30 Birmingham Neighborhoods in 30 Days – Woodlawn

During the month of November, I will be blogging like crazy to bring you great tidbits on 30 neighborhoods in Birmingham. Check in daily to see if you learn anything new about where you live.

Did you know…

  • The area was settled beginning 1815 and was first called Rockville?
  • On September 18, 1883, the area’s name was changed from Wood’s Station to Woodlawn? (The community took the name “Wood” from the Wood family (headed by patriarch Obadiah Woods) who were originally from Greenville, South Carolina.)
  • Before the close of the 19th century, Woodlawn residents could travel to Birmingham by train for 25 cents one way and 40 cents round trip?
  • Woodlawn became a municipality in 1890?
  • The electric streetcar line reached Woodlawn in 1895?
  • Also in 1895 Woodlawn’s first city hall and jail were built?
  • On January 1, 1910, the city was annexed to Birmingham, along with Avondale, East Lake, North Birmingham, North Haven, Elyton, West End, and Ensley?
  • Woodlawn High School opened in 1922?
  • The Woodlawn branch library, located at 5709 1st Avenue North, was dedicated October 29, 1950?

 

Woodlawn High School_1920s postcard

Postcard depicting Woodlawn High School in the 1920s

 

Coach Bear Bryant speaks at Woodlawn High School in 1975

Coach Bear Bryant speaking at Woodlawn High School in 1975 – Property of Birmingham Public Library

Morgan Brothers and Ben Franklin Store_Woodlawn

Woodlawn’s Morgan Brothers and Ben Franklin stores – Property of Birmingham Public Library

Ist Avenue North_Woodlawn

1st Avenue North

Woodlawn Theatre_1948

Woodlawn Theatre in 1948 – Property of Birmingham Public Library

 

Notable Woodlawn residents: 

  • Bobby Bowden – former college football coach
Bobby Bowden 1952

Bobby Bowden in 1952

  • Lili Gentle – actress
  • Paul Hemphill- author
  • Tony Nathan (attended Woodlawn High School) – star high school and former professional football player
Tony Nathan

Tony Nathan

 

Source: “Woodlawn is 75 years old” Birmingham News (September 14, 1958)

30 Birmingham Neighborhoods in 30 Days – Avondale

During the month of November, I will be blogging like crazy to bring you great tidbits on 30 neighborhoods in Birmingham. Check in daily to see if you learn anything new about where you live.

Just like with Birmingham, Avondale was established (in 1887) when enterprising men saw potential in the expansive raw materials that surrounded the area.

“This group of men…acquired a large acreage surrounding King Spring, a big, bold stream that flows from the northside of Red Mountain and around which Avondale Park since has been developed,” according to a 1929 Birmingham News – Age Herald feature.

According to that same article, Avondale got its name when some of the town’s founders went to Cincinnati, Ohio, to secure capital for their fledgling development. While there the men were taken on a tour where they wound up in Avondale, located in a hilly area, near the north bank of the Ohio River.

“They were much impressed with the beauty of Cincinnati Avondale, and returning home they decided upon that as the name for their city. They reasoned, it is said, that here adjoining Birmingham on the east, is a section comparable to the Avondale they had seen while in Cincinnati, with its level area and its hills and mountain. Avondale, they declared, was an appropriate name, and so they called it Avondale.”

It was a railroad company, The Alabama Great Southern, that was credited for Avondale’s fast growth. “The roundhouse, shops and yards were the nucleus of a small city and the hundreds of employes made their homes nearby,” the paper stated.

Other industries soon followed. One of the largest to settle in the area was Avondale Mills. (While some may think the town acquired its name from the mills, the fact is that Avondale was already established when Avondale Mills began production in 1897. The mills were named after the town.)

“By 1898, Avondale Mills employed more than 400 people as spinners, weavers, and mechanics and generated $15,000 in profit,” according to Lynn Price McWhorter for the Encyclopedia of Alabama.

A number of poor farmers, black and white, from rural areas in Alabama made their way to Avondale to work in the mills.

“…the steady paychecks and working hours were very appealing compared with life on the farm at a time when cotton prices were falling. A farm laborer who had been earning a potential $400.00 annually could work in a textile mill for a potential $700.00 annually. And with other family members working in the mill, family income rose accordingly,” wrote McWhorter.

Avondale Cotton Mills

Avondale Mills_cotton spinning

A spinning room at Avondale Mills – Property of Birmingham Public Library

Before the end of the 19th century, Avondale Park was dedicated by the Avondale Land Company for recreational purposes. The big spring drew visitors from Birmingham and beyond. When Avondale was annexed to Birmingham in 1910, the park became the largest one in the city.

