Montevallo: Images of America
© 2011 Clark Hultquist and Carey Heatherly
A few years ago, I became a student and resident of the University of Montevallo. I fell madly in love with the town and its university and regard them as my adopted home. You can thus imagine my delight when one of the university’s historians decided to produce a pictorial history of the town: the resulting few hours, as I ooh’d and aww’d my way through the city’s history, were utterly fascinating and left me with a touch of homesickness
As mentioned, this is a pictorial history, consisting of photographs of people, buildings, and the town landscape with historic commentary. The photographs are typically divided two per page, though one of the aerial views was given a full two-page spread. Those aerial views are particularly noteworthy, for they capture the town’s early state in a way unmatched by other city histories which I have read, like Yesterday’s Birmingham. Although Montevallo began life as an agricultural center and mining town, its fortune was truly tied to the growth of the university. While the role of agriculture diminished and the coal mines closed, the university continued to flourish through the 20th century. Beginning life in 1896 as an industrial school for women, it matured into a liberal-arts college and then finally into a mixed-sex public university covering multiple disciplines. Although the book’s dozens of pictures show clearly how much the town has grown and changed through time, the university population has also allowed much to be preserved: the nearness of a large student body keeps Montevallo’s charming Main Street alive and well despite the competition of chain stores.
As fascinating as it is to watch any town grow through the ages, this work will be more compelling to students and residents of the city, for whom it will be like a family album. The personalities who shaped the university, who drove its history, are honored in succession through the decades as the university grew and affixed their names to its many beautiful buildings. I loved seeing the familar campus slowly grow through the years, marveling at what facts history has hidden — that one generation’s soccer pitch was another’s science and math complex. Some of the pictures are positively eerie, like the spread of Main Quad, which shows it entirely open. Today, it’s home to a dozen or so trees, all grand old majestic beauties whose size and absence from the photo bear witness to the passage of time. All told, the pictures illustrate that much more has transpired upon Montevallo’s red brick roads and under her stately white columns than I could ever imagine.
Montevallo is part of an extended series of pictorial histories, and my only caveats seem to be marks of the series as a whole. Because the market for these books is presumably small, the photographs are produced only in black and white (even modern ones), and are not quite as large and some might hope, though the commentary serves to remedy this by pointing out small details which might otherwise go unnoticed. Residents and students at Montevallo will find in this work a treasure.
Dr. Clark Hultquist is professor of history at the University of Montevallo, and chair of the Behavioral and Social Sciences department. Dr. Carey Heatherly is a reference librarian and archivist serving in the Oliver Cromwell Carmichael library.
- Years Rich and Fruitful: the University of Montevallo, 1896-1996
- Yesterday’s Atlanta. Franklin M. Garrett
- Yesterday’s Birmingham, Malcolm Cook McMillan
- Good Life in Hard Times: San Francisco’s Twenties and Thirties, Jerry Flamm.