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Preserving Clarksville's History

Updated: Apr 5, 2019

For nearly 80 years the Vulcan Plant in Clarksville, TN provided an economic impact to the community. Now the company is closing its doors, and no plans have been finalized for its College Street location. When it was built in 1939, it was originally Owned by BF Goodrich and at that time was on the outskirts of town, but just a few years later the Vulcan Corporation bought the factory and it remained in their hands up until their recent closing.

The Vulcan Plant has been a part of Clarksville so long that it was in fact the very first industrial customer for the Clarksville Department Electricity. Over the years the Vulcan Corporation has employed up to 5000 workers at a time and continued to adapt with the times for over 70 years. The plant first processed shoes, specifically the rubber heels. These shoe heels were sent to state prisons and shoe assembly lines.

In World War 2 the Vulcan Corporation was the largest supplier of rubber heels for the military troops and were even awarded the Award of Excellence by the U.S. Military for their contributions. After the war ended the Vulcan Corporation went on to make just about everything you could imagine, floor mats for major car companies, the tents for Barnum and Baileys Circus, and even sculptures for the Disney Land Theme Park.

John Ritter, the Vulcan Plant Manager for the past 25 years said, “I started here back in 1974, and at that time I was just a regular worker. I’ve done everything from sales to quality control over the years. People may not know it, but we were even the biggest manufacturer of Brunswick Bowling Pins at one point. It’s sad to see it go, but these days it’s just so hard to compete with overseas companies.”

With the recent closure, the process of dismantling the building has already begun, and by Spring 2019 the lot will be an empty field ready for a future purpose. But not all will be lost. To preserve the history of the factory, the Customs House Museum has chosen specific items that will remain in their permanent collection so future generations can see this historic part of Clarksville’s story. Melissa Miller, the Curator of Collections at the Customs House Museum, shared some of the pieces guests will be able to see in the coming months at the Customs House Museum. She said “When we select artifacts I look for things that tell a story and that help portray a time period in history, or even the life of an everyday person. So that we can preserve that for future generations.”

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