Education Curator Richard Trammell speaks on Alabama’s textile history

Published 9:30 am Friday, June 16, 2023

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WEST POINT — The education curator for the Alabama Department of Archives and History was back home on Thursday. Richard Trammell was the guest speaker at the noon-hour meeting of the West Point Rotary Club and paid a visit to Cobb Memorial Archives before heading back to Montgomery. Trammell is a 2009 graduate of Lanett High School and has family ties that go back many years in the Valley area. His grandmother, Mattie Mae Upshaw, worked for 37 years at Lanett Moll.

Trammell is very proud of his department’s display of Alabama’s textile history. It has an item from Langdale Mill, which was not far from where his grandmother grew up, and a video display has a 1901 view the Lanett mill village, where he grew up not that long ago.

“I would love to have more items from Chambers County on display there,” he said.

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From Lanett High Trammell went on to attend Auburn University, where he graduated with a B.A. in Theater Arts. He  taught theater for a time before making lots of trips to the Department of Archives and History while doing research on a play he was writing. From that he got to know people with the Department and was eventually hired on. He’s an extrovert by nature and that helps a lot when he’s taking fourth and fifth graders on tours os the big building in Montgomery.

When they are learning Alabama history, elementary students from all over the state often take field trips to the state capital. A tour of state archives is usually very high on that list. Trammell estimates of the 80,000 people who visit the Department of Archives and History somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 of them are elementary students taking Alabama history.

Trammell is proud of the fact that Alabama set the standard in having a state archives building for  to tour. It started in 1901, some thirty years before there was a national archives building. The Alabama legislature approved funds for it on February 27, 1901, and Thomas M. Owen was its first director. Its stated mission was to collect and preserve documents and artifacts relating to the history of the history of the state. In the early 1900s it was a model for other states to follow. It was first housed in the Senate cloak room and later moved to the west wing of the Capitol.

An archives building was first conceived by Mr. Owen in 1918. He died two years later when it was in the planning stages. He was succeeded by his wife, Marie Bankhead Owen, and a new building was put on hold for some time. The current three-story neoclassical building went up in 1938-40. An east wing was added in 1970 and a west one in 2005. More than 250,000 artifacts are housed there today.

The building is noted for its original bronze entrance doors that originally faced Washington Avenue. They were designed by artist Nathan Glick and depict eight scenes from Alabama history. They have since been relocated to a lobby area in the west wing. The building’s first and second floor walls are made of Sylacauga marble.

“We love telling t he story of our state, and we love having people to come and visit us,” Trammell said.

Once a month on a Thursday, the department has a scholar come to speak about an interesting topic on state history. Trammell said the Department of Archives and History is the place to come for anyone who is researching state history.

“We have everything you will need,” he said.

In Trammell’s view, the best way to understand history isn’t to study the famous people.

“The best way is to learn what ordinary people were doing in any era,” he said.

The second and third floors of the archives building house the Museum of Alabama. Portraits of people who made notable contributions to the history of the state are displayed here. There are displays on the lengthy period of Native American history in what is now Alabama. There’s a history of warfare extending from the French Colonial period to more recent conflicts abroad. There are displays on the Civil Rights history of the state.

The Alabama Sampler Gallery contains Alabama-related artifacts ranging from 19th century clothing to a guitar that was once owned by Hank Williams. The Hands-On Gallery contains history-related activities for children. The third floor houses paintings and sculpture.

Trammell said that being in this most special place in Alabama every work day has been a great experience for him.

“I have found new pieces of myself in that building,” the said. “I have been there two-and-a-half years now, and I have learned so much about the history of our state, and I have gotten to meet so many people. I love it.”

“I can remember taking that tour of the archives building when I was in elementary school,” said Rea Clark, the program chair. “I can still remember that red Alabama history book I had in the fourth grade.”