The Fly Manufacturing Company in Shelbyville, which operated from 1916 to 1985, is representative of many other small textile mills that once were commonplace in Tennessee's small towns and county seats. Like many small southern towns, Shelbyville's economy benefited from increased industrial development in the early decades of the twentieth century. In addition to large industries such as Musgrave Pencil Company, Empire Pencil Company, and the Shelbyville Mills, the town contained a number of small manufacturing outfits that competed for contracts in the textile market. Often founded by individual entrepreneurs, these small mills provided local residents with employment and boosted the town's economy.
One such successful entrepreneur was Joel Orval Fly, who moved to Shelbyville in 1915 after accumulating capital while managing an overall factory for J. S. Reeves and Company in Clarksville. After operating two small textile factories, Fly commissioned John Morgan Raney in 1925 to construct a two-story, 75-by-125-foot industrial building, which was completed in 1927. The following year 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 as a cultural arts center.