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Home Features Forgotten Times: The rise of the Tibbals flooring mill

Forgotten Times: The rise of the Tibbals flooring mill

Charles E. Tibbals Jr. and his wife, Lillian, moved to Oneida in 1946 and purchased the Pearson Hardwood Flooring Co.

In 1946, shortly after the close of World War II and as the post-war housing market boomed, one of the most impactful events of Scott County’s industrial era occurred: Charles Tibbals moved to Oneida from Ohio and, along with his brother, purchased the Pearson Hardwood Flooring Co. 

Over the next four decades, the Tibbals brand and the parquet style of flooring the company perfected under the Hartco name, flourished. By the 1980s, before it was sold, the Tibbals operation employed more than 500 people and pumped more than $30 million per year into the Scott County economy.

This is the story of how the Tibbals name became synonymous with manufacturing in Scott County.

The Tibbals come to America

The Tibbals family’s origins in the United States can be traced back to the early 17th century, when Capt. Thomas Tibbals (1615-1703) migrated to New England from England. 

In September 1635, at the age of 20, Tibbals set sail from Buckinghamshire on the ship Truelove. He sailed with Zachary Whitman — who may have been an ancestor of the famous American poet and Leaves of Grass author Walt Whitman — and landed at Connecticut colony. There, he was a soldier in the Pequot War, which saw the European settlers and their Native American allies essentially exterminate the Pequot tribe. The Pequot controlled much of Connecticut but made enemies as they attempted to expand their tribal area in a quest to control the European fur trade. Many were killed in the short war of 1636 and 1637, and many others were captured and sold into slavery abroad.

Capt. Tibbals settled in Milford, Conn. by 1640, and the Tibbals family remained in Connecticut for the next several generations. Capt. Tibbals was the sixth great-grandfather of Charles Tibbals.

In the late 18th or early 19th century, Noah Tibbals (1760-1834) — Capt. Thomas Tibbals’ great-great-grandson — moved from Connecticut to Ohio. It was there that the Tibbals family flourished. Noah Tibbals was Charles Tibbals’ great-great-grandfather.

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Charles Ernest (C.E.) Tibbals Sr. (1872-1961)  married Anna Gertrude Todd (1875-1953) and they had two children: Charles E. Tibbals Jr., and Alfred Todd Tibbals. The senior Tibbals was heavily involved in the real estate market. Charles Tibbals Jr., born in 1907, was a mining engineer, while Todd, born three years later, was an architect.

The Pearson mill in Oneida

In 1923, the Pearson family — Emmett Pearson (1856-1947), his second wife, Ella Gardenhire Clark (1875-1956), and his son, James Price Pearson Sr. (1884-1953) — arrived in Oneida from Middle Tennessee by train on the O&W Railroad.

Emmett Pearson was a lumberman by trade. And upon arriving in Oneida, on a level spot of ground between Pine Creek and the Cincinnati-Southern Railroad where several lumber mills had already been in operation, he established the Pearson Hardwood Flooring Co.

The Pearson company had its profitable years and its lean years, but was never regarded a resounding success. Still, the mill was in operation for 23 years and employed quite a few Scott Countians.

By 1946, Price Pearson’s health was beginning to fail. Emmett Pearson was no longer physically able to manage the mill, and their business partners had left the company. 

The Tibbals come to Oneida

Charles E. Tibbals Jr. — the son of Charles Ernest Tibbals Sr. and Gertrude Adelia Todd of Jackson, Oh. — moved to Oneida in 1946, at the age of 39. In June of that year, he established the Tibbals Flooring Co., of which he and his brother, Todd, were equal owners.

Tibbals was a graduate of Ohio State University, where he majored in mining engineering. It was through the coal mining industry that he met his future wife, Lillian Blanche Davidson. Originally from Fairmont, W. Va., she worked in the office of a coal company. The couple were married in 1932 and lived in West Virginia for several years before making the move to Oneida with their son, Howard Charles.

Besides being one of Scott County’s biggest employers, Charles Tibbals and his wife became well-entrenched in the community. They played an active role in the Oneida Church of Christ, where he was an elder. Charles was a long-time member of the Oneida Kiwanis Club, and Lillian served on the board of directors of the Scott County Hospital. She played an instrumental role in securing funding for the hospital’s construction in the 1950s. She also played a major role within the Oneida Special School District, of which their son would later become a major benefactor.

The growth of the mill

With Charles Tibbals managing the operation, the Tibbals Flooring Co. flourished in Oneida. Then, in the late 1950s, Charles Tibbals discovered and patented a method for manufacturing parquet flooring using pieces of wood that had previously been considered worthless. The Hardwood Tile Company — Hartco for short — was established.

For the next half-century, Tibbals and Hartco were household names in Scott County. The wood flooring plant, which expanded to include operations on Industrial Lane, was Scott County’s largest industrial employer. At its peak, Tibbals employed more than 520 people and pumped more than $30 million per year into the local economy. Just about every household in Scott County had someone employed at Hartco or was close to someone who worked there through the years.

It was once said that, thanks to Tibbals and Hartco, there are “pieces of Scott County all over the world.” When future U.S. president Donald Trump built the Trump Tower in New York City, Hartco flooring was used in part of the building.

Howard Tibbals’ role in the company

Born in 1936, 10 years before his family made the move to Oneida, Howard Tibbals became the face that many Scott Countians associated with Hartco — though he is best-known outside Scott County as the artist and sculptor who created The Howard Bros. Circus, a miniature to-scale replica of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The replica is now located on the Ringling Estate in Sarasota, Fla., where Howard Tibbals retired.

In 1948, shortly after the family moved to Oneida, Tibbals was given a lathe and jigsaw for his 12th birthday, and that’s when he began building his replica circus. Even before that, though, he had been fascinated by the circus. He saw his first circus at the age of three, and would sketch circus wagons on the back of a piece of paper in church as a young boy.

By 1956, just about the time his father was creating the parquet flooring for which the family company would become renowned, Tibbals had created his miniature circus’s big top. He had built his first wagon three years later, and completed most of his model by 1974, at which point he was working alongside his father at the family flooring plant. The circus model premiered at the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville. In 1986, the circus was exhibited at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C. Today, the circus occupies more than 2,000 sq. ft. at the Ringling Estate’s Tibbals Learning Center.

In 1988, Howard Tibbals and the rest of the Tibbals company’s shareholders sold the plant to Premark International. The Hartco plant continued operation until just last year, though most of the production was idled by Armstrong World Industries in 2010.

Hartco today

The Hartco brand is currently owned by AHF Products, the parent company of Bruce and several other brands of hardwood flooring. The company is headquartered in Mountville, Penn. It recently sold the vacant Oneida plant to the Industrial Development Board of Scott County, which is preparing it for future clients.

This story is the April 2021 installment of Forgotten Times, presented by United Cumberland Bank on the fourth week of each month as part of the Independent Herald’s Back Page Features series. A print version of this article can be found on Page B8 of the April 22, 2021 edition of the Independent Herald.
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