History of the Fly Building
During the year 1914, Mr. Joel Orvel Fly moved his family from Clarksville to Shelbyville. By February of the following year, 1915, and through the efforts of the Shelbyville Commercial Club, an organization was established by local citizens to promote economic growth for the town. Mr. Fly established the Fly Manufacturing Company of Shelbyville with the help of his father-in-law and Mr. Oliver "O. D." Edwards (1890-1955) who had come from Clarksville to help set up the Kirkpatrick's Livery Stable, located next door to the produce house of Jean & Tune. The exact site today is on the northeast corner of Depot and Jefferson Street across the street from the First Baptist Church.
With the employment of eighteen to twenty people, the factory began its production of overalls, pants and work shirts on February 15, 1915. The overall factory became very successful and soon began to outgrow its working quarters. By April of 1916, the demand for more and larger working space was met through an agreement with Mr. Ray B. Jean. Mr. Jean owned the lot adjoining the Shelbyville Savings Bank, located just off the square on Depot Street . He purchased the old pre-Civil War bank building and lot, therefore expanding the property to accommodate construction of a new building.
The new building would house two businesses on the first floor, while the second floor would be occupied by the Fly Manufacturing Company. Less than a month before the completion and occupancy of the new building the misfortune of a fire consumed the overall factory in its old location adjacent to the Kirkpatrick Livery Stable.
For almost twelve years, the Fly Manufacturing Company in its second floor Depot Street location produced several thousand pair of overalls and wearing apparel. Once again outgrowing its location, plans for a larger factory were in the making. On November 12, 1925, Mr. Fly purchased a lot on South Main Street . H.B. Cowan & Co. Insurance and Real Estate Agency sold the property of Mr. R. P. McGill to Mr. Fly for $5,000.00.
In May 1926, construction began on the new Fly Manufacturing Company building on South Main Street .
The building contract was awarded to Col. Morgan Raney and estimated at a cost of $40,000. The new building was then one of the largest in Bedford County. Having two stories and a full basement, it was equipped with every modern convenience.
By early August, 1927 the new building was completed. Mr. M. Charlie Hummel placed the cornerstone in the center, near the top of the building identifying the construction date of 1927. During the third week of that month all the office furniture and factory equipment and machinery were moved from the building on Depot Street to the new structure on South Main Street .
The following year Mr. Fly hired seventy-five employees to operate his shirt manufacturing department. In addition to selling finished goods to large corporations such as Sears-Roebuck and Montgomery-Ward, Fly also sold his products to local stores. The diversity of contracts enabled Fly to employ workers from Shelbyville and neighboring communities throughout the Great Depression. In order to prevent the exodus of employees to other towns in search of work, Fly rotated work schedules to provide all employees with at least two to three days of work per week. During World War II Fly obtained a contract to produce pants, jackets, and fatigues for the U.S. Army.
After the war, the Fly Manufacturing Company continued to thrive as an independent textile manufacturer until Fly's death in 1960. In 1972, in the face of an increasingly competitive apparel market, the company was sold to Bayly Corporation, a Denver-based garment manufacturer, and transformed into a southeastern distribution center. Eight years later, a stockholding dispute within Bayly led to the sale of the plant to Woodway Corporation and the resumption of garment production in the historic building. In 1985, following a severe decline in business, Woodway Corporation ceased operations in the Fly Manufacturing Company Building.
After a decade of neglect, the historic building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a significant part of Shelbyville's industrial heritage. The Bedford County Arts Council has restored the building for use as a cultural arts center.
Interesting facts about the current site of
The Fly Arts Center
Andrew Jackson slept here in 1826.
On this site before the Fly Building was built, there existed an old two story brick house. It was built by Brigadier General Robert Cannon sometime during the early 1820's. Cannon was a brother to Clement Cannon who gave the 100 acres for the town of Shelbyville and to Newton Cannon, Governor of Tennessee from 1835 to 1839.
General Jackson was invited by special invitation to come to Shelbyville for a 4th of July Celebration. He was unable to make that date but did come on July 8, 1826. Accounts record that he was a tall, slender man with reddish hair and very polite as he rode into Shelbyville on horseback that day. He stayed as a guest in the home of his old friend, Gen. Robert Cannon which was located on the site of the Fly Building. A banquet and ball were given in his honor at the Whitney Tavern on Holland Street . The ball was led by Mrs. Ruth P. Whitney, her daughter, Harriet P. Scudder, and by Gen. Andrew Jackson himself.
Reference: Gene Williams and Jerry Cook of Shelbyville, Tennessee
The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, Brian Eades, Macon, Georgia