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Place Names in Jefferson County
How Gardendale got it’s name


fter Andrew Jackson defeated the Creeks at Horseshoe Bend in 1814, Abraham Stout was commissioned to build a public road in 1822–1823 from Morgan County to Elyton. He closely followed the old Indian trails for the route, which came directly through what is now Gardendale.

Pioneers had already arrived in the area and after the completion of Stout’s Road, some had settled and purchased land here, the first recorded in 1824 by John Belcher. Others quickly followed, including Otis Dyer in 1828 and Zachariah Stagg in 1834. James K. Jacks operated a tollgate on Stout’s Road, as it passed near his plantation.

Coal mines opened nearby in the 1870s, several operated by John T. Milner, one of the founders of Birmingham and surveyor of the South & North Railroad. Milner donated lumber to build the first school in Gardendale in 1892 which was named Milner School.

Desmond to Give Wilson’s Raid Talk

Jerry Desmond, curator of the Birmingham History Center, will be speaking at Arlington April 14 on Wilson’s Raid, "The Last Campaign of the Civil War". The talk includes a lunch – the cost is $15.00. Members should call in advance for a seat, they can sit about 50–60. The telephone number for Arlington is 205-780-5656 to call for a reservation.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the close of the war. Wilson’s Raid into Alabama and Georgia in 1865 was the largest cavalry operation of the entire war.

The need for additional medical services was a pressing problem. University Hospital was an outgrowth of the older Hillman Clinic next door. The Jefferson County Commission hired prominent local architect Charles H. McCauley to design a seven-story annex to cost $1.5 million in U.S. Public Works Administration funds. By the time the building was dedicated in December 1940, nine more floors were added at a final cost of $2.25 million.

Welcome to Gardendale sign

Early on, Gardendale was known as Jugtown, named for a jug factory located here in the 1870s. It was operated by James Y. Miller near the current location of the Village Green Shopping Center. Through efforts of Hettie Thompson Cargo, the name was changed to Gardendale in 1906. Although the community grew as a north-of-town suburb, Gardendale was not chartered until 1955.

To Paris with Love Movie ad 1957

Birmingham News, 1957.


Now And Then
Rhodes-Carroll Furniture Company, 2020 Third Avenue, North


he Rhodes Carroll Furniture Company, located on Third Avenue, North between 20 and 21st Streets, was the site of a major downtown fire on Feb. 26, 1920. However, the firm recovered and operated into the 1970s.The building today houses Standard Furniture which took over operations there in 1978 after the building had been vacant for several years.

Standard Furniture store

It has been the home
of Standard Furniture
since 1978.

Rhodes-Carroll Furniture Company, 2020 Third Avenue, North on fire

As it appeared during a major
fire, February, 1920
(Birmingham News Collection,
Birmingham Public Library).


The cause of the fire was not ascertained although it was discovered about 3:30 pm. When the Birmingham Fire Department arrived the fire had already gained considerable headway having spread from the fourth floor. There were 44 firemen engaged. The firemen were successful in confining the fire to the building of origin but part of a side wall fell on the roof of a two story building adjacent occupied by the Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company and a clothing company inflicting damage estimated at about $20,000. Three members of the fire department were slightly injured. The Rhodes Carroll building was a 4-story brick structure 60x140 feet in area and had no private fire protection. It was valued at $125,000 and the damage was estimated at $75,000. It was seven hours before the fire was completely stopped and the "all out" report given.

The store was managed for many years by John A. Carroll (1880‑1943) for whom John Carroll High School is named. Interestingly other John Carroll high schools around the nation were named for Bishop John Carroll, the first archbishop of the U.S. (1789‑1815).

Furniture was big business downtown. Even in the heart of the Depression in 1937, Birmingham hosted more than 70 furniture stores.


Brock’s Gap Marker Replaced


hanks to the Hoover Public Works Department, the Brock’s Gap historical marker sponsored by the Jefferson County Historical Association has been replaced.

