JCHA NEWSLETTER –JULY 2013

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Recent History Center Acquisitions


Knox Top Hat and Case Donated by Eva S. Vare

Knox Top Hat and Case Donated by Eva S. Vare


This top hat and case belonged to Paschal Green Shook, co-founder of the Shook and Fletcher Supply Company (1902).

Paschal Green Shook

Paschal Green Shook

Born into the iron business, Shook over his lifetime made great contributions to the life and progress of Alabama. He served on the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, the Birmingham Community Chest, the Birmingham Chapter of the American Red Cross and the Jefferson County Tuberculosis Sanitarium. Both Birmingham-Southern College and Howard College awarded him honorary degrees in 1946.

The Knox Hat Company was a very well-known maker of both men’s and women’s hats. The company was established as a hat store, Knox the Hatter, by immigrant Charles Knox in 1838. Unfortunately, like many other hat makers, Knox did not survive the 1960s, the era when wearing a hat was no longer necessary in order to be well dressed.

To donate artifacts related to the history of the Birmingham region, please call 205‑202‑4146 or bring items to the History Center at
1731 First Avenue North, Birmingham, AL.

Bechtel-McCone-Parsons Shoulder Patch Donated by Charles Farkas from the collection

Bechtel-McCone-Parsons Shoulder
Patch Donated by Charles Farkas


BMP was founded in 1937 originally as a builder of oil refineries.

 


George F. Wheelock

Photo of George F. Wheelock
Donated by George F. Wheelock, III

Under George "Fred" Wheelock, the Wheelock Company (founded in 1888 by his father) became a wholesale heating supply distributor. Upon his death in 1965, his son, George, Jr. became president of the company. George Wheelock, III became president in 1984.

 
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First in a Series:

The Birmingham Athletic Club, Birmingham’s Premier
Sports Venue of the Early 1900s

—by: Craig Allen


M

any cities have "athletic club" organizations that offer permanent facilities tailored to the fitness, regimen and needs of their subscribed membership. The Downtown Athletic Club of New York City is one example – an organization brimming with sports equipment, basketball courts, hardball courts, racquetball courts, saunas, a restaurant and bar.

It was founded in 1926, the same year the Birmingham Athletic Club went into receivership. The New York club was completed in 1929 and has become nationally recognized not only as a first class facility with services, and social status, but for the announcement and presentation of the Heisman Trophy.

Early-on, in some cities the athletic organizations, known as athletic clubs, were merely "sports life" — type facilities, offering their membership the use of exercise equipment and an organization in which to participate in athletic training and sports. In other locations the clubs were social in nature and represented prestigious and exclusive havens for their pampered membership as well as a socially prominent fixture for the community. The Birmingham Athletic Club of the 1890’s and the early 1900’s was both a sports club and a social organization — at times the most prominent and visible in Birmingham.

Birmingham in the 1880s was a city "on the move." It seemed that all those involved with its early development had little time for anything other than work as they were nurturing the growth of the young city. After all, the miraculous growth of Birmingham, which had taken place in such a short time, would have required such dedication to purpose as to have necessitated long hours on the part of management and blue-collar citizens.

Women’s organizations, in the form of literary clubs, began to appear in the late 1880s while the majority of the organizations for men would be classified as secret and benevolent, mystic and fraternal. In 1908, the Elks Club, the Knights of Columbus, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Eagles, and King Soloman Lodge were all well-established organizations in the city. Many of them had their roots dating to the 1880s.

Birmingham Athletic Club c.a. 1914

Birmingham Athletic Club c.a. 1914.

The Birmingham Athletic Club was founded in 1886 by a group of young men headed by Joseph P. Ross. came to the Magic City bringing with him quite a reputation on the athletic field – specifically rugby. He had played rugby in Ireland prior to coming to the U.S. Among the charter members of the Birmingham Athletic Club were: Albert S. Morton, J. D. Kirkpatrick, Henry Underwood, Victor Martin, and A. M. Chum. The club was at first informal in organization, but was officially certified and incorporated in 1889 as an association "for the encouragement of manly sports and promotion of physical culture." Its stature grew as the city grew.

BAC logo

The "BAC," as the Birmingham Athletic Club was known, provided facilities for various activities, fielded teams of diverse sports, and sponsored meets and athletic programs throughout the city and the Southeast. Always with its own facility, the Birmingham Athletic Club remained a prominent downtown fixture in the late 1880s and early 1900s.

Herbert L. Cobbs

Ironically, the same year as the founding of the BAC in 1886, Herbert L. Cobbs was born in Birmingham (some records place his birth year at 1888). Herbert Cobbs was the son of James Bass Cobbs and Susan Belle Little Cobbs. Herbert’s father, James B. Cobbs, had acted as president of the Birmingham Clearing House during the Financial Panic of 1893. James B. Cobbs earlier had served as the head cashier and officer of the Berney National Bank until the bank was absorbed by the First National Bank in 1900‑1901. He then transferred to the Birmingham Trust and Savings Bank, serving as its vice-president. Arthur W. Smith was president of the Birmingham Trust and Savings Bank at the time. Cobbs then secured controlling stock in the Alabama National Bank and became president of the institution. In 1905, when this bank was sold to American Trust, Mr. Cobbs, Sr. organized the Citizens Trust & Saving Bank and remained with this bank until 1907 when he entered the insurance and real estate business (J.B. Cobbs Insurance Company). Later he was appointed assistant Federal Reserve agent of the Birmingham Branch of the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank (1919).

