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How Hoover Got Its Name

Thanks to Vadie Honea, founder of the Hoover Historical Society


ver wonder how a city got its name?

    Take Hoover, for instance. It was named for William H. Hoover who organized the Employers Mutual Insurance of Alabama in 1921 with offices in Birmingham. In 1944 he purchased 160 acres of land along a narrow dirt logging road called Tyler Road in the Bluff Park area where he erected a two-room log cabin from trees cut off his property.

In 1947 their beautiful home was completed and the family moved in. When the Alabama Highway Department in 1953 began widening Highway 31 from the crest of Shades Mountain in Vestavia to the Cahaba River, Mr. Hoover, the visionary that he was, began buying land on Highway 31 south of Vestavia. He organized the South Jefferson Company as a holding company of Employers Mutual Insurance of Alabama to handle real estate transactions.

Mr. Hoover moved his company, then known as Employers Insurance of Alabama, Inc., to Highway 31 and began purchasing land for the construction of dwellings for his employees. This area was identified as the Hoover Community. In 1959 residential growth was encouraged by the first Parade of Homes sponsored by the Birmingham Association of Home Builders with a house at 1821 Valgreen Lane raffled off to purchasers of tickets selling for one dollar.

That year he gave land for the development of the Green Valley Country Club and a nine-hole golf course. The Hoover Volunteer Fire Department was formed and incorporated in May 1962, its first fire truck was purchased from the City of Birmingham. Ralph Sheppard was appointed to serve as fire chief. The Hoover Civic Club, formed in 1965, printed a telephone directory for this community listing family members with ages.

The need to incorporate the community was soon recognized to protect its boundaries. In December 1964 an attempt was made to incorporate the residential developments of Hoover and Green Valley as the town of Hoover. Area residents chose not to incorporate. Residents of the Hoover area decided to attempt another incorporation vote on April 28, 1967. This time the petitioning area was smaller, consisting of four blocks long and one block wide, mostly of the Hoover Community citizens, and was accepted. The population of the new town was 406. An election for a one-year term was held for officials. Don Watts was elected mayor, along with council members O.E. Braddock, Edward N. Ernst, John W. Hodnett, Dwight M. Roper, and Howard W. Rasco. Jack Harrison was hired as the town’s first attorney.

William H. Hoover

William H. Hoover

In May of 1968 an election was held that incorporated the adjacent area called Green Valley with Payton Elliott as mayor. A flaw in the voters’ registration of this election was discovered by the Hoover City attorney and a suit resulted. It was taken to the U.S. Supreme Court and the State of Alabama nullified the incorporation. A bill was passed in the legislature that stated no two cities in Jefferson County could be incorporated within three miles of each other. Because of this Green Valley could not attempt to reincorporate.

The second Hoover election in 1968 was for a four‑year term. Edward Ernest was elected Mayor. A zoning committee was appointed and Gerald R. Smith was appointed inspector for the Department of Inspection Services. Because of ill health, Mr. Earnest was forced to resign. In December 1969, O.E. Braddock moved from the council to serve as mayor. At this time John Harbert, C.E.O. of Harbert International began buying land along Highway 31 and Valleydale Road. He purchased land owned by the Chace brothers in Acton where he later developed the Riverchase subdivision. Braddock made contact with John Harbert for the annexation of Riverchase but this did not materialize. Annexations of other surrounding residential areas began in 1969. Two years later the first city hall was constructed on Highway 31 on land donated by Mr. Hoover with a jail on the first floor.

Today, Hoover is home to The Galleria, the largest shopping mall in Alabama, and its population of 81,619 ranks it as Alabama’s sixth largest city.

Blach's Ad

One Man’s Lunchbox

—by: Jerry Desmond


hat could you tell about a man if you just had his empty lunch box? Not much, probably. The size of the lunch box might tell you a little about his appetite. The elaborateness of the box might tell you a little about his wealth. For working adults in the late 19th and early 20th century, lunchboxes were an earmark of social standing—if you were caught toting one, it indicated that you didn’t have the time or money to go home or out to an eatery for your midday meal.

Capt. Ward’s Lunchbox

Capt. Ward’s Lunchbox

As you can see from the photograph, this lunch box is quite small, only about 8 inches long, 5 inches wide and 2.5 inches tall. It is barely large enough to put a sandwich in it, barely big enough for a full piece of fruit, maybe some dates or apple slices. The box itself is very plain—no pictures of Davy Crockett or President Cleveland or advertisements of any kind. It is obviously old, well-used, made of tin with a front key latch. It is in the collection of the Birmingham History Center—item number 671.26, donated by the Oak Hill Memorial Association.

Captain William C. Ward’s Lunchbox

Luckily, the box came with an old envelope inside. There was nothing in the envelope but on the front cover someone had written in pencil "Gentleman’s Lunchbox of Captain William C. Ward, C.S.A., who moved in 1885 from Selma to Birmingham where he practiced [law] until his death. In those days professional and business men customarily either returned home for the midday meal or carried lunchboxes. Captain Ward rode the streetcar each day to and from 12th Avenue South and First Avenue North. His residence was at 1717 12th Avenue South. His office was in the Steiner Bank Building on First Avenue North at 21st Street. Captain Ward wore a gentleman’s cape in inclement weather and carried his lunchbox daily."