The older marker had been destroyed by moving vehicles twice previously. The marker was moved into a redecorated and re-sodded entrance area to the Gap on the north side of South Shades Crest Road safer from traffic hazards. Additionally a three-car parking area was installed. The sign is in excellent view to the driver coming from either direction. Commercial signage was removed.

The old railroad gap is actually across the road slightly to the left. Do not confuse the original cut with the modern railroad tracks. John Milner was tasked by the State of Alabama in 1858 to survey a route across Shades Mountain for the South & North Railroad. The S&N was intended to connect the mineral resources south of Shades Mountain, coal, limestone, and iron ore, with the developing industries in the area that would later become Birmingham. Brock’s Gap was selected as the best way to cut through Shades Mountain and the rail route was constructed between 1858 and 1871, interrupted by the Civil War. At Brock’s Gap, workers used nitroglycerin in 1870 to blast a cut 75 feet deep through limestone bedrock. During the war, the unfinished rail line was used as a wagon road taking iron shipments from both the Irondale and Oxmoor Iron Furnaces to the existing railhead near Helena where they could be transferred at Calera to the Alabama & Tennessee River Rail line headed toward the Confederate Gun Works at Selma. While the original plans called for blasting through Brock’s Gap, Confederate authorities denied the use of gun powder for that purpose saying it was more valuable for use by rifles and artillery. During the war rail was laid only to the community of Sydenton on the north side of the Cahaba River Bridge. The rest of the route back to Shades Valley was an unfinished dirt tramway. An 1888 map shows a parallel road to the then existing railroad and an interesting loop around Brock’s Gap indicating engineers, awaiting completing of the cut through the heavy limestone deposit in 1870, might have previously used a looping side road to get around the Gap.

Newly replaced Brock’s Gap historical marker

Newly replaced Brock’s Gap historical marker and scenic parking area. The marker was originally on the north side of the road.
(Dr. Ed Stevenson).

Union forces raced down this route to burn the Gould Coal Mines and Helena Rolling Mill in 1865.

Directions to marker: Take State Road 150 to South Shades Crest Road. Turn left on Shades Crest Road South at the YMCA. Travel a couple of miles on Shades Crest Road South. Soon you will pass an entrance to Trace Crossings on your left. Brock’s Gap is at the bottom of the Hill.

Sources: Thanks to Dr. Ed Stevenson for contributing information used in this article. Other sources: Historic Birmingham & Jefferson County, James Bennett, 2010; USGS Map, 1888 but dated 1890; 1873 Alabama map; 1868 map included in an advertisement of the Mineral Lands of the Red Mountain Iron & Coal Company.


Ethel Armes, The Rest Of Her Story

—by: Tom Badham


istorian and writer Ethel Armes came to Birmingham in 1905 at age 29 to live with her extended family at what is now 11th Place South, just down the mountain from where The Club is now. Near that location the Valley View iron mine was in operation. From her second floor balcony she could see the red ore dust stained miners walking down the hillside each day at 6 PM. By the second day she was in Birmingham, she began to think about writing a history of the Birmingham Mineral District.

The genteel well-educated Armes family was from Washington D.C. Her brother George came to Birmingham as a civil engineer with the L&N Railroad. Her brother J. Herbert worked as a senior clerk for TCI. Her brother Edmund was a student at the University of the South. Her sister, Dorothy, was a teacher at the Bryan Kindergarten. Miss Armes’ father was a career US Army officer, and her maternal grandfather had been a congressman from Maryland.

Educated as both a writer and an artist, Armes quickly got a job as a reporter and columnist for the Birmingham Age-Herald. In 1907 she convinced the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce led by Robert Jemison, Jr. to fund her project to research and write a book about the history of Alabama coal and iron mining. She originally thought it would take about three months. Later she wrote, "What I thought was a little hill to climb turned out to be a Matterhorn."

