Archives of Whitfield County


 
Archives of Whitfield County
From the editors of
Roadside Georgia
Founded in 1851, Whitfield county was named after one of the first settlers of Georgia, George Whitefield, a minister in the Church of England who was an early settler of the colony of Georgia.

Today the story of Whitfield County is the story of the carpet industry. Dalton, the county seat, is the "Carpet Capital of the World" and for good reason. The city leads in yards produced, people employed and gross revenue, and it's closest competitor is a long way back. But the history of Whitfield County begins with the story of nomadic American Indians of the Woodlands Era who built a wall at Rocky Face very similar to the wall at Fort Mountain. These were probably the first inhabitants of the county.

Originally Cherokee country, the establishment of the old Federal Highway in 1805 brought whites to area. Among the earliest were the Babbs, who settled on the west side of Dug Gap and the Callaways, north of present day Dalton. Repeated attempts by the Cherokee to fight the encroaching whites not with weapons, but in courts, failed. The leadership of the Cherokee organized a nation, recognized by the United States Supreme Court at New Echota. On the eve of the "Trail of Tears," John Ross organized a government less than a mile north of Whitfield County in the friendlier state of Tennessee. These efforts were fruitless and the Cherokee were brutally removed from the area, most spending months in a filth ridden garrison near Chattanooga.

Beautiful Downtown Dalton
The only statue of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston is in Dalton, Ga.
The state purchased right-of-way in the county to build the Western and Atlantic Railroad starting in the middle 1830's. Some work had been completed on the grading of the bed when completion of the route was delayed by the depression that followed the Panic of 1837. The town of Cross Plains was on the route selected by the state. Edward Dalton White, namesake of Tristram Dalton, laid out a significant portion of the town that bears his ancestor's name, using Cross Plains as a starting point. The railroad was finished to Dalton in 1847 and to Chattanooga in 1850 with the completion of Tunnel Hill that year. With the railroad Whitfield County entered a boom phase that attracted men like Benjamin Franklin Prater, builder of Prater's Mill which prospered under family ownership until 1953. In spite of the growth in the area much of it was agricultural well in the 20th century.

The War of Northern Aggression (Civil War) had widespread effects on the county as a whole and Whitfield County. Railway stations in the county built by the state of Georgia 15 years earlier served as a gateway to the battle of Chickamauga. Local residents cheered the armies of Gen. James Longstreet as they moved towards the battle. The same citizens also served as hospital workers afterwards.

From 1862 until 1864 many of the buildings near the station served as hospitals for the wounded. During the Great Locomotive Chase Peter Bracken slowed the Texas down so that a telegraph boy could jump off at Dalton station with a message for General Ledbetter in Chattanooga. With the defeat of the Rebel army at Chattanooga, the county played host to Braxton Bragg's Army of the Tennessee, later under the command of Joseph E. Johnston. Under his command the area was defended against the numerically superior Union Army under the command of William Tecumseh Sherman.

After the battle of Dalton in May, 1864, Union troops occupied the town. On his way north to fight the disastrous Nashville Campaign, John Bell Hood stopped in Tilton long enough to destroy a blockhouse the Federals built on a hill above the town.

On October 18, 1902, Whitfield County was struck by an earthquake centered near Rocky Face Ridge. The sharp shock was felt as far away as Chattanooga, Tennessee and LaFayette, Georgia.

About 1900 the city of Dalton became famous for bedspreads. U. S. Highway 41, a major automobile route from Chattanooga to Atlanta built in the early 1920's, became known across the nation as "Chenille Alley" for the bedspreads that homeowners would hang in front of homes from Dalton to Adairsville. The cottage industry made Dalton the "Bedspread Capital of the World." As demand increased, the cottage industry could no longer meet the growing needs of a nation and by 1925 work had begun on a mechanical process for tufting the spreads. Developed during the depression, the modified Singer sewing machine was producing more than 90% of the material by the end of the decade.

In spite of the growing industry that put Whitfield in the forefront of commercial development in north Georgia, agriculture was still an important part of the economy until after World War II. To the left is E. J. Huff, Whitfield's agricultural agent during The Great Depression, in front of the East Side Cafe. The cafe's sign, promoting Georgia's own Coca-Cola, is digitally enhanced at the bottom of the photo.

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