December 14, 2013

Caretakers of history

Misty Watson

— John Fowler’s philosophy is that history belongs to everyone.

“We’re just taking care of it,” said Fowler, director of the Bandy Heritage Center for Northwest Georgia at Dalton State College.

Employees and volunteers at the center, which is a museum geared toward preserving the history of all of northwest Georgia, are “caretakers” of that history, said Brian Hilliard, project director.

The center accepts donations of photos, letters, diaries, artwork and many other items relevant to northwest Georgia. If a person is willing to share something, but doesn’t want to part with the item, it can be loaned to the center for a limited-time display or the center can copy or photograph the item. The center also records oral histories.

The center organizes museum displays and traveling displays and creates hands-on lesson plans for schools. It serves as a place for people to perform research on history specific to this area, such as the carpet industry or the Cherokee Indians. All services are free, but researchers need to make an appointment.

The center was founded in 2008 through a $2 million endowment donated by Jack Bandy, a native Daltonian and entrepreneur who established Coronet Industries among other pursuits. It is also funded through the college. Even though the center has been around for a few years now, it is just starting to emerge into the public eye because it has taken several years to develop.

“We started from scratch,” Fowler said. “There was literally nothing here. We’re building an archive that’s regional. ... We’re noticing now a lot of support from the community. I thought it was going to be a lot easier than it was.”

Fowler said there are plans to have a permanent space in Dalton to set up regular museum displays that will be rotated to keep them fresh. Details have not been finalized. Offices will remain at the college.

Fowler hopes to model that after centers in larger cities that have galleries in multiple locations. Already, there are a few small displays at the Whitfield County Courthouse, including one on the Doolittle Raid during World War II.

“Our goal is to see more of those,” Fowler said.

Though the center reaches out to all areas of history, the focus will remain on the impact larger events had on northwest Georgia or that tie into the residents of the area.

“We were conceived to tell the three ‘C’s’: Cherokee and removal, the Civil War and the carpet industry, which is a home grown industry that changed the world,” Fowler said. “We focus on cultural aspects of history. We put together travel exhibits. As I see us, we’re creating a museum that focuses on northwest Georgia history. Our mission is much larger than just Dalton or Whitfield County. With carpet, others in the region helped with that.”

The center works and partners with other historical and educational organizations throughout the region to help archive information and make the information more widespread.

“We’re like the hub of a wheel,” Fowler said. “We’re able to showcase a lot of what the community has to offer.”

 If someone comes to town or calls interested in the history of the Cherokee Nation, Fowler said he’ll be able to offer them information and let them see artifacts but also put them in touch with other organizations, such as the Trail of Tears Association, the Etowah Indian Mounds, the New Echota historic site in Gordon County and the Chief Vann House in Murray County.

The center’s website,, has an interactive map with points of interest in the area, including The Hamilton House, the Tunnel Hill tunnel, Fort Mountain and several other places in northwest Georgia.

Fowler hopes that kind of partnership will further promote historical tourism to the area.

“Anything that has to do with history, we should try and support it,” said Mike Babb, chairman of the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners, who has loaned items to the center. “Numerous people are working in different directions on our local history. I hope we can all pull together to preserve and protect and display.”

Educational tools

The center provides services to educators and schools, which include lesson plans, programs and “travel trunks” that includes copies of photos and other resources.

“We want people to see us as a resource, too,” Fowler said. “We can come to your school and do a program. It’s a nice change of pace. Use our expertise. We follow the standards so we know what (teachers) need.”

Eastside Elementary hosted the center last year for a day of interactive learning for its students.

“It was all historical and all tied to our student standards,” said Ben Hunt, principal. “Students went through an hour-long program. There were multiple stations and all grade specific. Some were learning about Cherokee Indians. They had different artifacts. They learned the Cherokee language and how to write their names. My son (Andrew) was in pre-k and had a blast.”

Center employees and volunteers “catered to our needs,” Hunt said. “It was almost like they brought an interactive museum to Eastside.”

Taking museums to the people

The Bandy Heritage Center is following the pattern of other current successful museums in taking museums to the people.

“Museums are like a radio. You can have dead air,” Fowler said. “Exhibits have to be constantly changing or it becomes boring and it’s not serving the community. It’s important to bring things in people don’t see every day. Two to three months for each exhibit and then change something up.”

Fowler is working with the Smithsonian Institution to bring a traveling exhibit to Dalton. There are also traveling exhibits put together by the center that are displayed in various places throughout the state and Southeast.

One traveling exhibit is on the textile heritage. Another is “Art of the Lost Cause” which highlights pro-Confederate views through artwork.

“That brings interest in the Bandy Center from outside the area,” Fowler said.

An exhibit in the planning stages is on the Army Air Force in World War II, which includes Dalton pilot Col. Harold Babb, now deceased.

“We have that on loan from the family so we can tell his story,” Fowler said. “We have one-of-a-kind artifacts.”

Mike Babb loaned several of his uncle’s medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, and other memorabilia for the World War II display.

“Every day we are losing more and more World War II veterans,” he said. “It will be a good way of remembering those guys that served during World War II. ... I’m anxious to see how they display it. We’ve got a lot of people that are still here, and some are no longer among us. They went and fought the greatest war ever fought, came home and made lives for themselves.”

Another new approach for museums is documenting items online.

“We have it online so if someone can’t come to Dalton, they can still learn about it,” Fowler said. “The website is more of the idea of taking the museum to the masses.”

In the works is a three dimensional photography exhibit for the website. Diaries are digitized and available online with families’ permission. There is information on the history of the chenille industry, which led to the manufacturing of carpet, and also information on the Civil War in Georgia.