Telling Stories, Connecting Communities

Tag: Goodyear

Strategic Planning with the Textile Heritage Trail

Author: Greg Bell

 When you join a project that has been going on as long as the Textile Heritage Trail, it can feel a little overwhelming. So many people’s energy and passion have gone into making this site what it is today, and at the beginning, I did not know exactly how to start getting involved myself. But when I was tasked with working with stakeholders this semester as part of our ongoing strategic planning, I knew this would be a great opportunity for me to really see how much this project means to people from all of our featured communities. As a result of the conversations I had this semester, I now feel like I’m right in the middle of the work being done. Our stakeholders’ passion is infectious, and their excitement about sharing what they are planning as well as ideas for how we at the Textile Heritage Trail can help them achieve their goals helped me understand how much the work we do here matters. 

Image of E-Z Mill Workers
E-Z Mill workers. Photo courtesy: Bartow History Museum

Working with stakeholders is an important part of any kind of public history project. Their input and expectations can be one of the most important elements that go into making a project succeed or fail. When I was first told that I would be responsible for speaking with our stakeholders this semester to find out what exactly they would like to see from the Textile Heritage trail going forward, I knew this was a major part of our strategic planning process. We had already been soliciting feedback from users on our website and had begun to make changes based on what we had heard, but this was going to be a completely different experience. I was admittedly nervous when I made my first phone call. What if I messed up a question, or misrepresented something one of my contacts asked? What if they didn’t want to talk to me?

As soon as I introduced myself, I realized that those were unwarranted fears. Our stakeholders were so excited to talk with me about what they were doing in their communities to interpret their textile histories and were eager to hear what ideas we had to support them. Everyone was kind and helpful, and almost immediately I began looking forward to making my calls. Altogether, I spoke with over 90 people who are involved in textile history, from librarians and museum professionals to city managers to tourism directors and chamber of commerce executives. They took place over the phone, over Zoom, and in a few cases through email. There was one of these conversations that were especially meaningful for me because I got to speak with the stakeholders in person. 

A view of the Atco/Goodyear mill site and water tower. Photograph by Greg Bell

    When I called Trey Gaines, the director of the Bartow History Museum, to set up a time to talk, I knew he would have a lot of meaningful input. Trey and I have known each other for a long time since I first interned at the museum while getting my bachelor’s degree. When he asked if I wanted to come and talk in person, I decided to make a day out of the trip. I arrived in Cartersville at 9:00 and met with Trey Gaines and Sandy Moore. We spoke at length about how the museum interprets the textile history of Bartow County, and I got wonderful feedback from Trey and Sandy about what we at the Trail could do to better support them in the future. As we were wrapping up, I asked what sites I should try to visit before I left Cartersville, and Trey and Sandy gave me directions to two of the old mill sites. 

Aerial view of Goodyear and Mill Village
Goodyear and mill village aerial view. Photo courtesy: Bartow History Museum

 I left the Bartow History Museum and headed towards the first mill site Trey had told me about, ATCO & Goodyear. I arrived and looked around for a while, and then drove through the nearby mill village Sandy had told me about. The mill site itself is mostly gone, and the village’s homes are now just private residences, but being there in person I was able to picture what this site must’ve looked like while still operational. I then drove over the other mill site Trey had mentioned, the former E-Z Mill. Today, it is in operation as the Spring City Technology park, so I was not able to get an up-close look, but from the perimeter I could see the original building. Finally, before leaving town, I pulled up our Cartersville community page from the Textile Heritage Trail site, and used our StoryMap to navigate to other places of interest. It felt like I had stepped out of the role of textile history interpreter, and was instead just an enthusiast using our site for its intended purpose. From this point of view, I thought about the ideas I had discussed with Trey and Sandy, and I couldn’t help but get excited all over again. 

As a result of the conversations like I had with Trey and Sandy, the Textile Heritage Team is planning on starting some exciting new work in the coming semesters. We’ve already made changes to our website, and new community pages are on their way soon. I’m grateful to be a part of the process and have enjoyed hearing the passion and joy other people have in interpreting these stories, because in the process it became my joy, too. I hope that as we continue in our strategic planning and determine what the Textile Heritage Trail will look like going forward, you are taken in by that passion too. I, for one, can’t wait to see what we do next. 

Textile Talk

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.

Photo of the 1904 Chattooga County Fair in Summerville
Product showcase at the Goodyear Tire Plant in Cedartown, Georgia, 1950s. Courtesy of Polk County Historical Society.

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.

Two Chenille Spreads depicting peacocks outside of Prater's Mill
Chenille bedspreads on display at Prater’s Store, Dalton, Georgia. These two bedspreads feature colorful peacocks,  an iconic theme of the Old Dixie Highway chenille shacks in the mid-20th century. Courtesy of Janet Cochran.

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.