NEXT MEETING: April 20, 2017
Reception at 6:30 p.m. Meeting at 7:00 p.m.
Emmet O’Neal Library, Mountain Brook
SPEAKER: James Lowery
TOPIC: Birmingham Mineral Railroad
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s there some hidden connection between Mountain Brook and the sinking of the Titanic in 1912? What can this be you may ask? Mountain Brook is a long way from the famous ship’s port of call. Well, come to our April 11th meeting to find out. Julie Williams has addressed the JCHA previously on the Wright Brothers’ flying experience in Alabama and was warmly received.
A professor of journalism at Samford University, she is past president of the American Journalism Historians Association, holds a BA degree in History and English from Principa College and a Master’s in Journalism from University of Alabama, as well as a PhD in Mass Communications from The University of Alabama. She is the author of Wings of Opportunity, the Wright Brothers in Montgomery, Alabama.
By Julie Williams
By Staci Glover
103 years ago
March 26, 1910
Orville Wright piloted the first plane in Alabama, causing the Montgomery Advertiser to report "a strange new bird soared over the cotton fields 90 miles south of Birmingham." The Wright brothers came to Montgomery to set up a pilots’ training school.
Several pilots were trained, but the brothers left the area by the end of May. Replacement parts for broken machinery were difficult to locate in the area and the flyers’ efforts were frustrated by numerous spectators during their stay.
am deeply pleased to become your president this year. Following Alice Williams is a pleasure—she is an extraordinary woman, superb at making judgments as to the future, careful as to her guesses as to what the surprises may be, always thinking about the welfare of our organization. I am deeply honored, and I thank her for leaving our decks so spick and span. Her reputation for care and detail and good sense is well earned.
We are also indebted to our other officers and board members for their attention and care. One of the products of that attention and care is the Newletter, which has never looked better. We are always on the lookout for interesting articles and I hope we hear from you for ideas and for articles as well.
Several days ago I had the pleasure of attending the meeting of the board of our History Museum affiliate. I serve on that board because of my office as your president. The meeting was outstanding-almost 100% attendance, many thoughtful ideas and much energy. We will be hearing a report of the museum activities at our upcoming Members meeting from its director.
We are pushing forward on the plan to videotape all of our member meetings, and make those DVDs available to members as well as to the people who use the library facilities at Emmet O’Neal. If you wish you can purchase a copy of these DVDs at the library.
I look forward to seeing you at the Members’ meeting on April 11. Our outstanding speaker will be introduced by another of our members, Bill Barnes. As you know these programs are in the charge of Vice President Craig Allen, an enthusiastic and ingenious historian himself. He will tell us about the program in July.
The sad death of Tom West leaves a big abyss in our hearts. His love of history, his willingness to do the work to get things done, his constant eye for the very right piece of furniture or document to add to the Museum’s collection, his total lack of any fear in expressing his views, all these parts of his being and so many more have helped make our organization a splendid one.
— Tom Carruthers, JCHA President
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112 Meadow Croft Circle, Birmingham, AL 35242
he Jefferson County Historical Association morns the passing of its spiritual leader and former president, Thomas Mabson West, Jr. on February 8. An active member to the end, Tommy also headed up the society’s historic marker program and was first to propose the JCHA create the Birmingham History Center.
He was born August 9, 1940, the son of Thomas Mabson West, Sr. and Kathryn Reynolds West. He attended the University of Alabama where he was a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity, graduated from Samford University with a Bachelor of Science and Cumberland School of Law with a Juris Doctor degree.
From an early age he had a great interest in history and descended from the founders of both Birmingham and Montgomery, unique in Alabama history. Memberships included First Families of Alabama, Society of the Revolution (president), Society of the War of 1812 (president), Jefferson County Historical Association (president), Friends of the Irondale Furnace (president), Society of Colonial Wars (Lt. Governor), Newcomen Society, English Speaking Union, Birmingham Exchange Club, and Jamestown Society. He erected twenty-six historical markers throughout Birmingham, Mountain Brook, Homewood, Montgomery, and Mobile.
His proudest achievement was as founder of the Birmingham History Center. Birmingham, founded in 1871, lacked the history museums of Montgomery, Mobile and Huntsville, and that need was finally filled.
He loved his church, Independent Presbyterian, and served four terms on the Board of Deacons and as Moderator (president) of the Board of Shepherds. As an insurance agent since 1974, he served as president of the Birmingham Association of Health Underwriters, Board of Directors of the Birmingham Independent Insurance Agents, and Board of Directors of the Birmingham Association of Life Underwriters, a rare combination of leadership in all three insurance disciplines.
Memberships also included Montgomery Country Club, The Club, and the Phi Delta Theta Alumni Club of Birmingham. Pursuant to his interest in history he produced three important books: Historic Birmingham and Jefferson County by James R. Bennett, The Elyton Land Company Minutes Books, and The History of Jefferson County before 1850 by Will Franke.
