Northwest Tennessee has had its share of economic heartache in America’s 2011 tough times. The region’s largest employer, Goodyear Tire and Rubber, announced the closing of its Union City radial tire plant, leaving 1,900 unemployed. World Color Press, Inc. stopped the presses in Dyersburg earlier in 2011, costing 668 people their livelihoods. The plant, which printed many glossy full color national magazines, was Dyersburg’s largest employer. “A friend recently observed that the first decade of the 21st century will go down as a kidney stone of a decade for the American economy,” said Allen Hester, CEO of the Dyersburg-Dyer County Chamber of Commerce. It’s not all gloom and doom in the region. Hester says NSK Steering Systems plans to double the size of their facility to 200,000 square feet and add 180 new jobs. “We’ve got some expansions going and prospects simmering right under the surface that I can’t talk about yet,” Hester told Action News 5.
A new book entitled Images of America: Dyersburg may remind Dyer County’s 37,698 residents of the economic resilience of their community in days gone by. Bonnie Daws Kourvelas, a producer of public television documentaries about Memphis history and a video creator for shipping giant FedEx, says a Facebook page called “Grew Up in Milltown, Dyersburg, TN,” inspired her to write the 126 page book that features dozens of historic photographs of the Dyer County seat. The author’s mother grew up in Dyersburg and Kourvelas says she made countless trips to the community as a child. While viewing the Dyersburg Facebook photos one day, Kourvelas said, “I had one of those eureka moments: this would make a great Arcadia book!”
The leading local history publisher in the United States, Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series strives to preserve and celebrate local history and make it meaningful and accessible. Kourvelas says she began working on the book and made many more trips up U.S. 51 from Memphis but the first one back was her favorite. “I had forgotten how pretty the town square is, and the court house with its clock tower reminds me of the one in the movie, Back to the Future. I wandered around just staring at everything and recalling childhood memories,” Kourvelas told Action News 5.
One of the greatest challenges of creating the book was finding photos featuring the inside of the town’s cotton mill; the long closed Dyersburg Cotton Products. Ultimately employing 1,500, the mill opened in 1929, the start of the Great Depression, and the structure survived until 2007 when it burned to the ground. In the intervening years, four generations of Northwest Tennessee families took their living from the mill which made cotton sweaters, long johns, cotton gloves, and the first knitted fleece fabric.
Kourvelas credits Dyersburg native Gaylon Reasons and Danny Walden of the Dyer County Historical Society with helping her dig through the community’s history, finally hitting pay dirt with a treasure trove of preserved photos from the mill saved by a former employee named Billy Parmenter. “It is people like Billy who are heroes to me,” Kourvelas said, “if it weren’t for people like him, there wouldn’t BE any historical documentaries or books.”
Farming creates the largest economic impact in Dyer County, according to Chamber executive Hester. But the county is home to major industrial employers such as Sara Lee US Foods (850 employees) , ERMCO, an electric transformer maker (576 employees) and Briggs and Stratton, maker of powered yard products (571 employees), to name a few. The Chamber recently celebrated new business openings at Chick Fil A, Burke’s Outlet, Big Lots and has cut ribbons on 22 new or relocating small businesses in the first half of 2011. Efforts are underway to renew Downtown Dyersburg as well as development of a Forked Deer River park, complete with a floating dock to launch canoes and kayaks. The Chamber leader says the business community is encouraging those who want to open a Farmer’s Market, a nature trail and a walking trail in Dyersburg.
While the mill no longer exists, the new book Images of America: Dyersburg may remind Northwest Tennesseans of their hard working forebears who survived past economic difficulties in a treasured community that endures to this day. The book also tells the stories of Court Square, historic buildings, businesses, schools, floods and other disasters and most importantly, the people who lived in Dyersburg and Dyer County. The new book arrives on book store shelves on Monday, August 1. It is also available via online bookstores or through Arcadia Publishing at www.arcadiapublishing.com.