections to the textile industry. We use our website, self-guided walking tour brochures, and interpretive signs to tell these stories.
Our current student-staff working on the Textile Heritage Trail consists of three graduate research assistants, one of which has worked the project since the fall of 2014. Together it is our mission, I feel, to provide enriching stories, educational information, and to give exposure to the diverse range of people whose lives changed because of the Textile Trail throughout north and west Georgia. My two project team members are Chanell Lowery and Emily Harrington. They both contribute heavily to the success of the project along with myself, Brandon Cohran.
Emily Harrington, our Strategic Planning Coordinator for the West Georgia Textile Heritage Trail Project, is in her second consecutive semester being involved on the Textile Trail as a Graduate Research Assistant. This new planning initiative is generously funded by the Callaway Foundation of LaGrange, Georgia. Emily said that she “has enjoyed [her] time working on the Trail. It has had its challenges along the way but those challenges have been great learning opportunities for me.” She acknowledges that, “the future is sure to bring some great changes for us due to sticking with our strategic plan to incorporate future improvements to the Textile Trail.”
My other peer, Chanell Lowery, has been involved with the Trail project for over three years now, and with that, she has fulfilled many roles. Currently, however, she is working the completion of the Bowdon Spur Project (and leading the tour for it), while also transitioning digital databases, completing membership signs, and finishing newsletters and community brochures. Her experience with so many aspects to the Trail helps to keep the project organized and intact. The project touched home with Chanell, as she said, “when I started working on the Trail three years ago, I thought my work would be about helping others learn about their heritage, but it turns out I ended up learning about mine too. Last year, I learned that my great-great-grandmother, Dora Lively, worked at Callaway mills.”
In addition to the dedicated work that both my colleagues Emily and Chanell do for the project, I am the new Curator for the West Georgia Textile Heritage Trail. So far, my contribution to the project has included the development of this blog, but also community research for the entries on the website and compiling new community histories to explore. I hope that these entries will not only be informational about the Textile Trail Industry in the area, but that the region’s past will connect to the present. My goal is to have the website community pages, and the blogs, be informational and unique. In my limited exposure to the Trail, so far, I have seen how important the textile industry was to the development and stability of small communities all throughout Georgia.
To compliment the information on the Textile Heritage Trail website about the community’s textile history, we also include places to visit and activities to do when in the surrounding area. This added dynamic helps highlight the lasting impact that the Textile Trail had on the communities and people in the decades following the decline of the industry. Many, but not all, of the sites listed as places to visit display textiles or give their community’s narration of the impact that the textile industry left on the people who lived there.
The Textile Heritage Trail focuses on the people who lived in communities along the Trail and how their lives changed due to the textile industry throughout Georgia. I find it exciting that we, the current student-staff of the Center for Public History, continue to discover and tell the amazing stories of these people. Moving forward with this blog, I hope to focus on one key element or group of people every month, so that we, at the Center for Public History, can continue to grow and expand on the variety of ways that the Textile Heritage Trail influenced the people of Georgia.
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 and Chanell Lowery. In addition, a thank you to the Center faculty Drs. Julia Brock and Ann McCleary, and Keri Adams.