One year later,
reflecting on the mill fire
By Michael Butler
It was early Thursday morning, sometime shortly after midnight when the phone rang. It wasn't a family emergency. The east side mill was on fire.
The mill closed its operation in 2004. The structures on the east side alone take up about one million square feet on the premises.
We live in East Tallassee. When I got in my car to head to the scene of the blaze, I could actually see an orange glow in the pitch black darkness from our driveway.
When I arrived, I could see a crowd of onlookers with a bird's eye view. The Benjamin Fitzpatrick Bridge was their perch. It was like having a 50-yard-line seat in the upper deck at a football game.
I really couldn't believe it when I saw it. The mill has always been the centerpiece of Tallassee, the dividing line between east and west. The east side structure was built in 1897. Now it was going up in flames.
Mount Vernon Mills in Tallassee was the longest continuosly operating textile mill in the country when it closed its doors. Its history here dates back to 1844. For more than 150 years it has been the backdrop in our town - a "mill town" originally.
I've driven over that bridge a thousand times where below it, inside those walls, my grandparents made a modest living working to raise a family living in a house that they financed through the mill.
I found my spot against the iron railing on that early May 5 morning. The rumbles, like thunder, rang out as walls collapsed from the intense heat.
There was a chill in the air but not from our vantage point. Just think of the temps felt by firefighters who extinguished the inferno that threatened our water filtration plant just steps away.
The number of specators continued to grow as word spread. Imagine how many would have turned out if not during the middle of the night.
Those watching the scene unfold reflected on the mill and its role in Tallassee. 'My parents worked there,' they said. Just about everybody in Tallassee has some connection.
As the night waned and most left the scene, the first responders continued their duties.
With the advent of a new day, the damage was clearly visible. The old stone textile mill was in ruins, still smoldering in smoke. It looked like a scene from post-WWII Berlin.
There are a several landmarks in Tallassee. The mills are among them. The Hotel Talisi was one of them. Since its 2009 fire, it has yet to reopen.
What will the future hold for these sites? The mill is in Tallassee's most scenic location adjacent to the Tallapoosa River.
With the one-year anniversary of the tragedy, hope is that like the Phoenix - we'll "rise from the ashes."
Tommy Hudson Interview
Travis Jones Interview
Mill Fire Video 1
Mill Fire Video 2
Mill Fire Video 3
Mill Fire Video 4
Mill Fire Video 5
Mill Fire Aftermath Video (Courtesy of David Lawrence)
Landmark Mill Destroyed by Fire
Tallasseeans React to Mill Fire
Mill Owner Comments on Loss