Center for Regional History and Culture Kennesaw State University

 

B.J. Bandy and Bartow Textiles: Creating an Industry

By Randall L. Patton
 
The tufted textile industry has been a crucial element of northwest Georgia's economy since the early 1900s. Though typically associated with Dalton, most of the communities of northwest Georgia participated in and contributed to the development of tufted bedspreads and carpeting. Many of those companies have disappeared, but their contributions should not be forgotten. Bartow Textiles, in Cartersville, was a leading producer of tufted products in the 1940s, yet few current residents probably remember the firm.

"Like a story-book romance, reads the history of the colorful tufted textile industry," the Tufted Textile manufacturers Association proclaimed in its inaugural Directory in 1950. The tale of the origins of northwest Georgia's principal economic institution had already become the stuff of local legend by the middle of the twentieth century. "No other industry, no other single business, can boast so phenomenal a growth," TTMA claimed with a bit of hyperbole, "all within the lifetime of its founder."


According to the creation story of the tufted textile industry, Catherine Evans, a simple farm girl, revived a handicraft tradition in the late 1890s by tufting patterns onto bedspreads. Evans's first few spreads were made as gifts, but she moved into commercial production in 1900 by selling one of her spreads. Soon Evans "found herself swamped with orders" from potential customers. Evans taught other "mountain women" the art of tufting. Within a few years, a thriving cottage industry had developed.

Catherine Evans was born in 1880 in the small community of Reo, near Dalton in Whitfield County. As a young girl of twelve, Evans took notice of an old spread on a bed in a relative's home. "I admired it so much," she recalled in later years, she determined that "when I grow older, I'm going to make me one." Evans started her first tufted bedspread in 1895. She took white thread and spun her own thick yarn on the family spinning wheel. "I put it in a bodkin needle and started working," Evans remembered. The finished spread was "like that Irish Chain quilt pattern in squares." Evans then clipped the stitches to produce a fluffy "chenille" effect, and boiled the spread several times to shrink the cloth and lock in the tufts.

Catherine Evans Whitener
Catherine Evans (later, Mrs. W. L. Whitener) is the legendary figure credited with giving birth to the multi-million dollar tufting industry.

Evans made her first few spreads for home use and as gifts. In 1900 she gave her brother, Henry, and his bride a tufted spread as a wedding gift. Evans's sister admired the spread so much that she offered to buy one. Evans bought cloth and thread for $1.25, charged the same amount for her labor, and made her first sale for a grand total of $2.50, though she was offered more. Evans "didn't want to charge too much," and felt that $2.50 was a good price considering that "then a man worked for a dollar a day."

Evans's spreads found a ready market, and soon she had to adapt her techniques to keep up with demand. She had originally marked off spread patterns by pencil, but this was difficult and time-consuming. She simplified the process by putting a finished spread on the floor, and placing the new material to be tufted over it. Evans then rubbed a pie tin, which had been oiled on a meat skin, over the spreads. The process produced a pattern in black dots.

Evans kept filling orders, but soon was unable to keep up with demand. She began to teach friends and neighbors the technique, and then employed them to help her keep the business going. Evans stamped the pattern on the spreads, then passed the spreads and yarn on to other women in the community to finish the tufting. Evans then boiled them in a wash pot and hung them out on a line to be bleached and dried in the sun.

After 1910, Evans and her friends sought out broader markets in creative ways. Mrs. J.T. Bates boldly decided to try to sell the spreads to large northern department stores. "We shipped fifteen spreads... to John Wannamaker's [department store]," Bates recalled. "On a piece of plain tablet paper I made out a bill for $98.15 and put it in with the spreads. Although there had been no previous contact whatsoever with the store, Wannamaker's sent us a check for $98.15." The store soon ordered more spreads, and this success encouraged Mrs. Bates to continue. She wrote to Chambers of Commerce around the country asking for the names and addresses of department stores. Legends long maintained that no store ever failed to pay for the initial fifteen spreads, and many bought more.