Tommy was a devoted husband, father, and friend. He was preceded in death by his parents and is survived by his wife of 23 years, Mary Ellen Holman West, stepdaughter Dr. Kristin Carroll Bains, her husband Jason Scott Bains, and his golden retriever Sherlock.
Donations to his memorial fund may be sent to JCHA Treasurer Harry Bradford,
P. O. Box 130285,
Birmingham, AL 35213‑0285.
Mr. and Mrs. Borden H. Burr II
Mr. and Mrs. Thomas H. Ritchie
Mr. and Mrs. Charles M. Miller
Ms. Carolyn H. Reich
Mrs. Agnes Donalson Roberts
Mr. and Mrs. Ross Askins
Mr. and Mrs. Harry F. Bradford
Ms. Paula J. Cox
Ms. Susan N. Nuckolls
Mr. and Mrs. Mell Gage Smith
Mr. and Mrs. Thad Long
June M. and Louise G. Moody
Mr. William B. Phillips, Jr.
Mr. and Mrs. Michael Balliet
Mr. Jeffrey Bains
Mr. and Mrs. William N. Clark
Mrs. Alice McSpadden Williams
Mrs. Minna Ruth Hill
Mr. and Mrs. Gary G. Gerlach
Mrs. Bartley Statham
Mr. and Mrs. Paul M. Pankey, Jr.
Mr. and Mrs. J. Sharp Gillespy
Mr. William Yougene
Mr. and Mrs. Olin Beall Barnes, Jr.
Mr. and Mrs. George T. Lane III
Mr. and Mrs. Willard McCall, Jr.
Mr. and Mrs. John E. Carroll
Ms. Leah Rawls Atkins
Mr. and Mrs. John J. Kuklinski, Jr.
Mrs. Sue Bates Watkins
Dr. and Mrs. Roy T. Flannagan
Mr. and Mrs. H. D. Wages
Mr. and Mrs. Dale Andrews
Dr. and Mrs. E. W. Stevenson
Mr. David Bates
Mr. and Mrs. Meade Whitaker
Mr. and Mrs. Walter E. Shackelford
Mrs. Ann W. Relfe
Sirote and Permutt PC
Mr. and Mrs. Jim Bennett
Mr. and Mr. James R. Haise
Editor’s Note: This is the last article written by Tommy West for the Jefferson Journal before his death.
—by: Thomas M. West, Jr.
id you know that 57 years ago Ervin Jackson and Newman H. Waters built the first office park in America? Few people were even aware of this and therefore this is one of the most important of the 23 markers erected by the Jefferson County Historical Association, many of which are in the Mountain Brook area.
The new idea of getting office workers out of Birmingham’s downtown office buildings and into a suburb with free parking, attractive low-rise architecture, easy access and beautiful landscaping had never been tried before so Jackson and Waters were taking a daring risk. But their idea worked and office parks were soon found all over the country. It all began in Mountain Brook.
The developers themselves were as interesting as the project itself.
The Jackson brothers, Erwin and Philip, Sr., hailed from a long line of super achievers who led the effort to create the Vulcan Statue plus involvement in mining, mortgage lending, savings and loan, insurance, property management, bedding manufacturing, banking and even the Federal Reserve Board. Truly, the Jackson family has meant much for generations to the Birmingham area.
Office Park’s co-developer, the late Newman H. Waters, stands out as one of the most fascinating and amazing people in Birmingham’s recent history. He was first known as a neighborhood theater magnate and his Waters Theaters chain dominated Jefferson County for many years.
If you lived in Mountain Brook, Homewood or Vestavia, you went to the "Homewood", the façade of which remains today over bicycle and toy stores on the main drag. If you lived in Forest Park, you went to the “Avon” which remains today as a social venue. If you liked drive-ins, there was the "Starlite" and "Shades Mountain." Waters Theaters covered almost all of Jefferson County.
These Waters theaters, which ran "second run" movies after they left the "Alabama", "Melba", "Ritz", "Empire", etc. were cheap too. Kids under 12 got in for the princely sum of a dime! Popcorn was a nickel and so was a Coke… so for a quarter your parents could drop you off for the Saturday matinee where a typical bill might include "Casablanca", followed by a Roy Rogers or Gene Autry western. "Movietone" news and Previews of Coming Attractions were also favorites.
Waters also built the Eastwood Mall which was one of the largest and most successful enclosed malls in the United States. He lived in the great Swann mansion atop Red Mountain, one of the finest private homes in Alabama.
Of some of the others who helped make Mountain Brook Office Park a reality, F. R. Hoar & Son survives today as Hoar Construction, Harry D. Hester Architecture survives today as Hester & Associates, Waters Enterprises still operates the K‑Mart Shopping Center on the site of the old Starlite‑drive‑in at Eastwood and the Jackson family still operates various businesses locally.