Avondale Park

You may know that at one point, the park contained a zoo and its main attraction was an elephant named “Miss Fancy.” The story of how Miss Fancy found her way to Avondale is an interesting one.  The 1929 news article stated:

“The Birmingham Advertising Club was putting on an industrial exposition, the first attempted here. The promoters felt the need of something more than mill, factory, furnace and mine products to draw people to their show. [Earlier, a circus owner reached Birmingham but the circus owner left the animals stranded.] News of the stranded animals reached [the Birmingham Advertising Club] and of “Miss Fancy,” the big elephant which had paraded the streets of Birmingham just a day or two before to the delight of thousands of children and the grown-ups, too. Someone conceived the happy idea of buying or hiring Miss Fancy for the industrial show. Her owner received the proposition with an open mind and eventually a trade was made in which the ownership of Miss Fancy passed to the Advertising Club.” 

After the show was over, the advertisers realized they owned an elephant who had a voracious appetite.  The city soon assumed ownership of the elephant and Avondale Park was made her home.

Lady sitting atop Miss Fancy

Miss Fancy with an out-of-town visitor (1913) – Property of Birmingham Public Library

30 Birmingham Neighborhoods in 30 Days – Titusville

During the month of November, I will be blogging like crazy to bring you great tidbits on 30 neighborhoods in Birmingham. Check in daily to see if you learn anything new about where you live.

Neighborhood Highlights

  • Titusville was founded by freed slaves after the Civil War.
  • Home to one of the city’s first steel blast furnaces – Alice Furnace
  • Birmingham’s first airport was located in Titusville (where the current Loveman Village development stands).
  • Home to Our Lady Fatima Catholic Church, the oldest African-American Catholic Church in the Birmingham Catholic Diocese
  • The Birmingham Black Barons trained at a local park during their heyday. (Can you imagine racing down to Memorial Park to catch a glimpse of Satchel Paige, Piper Davis, and Willie Mays in action?)
Willie Mays

Willie Mays

 

Notable Residents

  • Wallace Rayfield – the second formally educated practicing black architect in the United States. Rayfield designed Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Sixth Avenue Baptist Church, and several other local landmarks
  • Condoleezza Rice – former U.S. Secretary of State
  • Harold Jackson – Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist
  • Carole Smitherman – Jefferson County circuit court judge

 

800px-Condoleezza_Rice_cropped

Condoleezza Rice

 

Sixth Avenue Baptist Church

Former Sixth Avenue Baptist Church (designed by Wallace Rayfield)

 

Source: Titusville Community Framework Plan

30 Birmingham Neighborhoods in 30 Days – Bush Hills

During the month of November, I will be blogging like crazy to bring you great tidbits on 30 neighborhoods in Birmingham. Check in daily to see if you learn anything new about where you live.

When Bush Hills was developed in the late 1920s, the realtors, Jemison & Company, described it as ideally situated. “It fronts the new, paved Eighth Avenue, the through thoroughfare between Birmingham and Ensley. It is halfway between the two…,” stated one of the developer’s sales flyer.

Bush Hills Sales Flyer

Bush Hills was billed as a streetcar suburb to Birmingham, a quieter place to live that was still accessible without having an automobile. The area was also attractive to those who worked at the mills in Ensley.

Bush Hills may have been considered a suburb, but the developers definitely didn’t want a “cookie cutter” neighhborhood. According to the Birmingham Historic Society, there are 22 distinct architectural styles in Bush Hills. Common styles:

  • Bungalow
  • Classical Cottage
  • Old English (Tudor)
  • Craftsman

 

2838 Bush BlvdClassical CottageEnglish Tudor 2English TudorMoore-Billingsley House, 1925,1534 Seventh Avenue WestTudor Revival.jpg

Birmingham-Southern College is located on 192 acres in Bush Hills.

30 Birmingham Neighborhoods in 30 Days – Norwood

During the month of November, I will be blogging like crazy to bring you great tidbits on 30 neighborhoods in Birmingham. Check in daily to see if you learn anything new about where you live.

It’s no accident that Norwood Boulevard curves like a snake. According to the National Register of Historic Places nominating document for the neighborhood, in 1912, B. B. Meriwether, a civil engineer for the Birmingham Realty Company, surveyed and platted “28 full and partial city blocks” for development.