Now we have something to go on. A little digging comes up with a remarkable story of an interesting man. Born in Bibb County, Alabama the same year as Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie (and my great-great grandfather Cornelius Desmond) in 1835 (the year that Haley’s Comet appeared in the 19th century), William Columbus Ward lived on a farm with his parents, David and Elizabeth Ward, near Six Mile. As a young man, he graduated from the University of Alabama in 1858 and became a math teacher at Howard College in Marion until the Civil War started.

He served in the Confederate Army as a corporal in Company G of the famous 4th Alabama Regiment, fighting in most of the early battles in Virginia. On the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg in July of 1863, he was severely wounded while attacking the right flank of the 20th Maine Regiment on Little Round Top. He spent 35 days in a field hospital on the battleground, eventually recovering from his wound. He was exchanged and returned to Alabama. In 1865, he served as captain of Company A of the 62nd Alabama Regiment in defense of the state. He was again wounded, this time at Spanish Fort, and was captured on April 9, 1865. He was a prisoner at Ship Island until paroled on May 1, 1865.

The Steiner Bank Building on First Avenue

The Steiner Bank Building.

The Steiner Bank Building

Returning home, he prepared himself for the bar by private study and began practicing law in Selma in 1866. In 1885, he moved to Birmingham and became general counsel for the Elyton Land Company. In the city, he enjoyed a large and lucrative practice, taking an active interest in education, politics and public affairs while raising six children with his wife, Alice Ann (Bailey) Ward. He became a popular public speaker, giving orations and addresses at various events. In the early 20th century, he published several historical works, including a paper entitled "The Building of the State," for the Alabama Historical Society. He died at his home in Birmingham in 1910, just in time to see the comet come back to the sky.

So, can you tell much from a man’s empty lunch box? In this case, I guess you can. Captain William Columbus Ward was a very busy man. He did not have time, during the day, to go home at noon (to deal with a wife and six children). He barely had time at work to eat lunch. As a former soldier in the Confederate service, he probably became very used to eating little at midday anyway. The size of his lunch box was just right.

One man’s lunchbox, one man’s story.



History of the JCHA

The Jefferson County Historical Association is dedicated to preserving and publicizing local history through regular meetings, publications and events. Founded in 1975 to promote historical preservation efforts, the society has grown to more than 400 members.

Alice McSpadden Williams

Thomas N. Carruthers, Jr.

George L. Jenkins

Harry E. Bradford

Rucker Agee
Lane Carter
Elizabeth Cooper
Chriss Doss
Paul H. Earle
Robert Montgomery
Margaret Sizemore
George Stewart
J. Morgan Smith
Richard J. Stockham
James F. Sulzby, Jr.
S. Vincent Townsend
Henry Tuttle

Board of Directors:
Cathy Criss Adams
Craig Allen, Jr.
Thomas E. Badham
Jim Bennett
Jeanne B. Bradford
Herbert F. Griffin
Judy S. Haise
Ann B. Hillhouse
Robert R. Kracke
Carolyn H. Reich
Barbara (Babs) Simpson
Edward W. Stevenson, MD
Thomas M. West, Jr.

Past Presidents:
J. Morgan Smith
Margaret D. Sizemore
Elmer C. Thuston, Jr.
Chriss Doss
Betsy Bancroft
Tillman W. Pugh
William A. Price
Thomas M. West, Jr.
Madge D. Jackson
Thad G. Long
Don G. Watkins
Fred M. Jackson III
Thomas O. Caldwell, MD
Charles A. Speir
Craig Allen, Jr.
Edward W. Stevenson, MD
Jim Bennett




Jefferson County Historical Association Books

historic birmingham & jefferson county

Historic Birmingham
and Jefferson County
By James R. Bennett
$45 (member discount)

Elyton Land Company Minute Books

Elyton Land Company
Minute Books, 1871-1895
Edited by Thomas M. West, Jr.

History of Jefferson County Before 1850

History of Jefferson County
Before 1850
By Will F. Franke


About JCHA Publications

The Jefferson County Historical Association offers several books that offer a fresh insight into the rich history of Birmingham and Jefferson County Alabama. They tell the fascinating story of the people and industries that made Jefferson County and Alabama the industrial center of the South.

From first-hand accounts to thoroughly researched narratives, The JCHA publishes books that bring forth rich episodes of Jefferson Counties history in a readable style that engages both scholarly and general audiences.

Ordering JCHA Books

These JCHA books can be purchased at meetings of the Jefferson County Historical Association or ordered by mail.

Click the link below to print or save a book order form. PDF format.

Book Order Form

You may also order by sending your check or money order to the following address along with $5.00 for shipping and taxes (please add $2.00 for each additional book):

The Jefferson County Historical Association
PO Box 130285
Birmingham, AL 35213-0285

Please indicate book title and quantity when ordering.


Other Source Publications Co-Sponsored by the JCHA:

  • Tannehill and the Growth of the Alabama Iron Industry — James R. Bennett, Alabama Historic Ironworks Commission, 1999, available at www.tannehill.org, $45.
  • The Valley and the Hills, an Illustrated History of Birmingham and Jefferson County — Leah Rawls Atkins, Windsor Publications, 1981, available at the Birmingham Public Library Southern History Department, http://www.birminghamarchives.org/ArchivesStore.htm, $30


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