Dalton, the carpet capital of the world, is located eighty miles north of Atlanta and thirty miles south of Chattanooga, Tennessee, in the Valley and Ridge province of northwest Georgia. It is the seat of Whitfield County, at the southern end of the Blue Ridge Mountains. More than 80 percent of the tufted carpet manufactured in America is produced within a 100-mile radius of Dalton. According to the 2010 U.S. census, the population of Dalton is 33,128.
The Cherokee Indians inhabited northwest Georgia long before Europeans settled in the region, and over time whites encroached upon Indian territory, eventually resulting in the forced removal of all Cherokees in 1838-39. This tragic event, known as the Trail of Tears, began in present-day Dalton. About the same time, in 1837, a small village named Cross Plains, which would become Dalton, came into existence as a trade junction crossroads. Later, in the 1840s, John D. Gray’s company built the Western and Atlantic Railroad from Terminus (later Atlanta) to Chattanooga and points west through the recently vacated Cherokee lands.
A syndicate led by Captain Edward White of New York envisioned the economic possibilities along the rail line, bought the land, and laid out the new town of Dalton with land parcels set aside for parks, schools, churches, and other public buildings. The city was named in honor of Captain White’s mother, Mary Dalton White. A connection with the East Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia Railroad made the town a transfer center. By 1847 Cross Plains had been absorbed into Dalton, and the mountain scenery and numerous mineral springs in the area drew others to the growing village.
Civil War and Reconstruction
In January 1861 Georgia seceded from the Union, and in April the Civil War (1861-65) began. In 1863 the Confederate defeat in the “Battle above the Clouds” in Chattanooga brought the Confederate retreat directly to Dalton’s environs. During the winter of 1863-64, Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston fortified the city and blocked Union general William T. Sherman’s approach by damming Mill Creek, which created a large lake between the two major ridge gaps west of the city. (During the winter lull, the largest reported snowball battle of the war broke out among Confederate troops stationed in the city.)
As many as thirteen battles or skirmishes took place in the Dalton area, including the battles of Tunnel Hill and Resaca, before Sherman’s troops outflanked the Confederates to the south in their campaign to capture Atlanta in 1864. Union troops destroyed much of Dalton, and today the city claims the only standing monument to General Johnston.
After the war, many Dalton residents began to develop more manufacturing opportunities in the city while moving away from the agrarian economy. In early 1885 local entrepreneurs opened the Crown Cotton Mill, the first large-scale manufacturing plant in the region. After struggling initially, the mill began to thrive, eventually adding mill-village homes and then expanding with the construction of Boyleston Crown Mill. Later, American Thread Mill built a facility south of town.
At the turn of the twentieth century, textile mills, the Manly Jail Works, and A. J. Showalter Printers and Music Publishers were the largest employers in town. “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” composed and published by Anthony J. Showalter, was at that time one of the most popular southern gospel songs in the United States. However, a new source of income began to emerge in Dalton and the surrounding community. In 1895 fifteen-year-old Catherine Evans (later Catherine Evans Whitener) revived a colonial practice by hand tufting a bedspread, and those who saw it began requesting their own. Family and neighbors were recruited to satisfy a rapidly growing demand for chenille bedspreads and, later, toilet covers, bath mats, robes, and throw rugs. Haulers carried the tufting materials into the surrounding countryside, where housewives tufted the items for extra money. Upon the return of the finished items, the spread houses in Dalton processed the goods for shipment to larger markets. The lure of money and the adaptation of sewing machines to multiple production stitching drew men into the textile industry, and the area’s economy survived the Great Depression.
After World War II (1941-45), which temporarily sidetracked the industry, the development of yardage machines, which could make tighter rows and wider widths, refocused the industry toward the production of carpets and rugs. Coronet Industries, Queen Carpet, and Patcraft were among the early tufted-carpet leaders. Quickly, every available space was consumed with spread laundries, dye houses, yarn makers, sample producers, and tufting machines. Supply could not keep up with demand, and constant technical advances increased market sales further. Former dry goods store owners, schoolteachers, mechanics, and salesman became overnight millionaires. At one point, it was said that Dalton had more millionaires per capita than any other place in America. Today, the major companies in Dalton are J
After the 1970s the town began to develop a remarkable international complexion. In the 1980s the demand for additional laborers in the chicken-processing plants drew in small numbers of Latinos. Carpet-mill owners began to employ them in large numbers, and by 2000 more than 40 percent of the town’s residents were Latino. There is also a solid Hispanic business base, led by the Latin American Community Alliance, along with numerous Latino religious and cultural organizations. Today, Dalton serves as a successful model of merging Latino and Anglo cultures. A key factor in this success has been the Georgia Project, a program centered on a teacher exchange with the University of Monterrey in Mexico, which helps address the problems of bilingual education in the city’s public schools.
Dalton State College, which opened in 1967 as a community college, has expanded to include a baccalaureate program, and the college has the largest percentage of Latino students in the University System of Georgia. Junior Achievement of Georgia, an after-school program, has a district office in Dalton.
Dalton is home to Hamilton Medical Center, which was established in response to the influenza pandemic of 1918 and is considered to be one of the finest hospitals for a town of Dalton’s size. The city’s Creative Arts Guild provides art, music, and ballet for the citizens, and multiple theater groups further enrich the area’s culture. The Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center houses the Georgia High School Coaches Hall of Fame and hosts world-class concerts and many sporting events.
Notable residents have included businessman Ivan Allen Sr.; Methodist bishop William Ragsdale Cannon; writer Will Harben; broadcast journalist Deborah Norville; baseball player Harry “Suitcase” Simpson; writer Marian McCamy Sims; and activist and writer Don West.