It’s always a thrill to receive a new book on the history of Blount County, and last week, I was treated to a copy of Judge David Duggan’s latest book, “Alcoa: A Century in Words and Pictures.” David is also the Alcoa city historian and chairman of the Alcoa Centennial Committee, and the book included a quite comprehensive collection of photographs and narrative prepared in observance of the city’s centennial.
Alcoa officially was incorporated on July 1, 1919.
David said the city’s story actually begins with the Aluminum Company of America, now Arconic, coming to this area. But the story of ALCOA’s decision to come here to build a plant, and a town site, is much more involved than we have commonly thought.
For example, people assume ALCOA Inc. came here in the early 1900s with plans to build a reduction plant, but that’s not the case. “They came here only with the plan to produce electricity. The company intended to build a new reduction plant, but many potential sites were considered within a 200-mile radius of the Little Tennessee (River),” David said, including several locations in East Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina.
In 1913, the decision to build the plant in North Maryville, later to be named “Alcoa,” was made primarily because of the availability of the massive amounts of electricity required to produce aluminum using a process discovered by Charles M. Hall.
The search for information to include in the book — which has taken David and many others who contributed time and expertise to make it possible — has taken about four years. Along the way, they made some fantastic discoveries, including the ALCOA holdings housed at the Thomas and Katherine Detre Library and Archives at the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, which is operated by the Western Pennsylvania Historical Society.
They made discoveries closer to home, as well: documents and photos found stored at the city that had not been seen in decades. The photos all were taken on July 24, 1920, of all the homes built by ALCOA Inc. for its workers. Most of the homes have three photos, with one showing the architectural style, one with a photo of the home with the model name and floor plan, and one with the second version including handwritten notes with more details. Version 2 is shown on pages 75-77.
The book, in a landscape format, is hardback and the 176 pages are on high-quality paper. The cost is $35, and the books are available at the Alcoa Municipal Building at Springbrook Corporate Center, from David, and at special centennial events scheduled for 2019-20.
Like any project of this nature, there’s always information you’d like to include but just don’t have the space. The publisher, The Donning Company Publishers, limited the book to 35,000 words, including photo captions, and 220 photos and images.
“My first draft was 60,000 to 65,000 words,” the judge said, so he had to cut it almost in half while still including everything he wanted to share. “I got it down to 40,000,” he said, and the publisher made it work even with additional photos and images, about 300. About 80% of the photos have either not been previously published or if previously published, not widely available. The others are such iconic photos that they had to be included.
There are nine chapters: Prelude to a City; A Plant and a Townsite; The Early African American Community in Alcoa; A New City; A City Gains Its Independence; Excellence in the Classroom: Alcoa’s Schools; A Legacy of Champions: Alcoa’s Athletic Teams; A City Continues to Thrive; and Into the Twenty-first Century and Beyond. David also included “Did you know” boxes with interesting tidbits of information scattered throughout the book as well as reminiscences contributed by several people. Appendix 1 has photos of all the city’s mayors — yet another find in the city’s files — and a listing of all the city managers. Appendix 2 gives background on the men for whom several of the city streets are named. A bibliography cites all the sources used for the book, and in the acknowledgements pages, David gives credit to many of the contributors of materials and other support.
The purpose of the book is not only to give a fuller understanding of the city’s history but also to encourage others to find their own historical treasures and to preserve them and share them. As for David, an Alcoa native, he said compiling the book has been a joy.
“It makes me very proud to be an Alcoan,” he said. “It’s such a rich legacy — the story is amazing.”