By Kaitlin Fleming, Staff Correspondent
On Friday, June 8, the Etowah Historical Society welcomed a special guest speaker for its meeting, City of Attalla Mayor Larry Means.
Means, who was born and raised in Attalla, gave a 45- minutes presentation on the history of the city. From its beginnings in coal and ore mining, to the railroad, to the Alabama Power Company to present day, audience members received a crash course in all things Attalla.
The City of Attalla has undergone many name changes. Means informed the historical society of Attalla’s first name, New Town. After New Town, the city’s named changed to Junction, Bentonville and a few other names as well before finally being incorporated under the name Attalla in 1872.
According to Means, the first settler of Attalla was a man named John Ratliff, or Ratcliff, in the early 1800s. He also spoke about some of the town’s old industries. Attalla has always been known for its mines. In fact, Means said when he was a child he and his friends would play around the old mines.
“There were several of us kids in the same neighborhood back behind the Fourth Street school, we’d get a group of us and just head up to the mines and play for a while,” said Means. “It was a different time back then. No cellphones and all that. We did a lot of exploring and playing.”
What many people don’t know is that Attalla also was known for its cotton production. Means said Attalla was one of the largest cotton-producing and cotton-shipping towns in Alabama. Attalla would ship approximately 75,000 to 100,000 bales of cotton in a season.
Means touched on the fact that Attalla was the birthplace of Alabama Power Company. Attalla is home to the first hydroelectric dam built by Alabama Power. There have always been rumors that because Attalla is the birthplace of Alabama Power, the city gets free power. An audience member asked Means about this rumor.
“No sir, we don’t get free power,” said Means. “I have a stack of power bills on my desk. The schools in Attalla get free power, but none of the city buildings do. City hall doesn’t, my office doesn’t, none of our buildings do.”
Attalla is also famous for Camp Sibert, which was used as a training facility for the United States Army during World War II. Some people refer to the area just off Highway 77 as Siberton.
The historical society helped fill in some gaps in Attalla’s history, as well. Means joked that even though he was born and raised there and was elected mayor once, he doesn’t know a whole lot about the city’s early history.
“I was never a good student, especially during history classes,” said Means. “I would look out the window when I should have been paying attention.”
The Etowah Historical Society was established in 1954. It is now home to the Etowah Heritage Museum and the Jerry B. Jones Historical Research Library. The group meets every second Friday of the month from 6-8 p.m. at the Elliott Community Center. For tours of the museum or library, contact Sherry Butler Clayton at 256-886-6911.
The Etowah Historical Society is a nonprofit organization made up of volunteers. Annual memberships are $15 per person. All payments and donations to the Etowah Historical Society are tax deductible under section 501c3 of the Internal Revenue Code.