This unique regional product struck a responsive chord among consumers across the country, and by the end of World War I the handicraft of tufting bedspreads had become a profitable business for many in northwest Georgia, including Bartow County. Local men began to realize the profit potential in the tufting business, and by the early 1920s a multitude of "spread houses" had been established. In the spread houses, sheets were stamped with patterns, then "haulers"--men driving heavily-laden trucks, wagons, and mule carts--carried stamped sheets and other supplies over the mountain roads of north Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and the Carolinas, to as many as 10,000 home tufters. The haulers then made the rounds a second time, collecting the tufted spreads and taking them back to the spread houses for boiling, packaging, and shipping.


Textile mill workers, circa 1940s
From the roadside handcrafting of spreads to millwork employment, women played key roles in the development of the tufted textile industry.
Capital requirements were slight and demand was high; spread houses proliferated. During the 1920s, department store buyers refined the tactic of playing one spread house against the others, driving prices down. Tufters had earned as much as twenty-five cents per spread in the 1910s; by the late 1920s the average was five to ten cents. Manufacturers began to search for faster, more efficient ways to produce tufted spreads.
The origin of the first tufting machine is lost in a melange of competing claims. A tufting machine may have been in use as early as 1922. The rapidly expanding market for tufted bedspreads and other products encouraged experimentation with machines with the aim of initiating mass-production. By the early 1930s, several men laid claim to the invention of a tufting machine. In Dalton, Georgia, local entrepreneurs established Cabin Crafts in 1932, and the tufted bedspread industry moved into factory production.

Over time, tufting companies developed wider and wider machines for tufting. By 1950 several companies were producing room size rugs and broadloom carpeting on tufting machines. Eventually, carpet and rug production became the chief focus of northwest Georgia's tufted textile industry, eclipsing bedspreads, robes, and other small goods.


The Bandy family looms large in the history of this unique regional industry. Though they are primarily associated with Dalton, the Bandy family also had important connections to Cartersville and Bartow County. B.J. Bandy built a tufting mill in Cartersville, on the southwest corner of Cook and Erwin Streets, in 1940. The building still stands, though tufted textile production has long since ceased. For a time, though, Bartow Textiles, as the mill was known, played an important part in the evolution of tufted textiles in northwest Georgia.


Bandy was reputed
to be the man to make
a million dollars in
the tufting business by
the early 1930s.


Burl J. "B.J." Bandy was born in 1888. He grew up on a farm in the small Whitfield County community of Hill City. As a boy, B.J. learned telegraphy and became a telegraph operator for the railroad in Hill City. B.J. married Dicksie Bradley, who was named for her father, Dick. The name has become something of a family tradition. B.J. taught Dicksie to telegraph, and both worked for the railroad. They were frugal, saved their money, and began opening small dry goods stores in Sugar Valley, Calhoun, and Hill City in the years leading up to World War I.

After the war, the US economy fell into a recession, and small businesses like the Bandys' stores were especially hard-pressed. As area farmers had difficulty paying their bills at Bandy's general store, so Bandy found it increasingly hard to pay his suppliers. According to historian Tom Deaton, Bandy owed as much as $20,000 to suppliers by around 1920, "yet he was too stubborn or too proud to go into legal bankruptcy." The growing debt problem led bandy to investigate the bedspread business. True to her generous nature, Mrs. Whitner agreed to help the Bandys get into the business by giving them several spread patterns. Bandy then set about buying raw materials and recruiting area women to tuft the spreads.

B.J. then convinced Dicksie to travel throughout the northeast showing a sample spread to department stores. Bandy's telegraphy work for the railroads had earned him a railway pass, and Dicksie was able to use it to travel virtually anywhere free of charge. The first store Dicksie visited, Washington, D.C.'s Woodward & Lothrop, ordered 400 spreads at $4 each (about double the Bandys' cost of production). Department store buyers rarely disappointed Mrs. Bandy.

