A History of Tallassee
By William E. (Bill) Goss
Tallassee’s recorded human history began when the Muskogee-Creek Indians (people of the swampy ground) built the first settlement near the Great Falls of the Tallapoosa River and called it Talisi. The Creek Indian town of Talisi, was located at the mouth of Euphaubee Creek, where it meets the Tallapoosa River, about three miles south of the current Tallassee.
Close by, Talisi’s sister Indian town, Tukabahchi/Tukabatchee (1686-1836), was a younger Creek settlement and the last great capital of the Creek Confederacy. Tecumseh’s famous visit to Tukabahchi in October 1811 was the spark that kindled the Creek Indian War (1813-1814). In the end, this war reduced to ashes the Native Americans claim to their land. Through treaties and Indian removal in 1832 and 1836, the Indian land in Tallassee was opened to white settlers from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.
Tallassee is located on the lower Tallapoosa River in the densely forested Emerald Mountains of the lower Appalachian Mountains (Piedmont Plateau). When Tallapoosa County was created in December 18, 1832, all of Tallassee was located in the Western Division of Tallapoosa County. On February 15, 1866 when Elmore County was created, the western part of Tallassee was placed in Elmore County. Today, Tallassee is divided between Tallapoosa and Elmore counties.
Tallassee was settled in 1835. Records of deeds in the Tallapoosa County courthouse in Dadeville, Alabama, show that “Tallassee Town” had been established. Blocks had been laid out and people were living in the town as early as October 24, 1835.
Barent DuBois (1798-1849), a New Yorker of French Huguenot descent from Greene County, NY, was the founding father of Tallassee. He moved from Montgomery County, Alabama to Tallassee, Tallapoosa County in 1832, at age 34. He married a half-Creek named Milly Reed (1809-1890), who was born on Line Creek, in Montgomery County. In 1835-1841, he acquired a large portion (2092 acres) of land in the Tallassee area, by deed and grants. Now, this land is Tallassee.
In 1844, Barent and Milly DuBois sold the land and water power, for the site of Tallassee’s first textile mill, the second built in Alabama, to Thomas Meriwether Barnett (1785-1857) and William Matthews Marks (1807-1876). They were responsible for the first industrial development of Tallassee. This resulted in locating the town of Tallassee at the site of the Tallassee Falls, on the west bank of the Tallapoosa River. There, they built the first textile mill in Tallassee in 1844.
In 1864-1865, the Tallassee Confederate Armory manufactured five hundred Tallassee Carbines. The armory was located in the 1844 Tallassee Mill. Gun stocks, barrels, and other parts were moved to Tallassee from the Richmond (Virginia) Confederate Armory, when it closed. The gun barrels were bored at Tallassee. Less than a dozen of the Tallassee carbines have survived.
Public schools were not supported in Alabama until the early 1900s. Prior to that, the first settlers of Tallassee established private schools and academies. The first public school in Tallassee was begun about 1887. It had one teacher and 25 students in grades 1-12. The first Tallassee School, which had more than one teacher, was built in 1905 and stood at the northeast corner of Ann and Barnett streets. On August 26, 1909, the General Assembly of Alabama passed a child labor law, which helped to eliminate the use of child labor in the Tallassee Mills and other mills and factories in Alabama. Under its provisions no child under 12 years of age could work in the mills and factories. This created an opportunity for the children of Tallassee to attend school.
In 1913, in the Jordanville area, the citizens of the incorporated town of Tallassee built a three-room school (1-12). It was not until 1915 that the Tallassee City Schools began to develop. On February 7, 1916, a mass meeting was held to raise money for a new Tallassee City School (grades 1-12). In 1916, a new large two-story frame building , designed by the renowned Montgomery architect Franks Firth Lockwood (1856-1936), was built by the Tallassee Mills on King Street, at the rear of the present Tallassee High School, on the site where the Stumberg Gym now stands. When the 1916 school opened, the 1913 Jordanville School was consolidated. The 1916 school burned in 1928 and was replaced by the present Tallassee High School in 1929. Dr. Charles Bunyan Smith (1891-1984), who had been principal of the 1916 School, became the superintendent of the Tallassee and East Tallassee Schools and served from 1924-1935. He was the architect and father of the Tallassee City Schools.
The late 1920s were good times for Tallassee. A Community Library, a Community Hospital, a new East Tallassee Shopping Center, a new East Tallassee Elementary School (grades 1-6), a new 72 room luxury Woodall Hotel (later named Hotel Talisi) completed in 1928, and Thurlow Dam completed on December 31, 1930 were built. Thurlow Dam created Lake Talisi with a shoreline of six miles and an area of 574 acres. Today the power, generated by the four dams on the Tallapoosa River, (Martin, Yates, Thurlow, and Harris), supplies electricity not only to Tallassee and its industries, but also to the entire Southeast.
During the Great Depression (1929-1930s), the Tallassee Mills never closed, although at times they ran on reduced schedules. Because the mills continued to operate, other businesses in Tallassee also survived the Depression.
The 1940s brought a proud and prosperous time to Tallassee. During World War II, the Tallassee Mills and Tallassee residents worked hard (24/7) to supply the U.S. armed forces with cotton duck for tents and cots, cotton drills, twine, and rope. During this period, the Tallassee Mills increased production by 225 percent and employed 4,500 workers. During this same period, more than 2,500 men and women from Tallassee served in the armed services. Tallassee’s success and dedication were acknowledged. In 1943, 1944, and 1945, the Tallassee Mills received the Army-Navy “E” Award from the U.S. government for excellence and efficiency in the production of war materials. Until they closed in 2005, the Tallassee Mills were the oldest continuous operating mills in the United States, providing 161 years of service.