With his family working for The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., he lived in three different Atco houses, all the while partaking in many of the “self-contained” community’s amenities. Owned by Goodyear, the Atco complex nearly two miles northwest of downtown Cartersville contained a mill, housing, a church, swimming pool, elementary school, a general store and youth organizations.
Now 76, he has amassed a large collection of Atco memorabilia over the past 50 years. Along with a wide array of photographs, he has what many consider to be the largest stockpile of The Wingfoot Clan. First published in 1929, Goodyear’s monthly newsletter for its workers and retirees highlighted the professional and personal happenings of those connected to the mill and its village. Inheriting many from his late aunt, Roberts has acquired about 480 editions — from 1930 to 1985 — of The Wingfoot Clan, which he reveals is only about 100 shy from being a complete collection.
“Each time I go through them I come up with something different ... The American Textile Co. built some [houses] for the workers and they started building those in [the early 1900s],” Roberts said. “... As [the labor force] increased, they started building more. When Goodyear took over in 1929, they increased the size of the mill — doubled it. All of this information is in the Clans and then they built [more than 70] houses. But the old original houses used just regular iron pipe for the water [lines] and of course they didn’t have a bathroom in the house.
“Out back they had what they called the coal house and it was a barn-type structure that was divided between the person who lived on the backside and the frontside. This coal house was located in the middle between those houses and one side shared one side of the coal house and the other house on the next street shared the other side. ... I’m a third-generation carpenter and the way these houses were built, they were built in a very stable manner,” he said, adding he previously served as a building inspector for the city of Cartersville and Bartow County government. “... A lot of these houses would not meet [today’s] codes yet the way they were built, they were better built than what the modern-day codes require. The structures and the wiring methods, this type thing, they were crude at that time but it was sufficient and it was safe.”
Moving back to the village after he married in 1960, Roberts and his wife, Carlene, have called about seven structures in the Atco community home, including their present residence on Parmenter Street. Committed to preserving the history of the old mill village, Roberts is looking forward to attending Saturday’s 20th annual Atco School Reunion and sharing his collection and knowledge. Along with his Wingfoot Clan collection, he also will bring an exhibit he created that displays about 120 old photographs and articles.
“Mr. Roberts does have a very large collection of Wingfoot Clans and other memorabilia from the village and from the company and shares that passion with others who grew up or had connections to the mill and the village,” said Trey Gaines, director of the Bartow History Museum. “[He] just really wants to preserve the stories that he can collect, and he does that through collecting The Wingfoot Clans and photographs and other things related to the village.
“The Wingfoot Clan was the company newsletter and it came out monthly. It had a lot of information and stories and photographs related to the people who worked in the mill or lived in the village. ... The Wingfoot Clan does provide a lot of information and insights into the time period. So you can go back and do research on a variety of different topics. ... If you had a family member that worked in the mill or lived in the village, you can find information that way, or just information about how the mill operated or what it was like to live in the village or go to the churches and school and those kinds of things.”
Built in 1904, the village was initially operated by American Textile Co., which made fabric for horse collar pads. Goodyear later purchased the 400-acre mill complex in 1929 to manufacture tire cord. After the acquisition, the company added 89 houses to the village that is bordered by Sugar Valley Road, Cassville Road, Wingfoot Trail and Litchfield Street. The city of Cartersville annexed the property in the late 1950s, according to submission to the National Register of Historic Places, which the area was named to in October 2005. After which, Goodyear started selling the Atco homes to private owners.
Gaines, who spearheaded an oral history project of Atco from 2003 to 2005 to collect and preserve its history, finds the upcoming Atco School Reunion to be an ideal resource for acquiring information about the mill village. Through the Atco oral history project, 16 present and former residents revealed that, although funds were tight from the 1930s to 1950s, it did not deter them from having a pleasant childhood.
“I think the biggest thing that I heard from the interviews that we conducted of children who grew up in Atco — of course, they’re older adults now ... was they felt like they had a good life,” Gaines said. “They may have been economically poor or their family was poor, but they didn’t really realize that because everyone in the village was really in that same boat. But through village life, they had a lot of things provided to them — education, recreational opportunities, Scouting. There were a lot of things that village life afforded them, so they really look back fondly on their growing up years in the village.
“I have a lot of fun attending the reunions. The ones that I’ve attended in the past, it’s a great opportunity for these folks to come together and reminisce and share stories, share photographs. I didn’t grow up in Atco or go to the school or live there or even work there but as a historian I can listen to the stories and really get a sense of what it was like to work there or live there.”
On Saturday, the Atco School Reunion will feature a 1 p.m. covered dish luncheon at the Atco Clubhouse, 3 Goodyear Ave. in Cartersville.
“[The reunion] started [with] anybody that went to the old Atco grammar school, the elementary school, and then it kind [of grew to include] anybody that lived in the village,” said Becky Lou Ennis Arrington, a former Atco resident who has served on the reunion committee since its inception. “So now, I imagine there’s a lot of people there that are just relatives of people that lived there.
“... I guess I keep [helping coordinate] the reunion because I see other people that enjoy it so much and it gives me great pleasure. Living in the village, it was just like one big family and I know you never forget your family.”
Residing in the village from 1936 to 1949, Arrington said her father, Tom Ennis, was one of the overseers at the Goodyear mill.
“It was a wonderful thing,” Arrington said about growing up in the Atco village. “There’s a lot of things that people nowadays don’t understand [about] what made us so close. You had one church. One Sunday it was the Methodist and the next Sunday it was the Baptist.
“We all looked out for each other. Goodyear was good to us. A lot of people don’t have swimming pools. That was a big thing. ... We were poor but we didn’t know it.”
For more information about the Atco School Reunion, call Arrington at 404-292-0541.