B.J. and Dicksie established a spread house on Thornton Avenue in Dalton, and soon the family had developed a booming business, sending stamped spreads out to dozens of farms for hand-tufting, then collecting them to be "laundered," and finished and shipped them out to stores across the country. Bandy was reputed to be the man to make a million dollars in the tufting business by the early 1930s.

As the bedspread industry moved toward factory production, Bandy remained a leader by investing in the new machine-tufting technology. Bandy purchased the Boycell Manufacturing Company of Gastonia, North Carolina, in the mid-1930s. The company's founder, Erskine Boyce, had patented a number of innovative machines capable of producing tufted bedspreads, "scatter rugs," and other small tufted goods. Bandy established several spread factories using the new Boyce-patented machines, including Southern Craft in Rome and J & C Bedspread Company in Ellijay. The latter was named for son-in-law Joe McCutchen and daughter Christine. Joe and Christine had "apprenticed" in Gastonia for a while, learning the ropes of the tufting business, before relocating to Ellijay to help manage J & C.

The Boyce machines and designs helped Bandy establish a foothold in machine tufting, but the corresponding patents proved impossible to enforce because it was a relatively simple machine that others were able to duplicate fairly easily in function, if not in specific detail. While most any invention or adaptation can be patented, it is difficult under US patent law to protect any "obvious" technological innovation from infringement. No one made money on patents for tufting machinery--there were too many similar machines, too many mechanics working on too many similar adaptations at roughly the same time.

Bartow Textiles, circa 1940s
Once the largest tufted textile mill in the country, Bartow Textiles, located at the corner of
Cook and Erwin in Cartersville, Georgia, was built by tufting pioneer B. J. Bandy in 1940.
Manufacturing tufted chenille products, from small rugs and robes to bedspreads and draperies,
the mill played an important part in the evolution of tufted textiles in Northwest Georgia.

Bandy moved the Boycell company to Cartersville, Georgia, in 1940, and built a brand new facility to house it. Bandy retained the Boycell name (changing the spelling to Boysell) as a marketing division, but created a new company to run the manufacturing plant in Cartersville--Bartow Textiles. The Bartow Textiles plant was probably the largest tufted textile mill in the country at the time, and manufactured every sort of tufted chenille product--robes, small rugs, spreads, draperies, etc. Jack Bandy, B.J.'s youngest child and only son, recalled that his father even experimented with, and discussed, the idea of making broadloom floor coverings--carpets--in the late 1940s. And almost unique among tufted textile manufacturing firms at the time, Bartow Textiles had its own laundry facilities for washing and dyeing spreads, rugs, and robes.

By 1945, the bedspread, robe, and rug tufting industry had grown to encompass several dozen companies. Those firms came together to form a trade association in 1945, the Tufted Textile Manufacturers Association (TTMA). Bandy was unanimously nominated by the membership to be the organization's first president, but, as daughter Dicksie Bandy Tillman recalls, "that wasn't Daddy." Bandy's son and daughter both said their father was simply not the type to run an association like TTMA, and he declined the nomination. The nomination attests to the respect that Bandy commanded among his peers in the tufting business.

Bandy had many other interests as well. He bought and renovated several hotels, including Cartersville's Park Hotel. As the Bartow Herald reported, Bandy and his partner and brother-in-law, Dr. Crisp L. Bradley, "purchased the former Park Hotel property, and rebuilt that edifice to become the Hotel Braban (a combination of his name and Dr. Bradley's), modern in every respect." Bandy's children recall people came from miles around to dine at the Braban, widely noted for having the best food in the area.

Bandy also enjoyed the company of friends and family. In its report of his passing, the Herald took special note of the "hospitality such as he and his gracious wife knew how to bestow" during gatherings at the Bandys' "lodge near Hill City." Bandy was also an "aviation enthusiast," and "owned several planes, piloting them to aviation meets." He frequently flew from his home in Dalton to Cartersville "for a day's work here, returning to Dalton in the late afternoon." He was also well-known among his colleagues as a friend of local charitable causes, "but could never allow any publicity about such acts." Humility was a Bandy trademark.


