By: William E. Goss and Karren Pell
Reviewed by: Ruth Beaumont Cook
Arcadia Publishing, 2008
If a picture is worth a thousand words, an all-verbal equivalent of Images of America: Tallassee would run to several volumes. As a slim paperback, this book employs vintage photographs to tell the story of an historic Alabama town whose origins mingle with the Native American settlements of Talisi and Tukabahchi, which also thrived beside the great falls of the Tallapoosa River. A comprehensive Introduction and detailed photo captions fill out the narrative.
Karren Pell, composer as well as author, felt an instant connection to Tallassee when she first visited in 1998. As she stood in the upstairs lobby of the Hotel Talisi (formerly The Woodall Hotel), she had the sense that “the boundaries of time dropped for a moment,” allowing her to experience the place without modern distance. This experience inspired her song, “Trapped in Time,” and a chapter in Alabama Troubadour, her earlier collection of songs, essays, and photographs.
Pell and co-author Bill Goss began their project by announcing in various media that they were collecting photographs for the book, which was scheduled for publication during Tallassee’s centennial celebration in 2008. In addition to contributions from local families, churches, and schools, the authors added detail from an unorganized but extensive photographic collection created by the mills that were the lifeblood of the town. When Tallassee Mills closed in 2005, the company donated its photographic collection to the Tallassee Historical and Preservation Society.
Images of America: Tallassee includes everything from Tecumseh’s 1811 visit to the Creeks at Tukabahchi to the town’s role as a hub of the Confederate supply line during the Civil War. The book offers vivid images of the frequent floods that threatened townspeople and portraits of spinning room overhaulers and other employees at the Tallassee Mills, which became Alabama’s largest by 1870. Down through the years, Tallassee had a rich community life, as evidenced by photographs of groups like the Tallassee Mummers in fantastic disguises for an event in the 1890s, the Tallassee Mills Company Store baseball team in uniform in 1915, and the Goss brothers’ band that was popular at dances in the 1920s and 1930s.
The book has two unavoidable shortcomings: the small number of photos from the Civil War era and the limited number of photos featuring the many African-American families who worked in the mills and farms of the area. These gaps, of course, are a result of the creative limits imposed by what Pell characterizes as “what those in a previous time decided to take a photograph of and what those who followed them preserved.” Jan 2009
Narrative historian Ruth Beaumont Cook is a member of the Alabama Writers’ Forum Board of Directors.