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Five years since mill fire

By Michael Butler

It was on May 5, 2016 when the landmark east side mill burned while most local folks slept.

Today, what remains may look like ruins from ancient times, but a plan for clean up is still in the offing. The City of Tallassee now has ownership of the property.

Mayor Johnny Hammock has looked into grant opportunities that could aid in the cleanup that he says could exceed $1 million.

"It takes a long time to get the grants and even longer to get them executed," Hammock said. "I'm asking the people of Tallassee to please be patient. We've got a lot in the pipeline."

Looking back on that May night five years ago, first responders were dispatched at approximately 10:55 p.m. 12 different agencies and more than 100 firefighters aided in extinguishing the blaze.

"Flames were coming from the connecting buildings. It was well involved. We put out a big call for help. Nobody got hurt. That's the good thing," said Travis Jones, who was Tallassee Fire Chief at the time. "Our biggest goal was to protect the filter plant, so that everyone in the city would maintain water as well as our water supply to keep fighting fire."

The water plant is within 100 feet of the mill.

The mills in East Tallassee were constructed in 1897 and 1923. Tallassee's first mills were built in 1844 and 1880 on the city's west side. During its heyday, the operation was the state's largest in the textile industry and the nation's longest continuously operating textile mills until closing in 2005.

Some residents were evacuated on nearby Alber Street but returned to their homes by sunrise. Marilyn Durham had a view that was too close for comfort from her home across from City Hall.

"I was concerned (it) might throw sparks over here on us," Durham said. "The flames were reaching so high. Oh, my heart hurts over this one."

The Tallassee Fire Department had a plan of action after working the Hotel Talisi fire in November of 2009. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigated the fire for arson, but no person has been charged.

"It's a suspicious fire," Jones said back in 2016. "There was no power, no lightning. It had to have some type of human intervention."

Tallassee historian Bill Goss spoke about what people around Tallassee called "Mill No. 2."

"The cornerstone has the date 1897-98. It did not go into production until 1900," he said. "They had built the 1895 bridge to connect the two mills, but a flood damaged the bridge."

The East Tallassee mill buildings were approximately one million square feet. The buildings were constructed of river rock collected from the Tallapoosa River adjacent to the property.

"All of those stone parts are gone now," Goss added. "It's a great historical loss."

Tommy Hudson Interview WTLS/Tallassee Times TV
Travis Jones WTLS Wake-Up Call Interview
Mill Fire Video 1

Mill Fire Video 2
Mill Fire Video 3
Mill Fire Video 4
Mill Fire Video 5
Mill Fire Aftermath Drone Video (Courtesy of David Lawrence)

Tallasseeans React to Mill Fire
Mill Owner Comments on Loss
One Year Later, Reflecting on the Mill Fire

View Photos