TVA donates historical photos to library

Collier Library’s archive received more than 2,800 artifacts from the Tennessee Valley Authority recently. The artifacts came from the second of the nitrate plants in the Shoals area.

TVA’s Senior Landscape Architect Jon C. Riley said Nitrate Plant 1 and Nitrate Plant 2 were designed and constructed in response to World War I and the Defense Act in 1916.

“Both plants were created in 10 months, which was a monumental feat for that time,” Riley said.

The two plants were finished right after World War I ended in 1918.

“Of all the domestic issues debated in the United States Congress in the 1920s was the question, ‘What shall we do with the Wilson Dam?’” said Lawrence Nelson, professor of history at UNA.

The two nitrate plants and Wilson Dam were created at the same time. After the war, Congress debated over what to do with the two plants and the dam.

Nitrate Plant 1 was located near Sheffield, while Nitrate Plant 2 was located in Muscle Shoals.

President Herbert Hoover was opposed to the proposal of the TVA.

“President Hoover said in his veto address ‘For me to sign this bill would be to debase American civilization,’” Nelson said.

The fear was that the government-owned TVA would run the privately owned Alabama Power Company out of business.

“(President) Roosevelt wanted to make this a pilot project for little TVAs all over America,” Nelson said. “If you do that, Hoover is right. You debased the bases of the United States.”

Nelson said the good news was that the TVA stayed in this region and did not spread over the United States.

“The TVA is a touchstone of what America was at the time,” Nelson said.

According to the Tennessee Valley Authority’s website, “TVA was established by Congress in 1933 to address a wide range of environmental, economic and technological issues, including the delivery of low-cost electricity and the management of natural resources.”

Nelson said TVA was finally established in response to the Great Depression.

“It’s a tiger in a cage,” Nelson said. “As long as it is in the cage, I can live with it. Just don’t let it get out of the cage.”

The artifacts given to Collier Library were pieces from a historical part of the United States and the Shoals area.

Louise Huddleston, who has worked in the Collier archives for six years, said the artifacts from Nitrate Plant 2 were created sometime between 1908 and 1918.

Huddleston said her personal favorite piece is a picture of workers running to get their paychecks. The Wilson Dam and the nitrate plants employed 18,000 workers, according to the City of Muscle Shoals website.

The 2,800 pieces donated to the library were found while the TVA was cleaning up Nitrate Building 2. TVA decided to donate them to the university instead of giving them to the National Archives.

“It was important to us to share those documents with the Shoals community,” Riley said. “We wanted to have the materials available locally to the residents of the Shoals.”

Huddleston said she believes there is no other place the pieces need to be.

“I think they belong here because this is big time local history,” Nelson said. “It’s national history — you saw it in the constant debating in Congress in the ‘20s about Muscle Shoals.”

Nelson said there are plenty of other TVA artifacts in other archives across the country, but these pieces are part of local history.

“We’ve got pictures, photographs,” Nelson said. “(Roosevelt) was down here at the corner of Court Street and Tennessee giving a speech.”

Nelson said the citizens of the Shoals were dancing in the streets when the bill was passed.

The 2,800 artifacts can be found on the second floor of Collier Library and are available to faculty, students and the general public.