B. J. Bandy in his textile showroom.
B. J. Bandy (right) and sister-in-law, Lois Bradley Fuller (center) entertain out-of-town buyers in the Bartow Textiles showroom.
Many of the tufted textiles displayed here still remain in the
Bandy family today.

Bandy died unexpectedly in December 1948, leaving his children to pick up the disparate pieces of their father's business interests. Joe and Christine McCutchen were the obvious choices to oversee J & C Bedspreads in Ellijay. Bandy's only son, Jack, eventually took over many of his father's non-textile enterprises, and retained an interest in Southern Craft in Rome. Bandy's younger daughter, Dicksie (named for her mother), and her husband David Tillman came to Cartersville to take over Bartow Textiles, moving into the Braban Hotel in January 1949.
David was a quick study and had already learned much about tufted textiles, and continued to experiment with new ideas throughout his association with the company. Dicksie recalled that David worked with DuPont to develop a method for applying backing to small terrycloth rugs, thus reducing the potential for skidding and sliding.

Dicksie also believes that David was the first person to produce broadloom carpeting on a single piece of backing material sometime in 1949. She vividly remembers seeing several small, three-foot wide rug tufting machines taped together, end-to-end, which David was able to run a single piece of backing material through, to produce a room-sized rug. There were a few empty rows, where the machines came together, but David used long tufts brushed over to cover the seams. David Tillman and Bartow Textiles thus staked a claim (along with several others) to being the first to produce broadloom carpeting by the tufting method.

The Tillmans decided to get out of the tufting business in 1953. The bedspread trade "went into a lull," Dicksie remembers. The market for the new broadloom carpeting many firms were beginning to produce seemed promising, but a full-scale entry into carpet manufacture would have required Bartow Textiles to invest heavily in refitting old machines and buying new equipment, such as 12 and 15 foot wide tufting machines. David had developed other interests, so he and Dicksie chose to sell their old tufting equipment.

The Bandy family nevertheless contributed to the growth of the carpet industry. Dicksie recalled that she and her husband sold their machinery to Shaheen Shaheen, an enterprising young man looking to start a carpet mill. Shaheen visited Bartow textiles one evening in 1953 to inspect the machines, and Dicksie still remembers seeing Shaheen's wife and several children sitting in the car waiting patiently while "Dad" looked over his potential investment.

Shaheen bought the machines that night, and World Carpets soon came into being. World went on to be a leading company in the booming carpet business. Indeed, World Carpets was briefly the nation's top carpet producing firm in the early 1980s. In addition to helping Shaheen Shaheen start World Carpets, another Bandy family member contributed directly to the growth of carpet manufacture in north Georgia. Jack Bandy was one of the original founding partners of Coronet Carpets. Coronet, too, became an important industry leader in the 1960s and 1970s.

David and Dicksie Tillman remained in Cartersville after closing Bartow Textiles. David opened a new company which made plastic letters for signs, Pyro Form, and became involved in contracting and construction, building several post offices in Georgia and Alabama. The Tillmans' son, Arnold, became a doctor and practices in Cartersville today.

B. J. Bandy played a leading role in creating the tufted bedspread industry. His family contributed significantly to shifting the industry from bedspreads to the much more profitable enterprise of carpet manufacture, which still provides the economic lifeblood of many communities in northwest Georgia. Cartersville and Bartow County participated at every stage in the tufting industry's development. Though largely forgotten, Bartow Textiles and the Bandy family played key roles in shaping the industry in its formative years.

 
Originally published in Cartersville Magazine
 
Photographs courtesy of The History Center, Cartersville, Georgia
 
©1999 Randall L. Patton
All rights reserved.
 
©1999-2000 Center for Regional History & Culture
All rights reserved.

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