Gateway to the Big South Fork

Howard C. Tibbals

Howard C. Tibbals is perhaps best known nationally as the artist and sculptor who created The Howard Bros. Circus, a 3/4-inch-to-one-foot scale replica of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

In Scott County, however, Tibbals is best known for the flooring company that he built with his father. Tibbals Flooring Co. developed the Hartco brand of flooring and was Scott County’s largest manufacturing employer for decades.

Born in 1936, Tibbals saw his first circus at the age of three, and as a young child watched the circus unload from trains. He was fascinated with the circus and, as a kid, he would sketch circus wagons on the back of a piece of paper in church. In 1948, he was given a lathe and jigsaw for his 12th birthday, which he used to begin building his replica circus.

Tibbals began creating the circus’s big top in 1956, built his first wagon in 1959, and completed most of the model by 1974, though it was not premiered until 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 — which occupies more than 2,000 sq. ft. — is on display at the Ringling Estate in Sarasota, Fla., which is home to the expansive Tibbals Learning Center.

Meanwhile, the Tibbals Flooring Co. — founded by Howard Tibbals’ father, Charles Tibbals — was going strong. Charles and his brother, Todd Tibbals, had moved to Oneida following World War II and purchased the Pearson Wood Flooring Co. As the post-war housing market soared, so did the Tibbals operation. In the late 1950s, Tibbals discovered and patented a method for manufacturing parquet flooring using pieces of wood that had previously been considered worthless. The new flooring was called the Hardwood Tile Company, or Hartco, for short.

Tibbals and Hartco were household names in Scott County for many years. At its peak, Tibbals employed more than 520 people and pumped more than $30 million per year into the local economy. When Donald Trump’s “Trump Tower” was constructed in New York, Hartco parquet flooring was chosen for the lobby of the magnificent new structure.

Howard Tibbals and other shareholders sold the company to Premark International in 1988. The Hartco plant continued operation until 2020, though production was mostly idled by Armstrong World Industries in 2010.

Following the sale of the company, Howard Tibbals was a major benefactor of the Oneida Special School District, contributing millions of dollars to help make the school system’s new state-of-the-art campuses a reality in the 1990s.

Today, Howard Tibbals lives in Florida. His son, Jeff Tibbals, serves as Scott County Mayor.

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