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