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Landmark mill destroyed by fire

By Michael Butler

Another piece of Tallassee history is gone. The east side mill that operated for more than 100 years in Tallassee burned late Wednesday and throughout the day on Thursday, May 5, leaving behind only smoldering bits of rubble.

First responders received a call at 10:55 p.m. that the former textile mill was on fire.

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.

"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 Tallassee Fire Chief Travis Jones.

12 different agencies and more than 100 firefighters aided in extinguishing the blaze.

"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," Jones added. Tallassee's water filtration center sits within 100 feet of the front facade of the mill.

Billows of smoke from an overhead shot by Shep Morris

Electrical lines ignited leaving some locals without power. The rumble of falling walls were compared to the sound of cannon shots. 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. The flames were reaching so high," she said. "Oh, my heart hurts over this one."

Preparations for such a tragic event have been in place by the Tallassee Volunteer Fire Department, as was a plan of action used during the Hotel Talisi fire in November of 2009.

Although the mill building was vacant, workers have been on the property in recent weeks during a deconstruction phase.

"It was a dangerous abandoned building," Jones said. "The only danger now are these standing walls. The owners are going to have to get to work on securing those hazard zones."

The cause of the fire is under investigation with the assistance from the state fire marshal's office in conjunction with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

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

On Monday, four days after the intitial inferno, a back section of the damaged remains rekindled. Traffic was shut down on Lower Tuskegee Road between City Hall and South Tallassee Drive for approximately one hour. Tallassee, Friendship and Reeltown firefighters responded.

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

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