“The intricate plan called for the extension of Birmingham’s grid plan combined with a serpentine boulevard and a circular avenue. The officers of the Birmingham Realty Company named the principal boulevard and the “elite” subdivision for Stanley Norwood, real estate man and friend of Leslie Fullenweider, president of Birmingham Realty. There are some slight similarities between Elyton Land Company’s earlier Highland Avenue development (1885) and its successor’s Norwood project. In addition to a serpentine boulevard, the Highland Avenue neighborhood included two circular avenues, Rhodes and Hanover Circles. Almost thirty years later, Birmingham Realty Company used a serpentine boulevard, Norwood Boulevard, and a circular avenue as well, Norwood Circle. Perhaps, the officers of the Birmingham Realty Company envisioned re-creating the posh Highland Avenue of the late 19th century atop Flint Ridge. Highland Avenue, however, was located at the base of Red Mountain; Norwood was located on the rolling heights of Flint Ridge.”

But these lofty plans were not immune to barriers.  The realty company wanted the streetcar line, operated by Birmingham, Light, and Power Company, to go into the Norwood neighborhood.

“In 1902, the terminus of the streetcar line was 12th Avenue at 26th Street, west of the Southern Railway. By 1904, the line had been extended to 32nd Street along 12th Avenue, the southern-most street of the Norwood neighborhood. Birmingham Realty had anticipated that [the] streetcar line would run up 32nd Street to the end of Norwood Boulevard and then run down the median of the boulevard. The realty company had advertised that Norwood was easily accessible to downtown Birmingham. Realizing that they had no streetcar line to transport its residents, in 1913, Birmingham Realty established the Norwood Transit Company. Despite the name, the company never ran trolleys but began service during the third week of July 1914, using buses with wood streetcar style bodies built by Brill and mounted on two-ton Pierce-Arrow chassis. These are believed to have been the first buses used in Birmingham,” according to the National Register of Historic Places.

With the transportation issue resolved, Birmingham Realty Company launched an advertising blitz. They nicknamed the neighborhood as “The Placid Place” because of Norwood’s elevation over the area’s mills and factories.

Norwood_booklet

The advertising efforts paid off as sales were steady; over 100 houses had been built by 1913. A Norwood booklet (see above), complete with photographs of some of the neighborhood’s most lavish homes, helped entice wealthy residents to move there. In the documentary, “100 Houses,” Richard Dabney, billed as a Norwood resident, stated, “Norwood was Mountain Brook before there was a Mountain Brook.”

National Register of Historic Places: “By 1915, the company was selling twenty-five lots a month and by October of that year, advertisements announced that lots remaining unsold “may now almost literally be counted on the fingers of the hand. But each of them is a choice location.”

You may recognize some of the last names of Norwood’s earliest residents:

  • The Adams of Adams Produce
  • The Broyles of Broyles Furniture Company
  • The Felicities of Consumer Ice Company
  • The Gramercys of Magic City Candy Company
  • The Kidds of Sunnyland Refining Margarine Company
  • The Walkers of Walkers Drug Company
  • The Yeildings of Yeildings Department Store

But in addition to these prominent families, Norwood also attracted teachers, doctors, engineers, lawyers, and employees of surrounding businesses.

“By 1928, those residents of the boulevard could catch a streetcar at the pavilion at the intersection of 15th Avenue, 32nd Street, and Norwood Boulevard. The streetcar line finally reached the 15th Street entrance of Norwood Boulevard in 1922 and by 1928, the tracks had been laid down the median of Norwood Boulevard. The streetcars carried businessmen from their homes in Norwood, down the hill to the central business district of Birmingham and high school students to Phillips High School at 6th Avenue and 24th Street. In 1925, Warren, Knight and Davis, Birmingham’s premier architectural firm, designed a neighborhood elementary school in the Tudor Revival style. Birmingham Realty Company had lobbied the city of Birmingham for a school since it developed Norwood in 1913. By 1925, Dr. J.H. Phillips, Superintendent of Public Schools, resided on Norwood Boulevard and this may have helped in finally securing an elementary school for the neighborhood. In addition to the school, Norwood was served by the Norwood General Hospital, also designed by Warren, Knight and Davis, as well as a the Norwood Baptist Church at 15th Avenue and 26th Streets, and Norwood Methodist Churches at 13th and 31st Streets, both erected in the 1920s,” according to the National Register of Historic Places.

Norwood_Boulevard_Historic_District-540x334

This house at 3224 Norwood Boulevard was built in the 1920s.

To learn more about Norwood and recent revitalization efforts, take a look at “100 Houses, a short documentary.

 

 

30 Birmingham Neighborhoods in 30 Days – Ensley

During the month of November, I will be blogging like crazy to bring you great tidbits on 30 neighborhoods in Birmingham. Check in daily to see if you learn anything new about where you live.