During the four years of her intensive research the Chamber paid her very little. Her difficulties increased when she contracted typhoid fever. Often joined by her sister Dorothy, she hiked through the woods visiting abandoned blast furnaces and bee hive coke ovens. She violated miner superstitions by going down into working coal and iron mines. Standing at working blast furnaces, she watched as molten iron was poured into sand beds. She observed the red hot iron in rolling mills and walked factory floors while taking notes on all she saw.

She personally interviewed hundreds of the early miners, engineers, businessmen and industrialists who founded and expanded the district’s mining locales and industries. Often she was given the only extant copy of a report or letter which has since been lost. To further her understanding, she completed a course on mine rescue from the US Bureau of Mines at the West End Station in Birmingham. She received the only completion certificate earned by any woman at that time (1915).

Though she was a member of the Birmingham Country Club, she became an advocate for women’s suffrage and openly supported efforts to improve the working conditions of miners. She supported child labor reforms, regulation of loan sharks, smoke abatement and economic injustice.

Ethel Armes

The Story of Coal and Iron in Alabama almost disappeared shortly after it was published late in 1910. Several hundred first edition copies were stored in the Chalifoux Building at the corner of First Avenue North and 19th Street where the Chamber of Commerce had its offices. A fire broke out destroying many copies. Also in 1910, she wrote and illustrated with sketches a small book printed by University Press, Sewanee, Tenn., titled, Midsummer in Whittier’s Country, A Little Study of Sandwich Center. The book depicted life in New Hampshire from colonial days to the 20th century.

Her increasing dislike of industrial working conditions and her liberal social advocacy in Birmingham led her to move to Boston, Mass., in 1917. She became a staff member of the Boston Herald. She also wrote and edited articles for the Girl Scouts. In 1920 she and her mother moved to New York City and lived in a large boarding house. Miss Armes took a position with the New York Department of Community Service while contributing free lance articles to various publications.

Two years later she wrote The Washington Manor House, England’s Gift to the World. This account of George Washington’s family ancestral home in Northhamptonshire, Great Britain, was published by the Sulgrave Institution and printed in New York.

At the death of her mother in 1927, she moved to an apartment overlooking Long Island Sound in Greenwich, Conn., supporting herself by writing for assorted periodicals and magazines. While working on a biography of "Light Horse" Harry Lee at the artist colony in Petersboro, N.H. she suffered a fatal heart attack on Sept. 28, 1945.

Sources: Birmingham News Obituary 29 September 1945; Alabama Review Vol. 22, Ethel Armes and The Story of Coal and Iron in Alabama by Hugh Baile; Preface by James R. Bennett, 2011 edition, The Story of Coal and Iron in Alabama. The University of Alabama Press has recently reprinted this book and it can be ordered at:



Recent History Center Acquisitions

Carriage House Menu from the Thomas Jefferson Hotel

Carriage House Menu from the Thomas Jefferson Hotel

Recently the new owners of the Thomas Jefferson Hotel building on First Avenue and 17111 Street North allowed representatives of the History Center to tour the building to look for treasures. Without heat while the building is being renovated, we swept the building from the basement to the dirigible mooring tower in the roof (the only such tower left in the United States). Several items were found including a menu (above) from the hotel's Carriage House Restaurant . Based on t he menu prices, this item was probably from the 1960s. Our favorite is "Casserole of Fresh Gulf Shrimp a Ia Creole with Steamed Rice" for $1.25.

History Center building


Bring any items of historical interest to our new office at 310 18th Street North, Suite 401. Our phone number and e-mail has stayed the same: 205-202- 4146    Email:

Thomas Jefferson Hotel postcard from the collection
photos of a room service memo checklist (to contol inventory), a tag for items checked at the hotel and a luggage tag.

The photos above are of a room service memo
checklist (to control inventory), a tag for items
checked at the hotel and a luggage tag.

The Thomas Jefferson Hotel opened in 1929, one month before the stock market crash. It had 350 rooms, an ornate marble lobby and a large ballroom. The ground floor incorporated space for six shops and the basement included a billiard room and barber shop. The ballroom and dining rooms on the second floor opened out onto roof terraces from which the main tower rose.




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