PRESERVING HISTORY: Photographer shares images of ‘forgotten treasures’

Published 10:27 pm Thursday, August 15, 2019

After meeting Glenn Wills, picturing a hat-shaded man, stumbling through debris, both the doings of man and time, with a camera slung over his shoulder was rather easy to do.

From the beginning of Wills’ presentation, “200 Years of Forgotten Alabama,” hosted by the Tupper Lightfoot Memorial Library Thursday, it was evident that Wills is the kind of man, who is willing to go where few others have trod. Wills is a photographer and keeper of Alabama’s forgotten and vanishing treasures.

He grew up in Huntsville and his career path took him first into television news then photography and editing.

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“I ended up a satellite truck engineer,” Wills told his audience at Brundidge Station. “That kept me on the road a lot, nearly a quarter million miles in eight and a half years.”

Along those many miles, Wills, consciously or unconsciously, committed the images of the abandoned and forgotten structures he saw along the roadway to memory — junk cars, fading signs, rusting bridges, abandoned houses, crumbling country stores – all reminders of the past.

Wills realized that these “treasures” needed to preserved, if only on film that could withstand time. So, he went about photographing the forgotten structures, but, not with a sense of urgency until….

“One day, up around Chelsey, I noticed a 1960 Shell gas station,” Wills said. “I knew I needed to photograph it but I was either lazy or just not motivated. When I went back later, the gas station was gone. I knew then what I needed to do. I needed to photograph these abandoned and aging structures before they were gone and forgotten. But, how could I cover Alabama? How could I cover 52,000 square miles?”

Wills made a plan. He divided the state into 16 sections and would travel throughout them, one by one, with his camera in hand.

Many of the structures he photographed evoked emotions. A concrete roadside table, overgrown with weeds, was a reminder of the picnics his mom took the family on.

“It was nothing more than a concrete table with a trash can, but back then, it was a fast food restaurant,” Wills said, laughing.

His Brundidge presentation included photo-images of a jail-on-wheels that was an “RV for convicts,” an 1858 abandoned bridge in Waldo, an 1882 Little Christian Church, Fannin’s store in Shady Grove, a dairy farm in Shelby County, an unidentified house that nature is reclaiming, a 1915 Rail house in Altoona that is a “place in peril,” and Rosa Parks childhood home.

Some of the structures photographed are now preserved only through Wills’ photographs and others will follow.

Wills has published between 600 and 700 of his photographs in “Forgotten Alabama”
and “More Forgotten Alabama.”

He encouraged those who attended his presentation at Brundidge Station to do as he has done. But keenly aware of abandoned and forgotten structures and take a few minutes to photograph them before they vanish from the scene.

Theresa Trawick, director of the Tupper Lightfoot Memorial Library in Brundidge, said “Tupper” encourages Brundidge citizens to help preserve the physical heritage of the Brundidge community with a click on a camera or smart phone and by participating in “Forgotten Brundidge” from 9 a.m. until noon Saturday in the back building of the Tupper Lightfoot Memorial Library.

“We are asking those who have old photographs, letters, documents, etc. related to Brundidge through families, businesses, churches, organizations, etc. to bring them Saturday morning so they can be copied for Tupper’s local history and genealogy collection,” Trawick said. “Don’t let Brundidge be ‘Forgotten’ Brundidge.’”