In 1881, Colonel Enoch Ensley, a wealthy businessman from Memphis, arrived in Birmingham. He was in town to conduct business with Henry DeBardeleben, who, because of his tuberculosis, wanted to move out west. According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama:

“Ensley reportedly wrote a $600,000 check on the spot and shortly thereafter bought a majority interest in both the Alice Furnace Company and the Linn Iron Works, although some sources say the payments were made over a six-year period. Combining these entities in 1884, he created the Pratt Coal and Iron Company. Ensley then began to acquire land, which resulted in his owning a substantial amount of real estate in the rapidly growing Birmingham area. Ensley and his mining engineer, Llewellyn Johns, increased output in the Pratt mines by digging additional mine shafts. Ensley also pressed the Alice furnaces, known as “Little Alice” and “Big Alice,” into competition with each other as well as with the Sloss furnace. This approach resulted in “Big Alice” producing 150 tons of pig iron in a single day in 1886, which set a record for southern blast furnaces.”

 

Ensley,_Alabama_(February,_1937)

In 1886, complicated business deals led to the Tennessee, Coal, Iron and Railroad Company taking ownership of Ensley’s mines. Ensley would later become president of TCI before the end of the year.

m-5642

Ensley envisioned a model industrial city on land known as Opossum Valley. (A geological survey report described Opossum Valley as extending “from west of Salem Hills northward and [being] continuous with Murphrees Valley north of Village Springs.”) Ensley named the town, which was founded in 1887, after himself. It was incorporated in 1889. Ensley died in 1891. Ensley did not come into its own until the turn of the century.

TCI built 200 cottages for workers in 1898 and 200 more were added two years later. By 1901, Ensley’s population exceeded 10,000. According to historian Marjorie White:

“[By 1908] more than 30 miles of streets and sidewalks had been paved; water, light, and storm and sanitary sewer systems extended; and a city hall, schools, and a public library built, giving Ensley more public improvements than any other municipality in the area other than Birmingham itself.”

Ensley merged with the city of Birmingham in 1909.

Notable Ensley residents:

Charles Finley – former owner of the Oakland A’s
Izzy Jannazzo – boxer
Sonia Sanchez – poet
Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams – original members of the Temptations

Want to learn more about Ensley? Click here.

 

30 Birmingham Neighborhoods in 30 Days – Fairfield

During the month of November, I will be blogging like crazy to bring you great tidbits on 30 neighborhoods in Birmingham. Check in daily to see if you learn anything new about where you live. 

You may already know that Fairfield started out as a planned company town for the Tenessee, Coal, Iron and Railroad Company, to house workers for what was to become Fairfield Steel Works. When founded in 1910, the town was named Corey, after William Ellis Corey, TCI’s president at the time.

According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, Corey was originally designed for 15,000 people and was based on Gary, Indiana’s layout.

“It was also intended for a skilled and largely white workforce. Built on wide, tree-lined streets (nearly 30,000 trees and shrubs were planted around town and in parks), Corey’s early housing featured a variety of modern styles that were affordable for the various employee positions, with indoor plumbing and central heat, and that were available for rent or purchase. The community also featured easily accessible parkways, parks, playgrounds, athletic fields and tennis courts, churches, and a public library. Several buildings were adorned with ornate brickwork, and some streets were named for company executives and Alabama industrialists.”

In 1913, authorities at TCI’s parent company,  United States Steel Corporation (which had purchased TCI six years earlier), decided to change the town’s name to Fairfield (after the Connecticut hometown of U.S. Steel’s president, James Ferrell). The name change was prompted by Corey’s scandalous affair with a New York chorus girl, which led to his divorce and estrangement from his young son.

Corey

William E. Corey

 

Fairfield Steel Works was finished in 1917, just in time to begin manufacturing parts for ships being built in Mobile for World War I.

Fairfield Steel Works

Fairfield Steel Works (1993)

 

TCI’s Employees Hospital was open in 1919. (In 1950, It was later named after Lloyd Noland, long-time superintendent of TCI’s health department.)

Employees Hospital

In the 1920s, TCI set up two high schools – Fairfield High School for white students and Fairfield Industrial High School for the black pupils.

Some notable one-time Fairfield residents:

Willie Mays (Mays was born in Westfield, a company town TCI originally set up for its black workers, but he was raised in Fairfield.)

U.W. Clemon – former United States district judge

Red Cochran and and Jim Tolbert – former NFL players

Cleveland Eaton – jazz musician

Doug Jones – U.S. senator

Larry Langford, former mayor of Fairfield and Birmingham

Spider Martin, photographer

Want to learn more about Fairfield? Click here.