Monday, June 13, 2016

A Visit to Tallassee, Alabama

On May 5, 2016, a "suspicious fire" destroyed what was left of an historic textile mill in Tallassee. In 1841 the mill known as the Tallassee Falls Manufacturing Company was the first to open in town and the second in Alabama. The facility produced cotton at first, then wool. During the Civil War the mill produced cotton for uniforms and later served as a carbine shop. 

That armory was the only Confederate one not destroyed by the end of the war. The mill resumed civilian operations and in the late 1890's became part of the huge Mount Vernon Mills complex in Tallassee which operated until 2005. At the time it closed Tallassee's mill was the oldest operating textile mill in the world. 

Tallassee's history seems jinxed; the iconic Hotel Talisi burned in an arson fire in 2009. Like so many Auburn students over the decades, I made a few trips there for the wonderful Sunday lunch back in the 1970's. 

The historic mill had been listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. In that same year the Alabama Historical Commission listed cotton mills statewide in its annual "Places in Peril". Over the past decade or more efforts were made to save the historic mill in Tallassee, but none of them worked. 

By the end of World War II one in five jobs in the state were in cotton mills. At least Lowe Mill in Huntsville, once a cotton mill and then a shoe factory, has been successfully developed for another use. Lowe Mill is now the largest privately owned arts facility in the United States. 

As history would have it, my brother Richard and I were in Tallassee last July on one of our annual family and state history tours. The first seven photos below were taken at the huge Mount Vernon mill constructed in the late 1890's. The final six were taken at the historic first mill. I've made comments and added further information below a few of the photos.   

You can learn more about Tallasee in William E. Goss and Karren Pell's Tallassee [Images of America series], Arcadia Pubishing, 2008. Also of interest is Linda Peal White's article, "One Night at the Hotel Talisi" in the Oxford American May/June 1995 pp 40-42.

I wonder how many times employees passed through this turnstile over the years.

Mount Vernon Mills continues to operate facilities in several states, but no longer in Alabama.

Tallassee Armory

Only Confederate armory not destroyed by Federal forces. Colonel Gorgas (Conf. Flag) ordnance chief, had carbine shop moved here into Tallassee Manufacturing Company mill in spring 1864 as war threatened Richmond, Virginia armory. War ended before plant neared goal of 6,000 carbines per year. In 1864 Rousseau's raid bypassed it-1865: forces under General Wilson (U.S. Flag) misled by faulty map, marched 10 miles east; threat of Forrest (Conf. Flag) barred their return. 
[Before 1965: Barnett Blvd at E.B. Payne Drive near river on Hwy 14, Tallassee 35.53501 N   65.89107 W ]

Source: Alabama Historical Association Historical Markers Program

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