The Attalla Museum showcases the rich history of the land, the city and the people


Over time, doing what is possible to remember the bygone ages becomes more important, even paramount. It helps people stay in touch with their roots, learn from the past – mistakes and all – and keep the memories of hometowns they like.

These are the principles underlying the creation of the Attalla Historical Museum.

The project is ongoing and, although there is no specific timetable for it to be completed, work is progressing well, said former Attalla Mayor Charles O’Rear, who is joined by a number of other Attalla residents on the museum committee.

The museum will be housed in the former Alabama Power building on 5th Avenue.

“There’s a lot of work to be done inside the building to make it attractive,” O’Rear said. “The Mayor (Larry Means) and City Council have been outstanding with this project. They put us in an annual budget line to accommodate what we want to do.”

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Retired architect David Oliver is leading the redesign of the facility, O’Rear said.

“It’s going to be a pretty big job on the building,” O’Rear said. “We (the committee) can do some of it ourselves – we can paint, other things. But getting the building into the shape we want will take a lot of effort.

“We want to change the facade of the building a bit, give it an art deco (style) look,” he added. “David is doing a great job. It’s amazing how much knowledge he has. Having him on board is very important.”

O’Rear, a longtime Attalla native with deep family roots in the town and a powerful passion for the project, said some artifacts had already been acquired for the museum.

“I have a deep and abiding affection for this little old town,” he said.

Among the items set aside for museum use are a large number of old photographs from O’Rear’s personal collection.

“We welcome donations of historical information and photographs,” he said of anyone who wants to contribute to possible future exhibits for the museum.

The goal, O’Rear said, is for the floor of the building to become a storage area for items donated to the museum, as displays will be rotated to keep things cool.

“You won’t find the same thing there every time you come,” he said.

High tech will meet old tech in one screen.

“Wayne Lampkin (a former railroad worker) is building a model railroad inside the building using 3D printing,” he said, highlighting Attalla’s history as a center major railway. “We have someone who builds miniature buildings who will work with Wayne to make it happen.”

Showcases were also acquired for the displays.

Once completed, O’Rear has high hopes for the museum.

“We think it will be a focal point, a destination for people to come to town,” he said. “Every city needs a destination. People need to come there, pay their bills, do their banking, and then go look around and see what else is out there. We want the museum is a destination for people.”

Thinking back to Attalla’s past for what to include, O’Rear doesn’t want to overlook anything.

Even before there was an Attalla, the land had a story. This will be included, as will the incorporation of the city in 1872, wooden buildings and unpaved streets, until modern times.

“We want it to represent all phases of Attalla’s history,” O’Rear said. “Let’s go back to the Native Americans who were once in the area, in World Wars I and II and in the 1940s with Camp Sibert, which really kicked our economy into high gear during World War II, and after.”

Attalla turns 150 on May 21and O’Rear is a guest speaker at the event.

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“We’re going to talk about the railroads that were important, the iron ore mines that were here – (Attalla) was the biggest iron ore shipping port in the state for quite a while,” said he declared. “The wells (of natural water), the good soil in and around the area, the terrain made it easy for people to come to the beginning of our history to settle.”

O’Rear can’t wait for people to see the final product, and he’s not the only one.

“Everyone (involved) is excited and full of enthusiasm for the museum and the collection of artifacts that we already have,” he said. “I’m honored to be a part of it.”

JJ Hicks covers Things to Do for the Gadsden Times. Join it at [email protected]

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