The memories and significance of the silo still remain, and the history of it, and other now gone sites in Alabaster are memorialized in print, thanks to Bobby Joe and Diane Seales and their book, Alabaster & Siluria: The Early Years – A Pictorial History.
“I'm glad I did it because of the fact that I'm able to preserve the history that is becoming so lost,” said Bobby Joe, the former president of the Shelby County Historical Society and former director of the Shelby County Museum and Archives. Bobby Joe is currently an Alabama bicentennial ambassador.
Before the release of the Alabaster book in 2017, Bobby Joe worked with the Shelby County Reporter to do a pictorial history of the county celebrating its bicentennial. He and Diane recently released Pelham Memories – A Pictorial History memorializing the history of another nearby Shelby County town. Their next project will focus on Columbiana, the seat of the county.
“We have done several projects, and I'm always amazed at the short length of time that the people in our area have actually lived here,” Diane said. “It's not like those of us that have lived in the area all of our lives. I think it's very important for people to see where we came from, what we've accomplished and then what we have to accomplish in the future.”
Many photos in Alabaster & Siluria: The Early Years were submitted by locals or relatives of locals. To gather pictures for the books, Bobby Joe reached out through social media announcing he was looking for submissions and reaching out to people he knew had family members who had photos of the town.
“People just started sharing pictures,” Bobby Joe said. “Some people that weren’t even on Facebook started hearing about it and they would call me and say ‘we've been through our mother's pictures after she passed away and I've got some I'd like to share with you’ and they would bring them over and leave them for me to scan and then come back by and pick them up or I'd take them back to them.”
In the end, over 1000 photos were submitted to the Seales for the book, of which they used about 300.
Some of the photos they got even solved old mysteries. Bobby Joe said a friend of his had been looking for a picture of the old cotton gin owned by the friend’s grandfather for most of his life.
“Well, what happened?” Bobby Joe said. “This lady that now lives in Georgia sent me a picture and… it had the cotton gin and the high school in the background and you can see it very clearly.”
Both the Alabaster and Pelham city governments financially supported the Seales’s as they made the books. When it came time to publish Alabaster & Siluria: The Early Years, Bobby Joe said he ordered 1,000 copies to be printed by the publishers, and requested no second printing. On top of that, he ordered 200 extra for the Seales’s to have in stock locally once the publisher sold out. According to Bobby Joe, the book was published a few days before Thanksgiving in 2017. Two days after the holiday it was sold out.
“People were buying them, five at a time, four at a time, even 10 at a time,” he said.
The community response was bigger than just submissions and sales. Bobby Joe was given an award by the state legislature for preserving the history of Alabaster. The town invited him to be the grand marshall for their 2018 Christmas parade and this past school year, he was the grand marshall for the local high school’s homecoming parade. According to Seales, it marked the first time a Thompson High School alumni was grand marshall for a homecoming parade.
In his search for photos, Bobby Joe also reached out to people he already knew who had photos or who had relatives with known photos. Sometimes though, when he contacted the children asking for parents’ photos, he got a call back that said the photos had been thrown away.
“I am so lucky to have gotten over a thousand images from people in Alabaster because there have been so many of the pictures destroyed,” he said. “Paper pictures are becoming a thing of the past and they take up space. And so when the parents die or their grandparents die, the children or grandchildren don't know who [the people in the photos] are so they just throw them away.”
Bobby Joe doesn’t intend to let that happen with all the photos he’s collected for these projects. He’s already made plans to give some of the photos submitted to him to the Alabama Department of Archives and History, especially some of the originals that have been entrusted into his care.
“A group of photographs that was given to me was the storm that destroyed the cotton mill [in Alabaster] and the mill village in 1953. I am so thankful because the lady that owned them died. She had no children and her husband was already dead and she had remarried and so her cousin got the pictures. And she gave them to me.”
The act of preserving history for future generations is one of the most important aspects of creating these books, Diane said.
“As younger people become more interested in their history, they've got something to go back to and they can look at and compare and just have a hope for the future,” she said.
Alabaster & Siluria: The Early Years is sold out on the publisher’s website. Those interested in buying a copy can contact Bobby Joe Seales through email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The cost is $40 a book. Pelham Memories is still available for sale on the publisher’s website at https://www.pediment.com/products/pelham-memories-history-book. The coast is $40 a book as well.