Herbert L. Cobbs and William B. Cobbs.

Herbert L. Cobbs                                William B. Cobbs.

James B. Cobbs’ son, Herbert L. Cobbs, had a sister and two brothers: Mrs. R. G. Dawson (married name), William Boykin Cobbs, and Elwyn Douglass Cobbs. Herbert was educated in the Birmingham School System. He and his brother Billy (Billie) Cobbs joined the Growlers’ Club (which would later become The Redstone Club) in late 1908 or early 1909. Although not charter members of the club, they both immediately became two of the Growlers’ most active members. Billy Cobbs was known to "dress up" in costume on the occasion of many of the early Growlers’ parties. He was known as "the life of the party" among the Growlers’ membership. Herbert, on the other hand, was more of an organizer and leader, and became president of the Growlers in 1909, serving from June 1909 to January 9, 1910.

Serving as president of the Growlers for six months, he later resigned from the club, was reinstated, and again resigned in 1918. Another prominent Birmingham men’s club was to capture most of Herbert’s attention in the immediate years following 1918, the Birmingham Athletic Club.

Herbert L. Cobbs first appeared on the BAC membership rolls in 1912. By that year, Herbert Cobb’s interest in the Growlers’ organization was waning and his "fulltime" involvement with the BAC was "growing." By 1912, the BAC had already experienced a fluid past. The club had been since its inception flush with "enthusiastic young men — full of hopes and expectations, but at times short on cash."

The Birmingham Athletic Club first rented a group of rooms above a store on Powell Avenue and Twentieth Street where they filled the rooms with athletic equipment. They later moved to the Potter Building on First Avenue North. The membership, growing by number in 1892, made their third move to an old Methodist church building, again filling the building with their equipment.

Football Ticket

Birmingham Athletic Club – 5
University of Alabama – 4

The year "1892" stands as an important milestone in the history of the Birmingham Athletic Club and a rather ominous beginning for the University of Alabama Football Program. The University of Alabama first played a scheduled football game in Birmingham in November of 1892. The Cadets of Alabama or the "Thin Red Line," as they were called by some, played their first regular opponent on Nov. 12, 1892; it being the Birmingham Athletic Club. (Alabama had previously played a scrimmage game on November 11, 1892 against Birmingham High School and won handily — 56‑0.) From the book, The Crimson Tide, by Winston Groom, the following is a description of the first scheduled game of the University of Alabama:

"Flushed with the initial victory (over the Birmingham High School), the Cadets of Alabama played on the following day — Nov. 12, 1892 — against their first real opponent, the Birmingham Athletic Club, at Lakeview Park. Under intercollegiate rules of the period a touchdown counted for four points, an after touchdown conversion — two‑points, and a field goal — five points. Newspaper accounts say the grandstand was filled with gaily dressed men and women and the bleachers were decorated with colored bunting."

It was reported that Alabama lost to BAC due to J.P. Ross’s 65‑yard field goal; it was quite a kick in anybody’s book. (If true, this is one of the longest field goals ever recorded.) The BAC game will go down in the sports annals as the first loss in the long and distinguished history of Alabama Football. The BAC and the University played on several other occasions with the following results:

Dec. 10, 1892 – Alabama, 14; BAC, 0.
Oct. 14, 1893 – BAC, 4; Alabama 0.
Nov. 4, 1893 – BAC, 10; Alabama, 8.
Oct. 24, 1896 – Alabama, 30; BAC, 0.

Other "athletic clubs" also played against Alabama in season-scheduled games including: the Tuscaloosa Athletic Club, Montgomery Athletic Club, Pensacola Athletic Club, and the New Orleans Athletic Club. (Professor W. P. Taylor, of Yale, was the leading spirit in regards to arranging the first games of football to be played in Birmingham. He had, in the 1890’s, opened a boy’s academy on the north side of the city.)

The Birmingham Athletic Club Basketball Team 1907 – 1908.

The Birmingham Athletic Club Basketball Team 1907 – 1908.

The fortunes of the BAC began to change by 1893, the year of a formidable financial panic and recession. Membership numbers suffered dramatically during this period and the club, as a body, had to move in with the Y.M.C.A. merely to survive. This period represented the first financial reversal and crisis for the BAC and began a period of flagging interest in the club on the part of its membership. At one point, in 1893, there were only a handful of members still paying dues. The one bright spot of 1893 was the fielding of a small team of athletes which participated in the Southern Amateur Athletic Union’s Annual Track Meet in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Solon Jacobs

Solon Jacobs

Solon Jacobs

The diminishing membership in 1893 was quickly revived upon the election of Solon Jacobs as BAC president in 1894. Born in Kansas, Solon moved to Birmingham in 1887 where he worked for the Kansas City, Memphis & Birmingham Railroad before starting his own business, Solon Jacobs and Company, and later, the Birmingham Slag Company. He married Pattie Bell Ruffner in 1898 who later became prominent in the woman’s suffrage movement.

During his years as president of the BAC, 1894‑1904, and again in 1912 and 1913 (the same year Herbert Cobbs joined) he directed the club to unprecedented growth. Jacobs led a building move for the Birmingham Athletic Club. The club moved to 2104 First Avenue, North where the facilities included tennis courts on Morris Avenue. During this period (1895‑1904) the club’s membership rose from under 100 members to over 650 and prospered to the extent that many among their membership began to echo the opinion that a club of BAC’s statue deserved an even more modern and luxurious facility and physical presence in the city.

Photos from Hill Ferguson Collection – Birmingham News – 6-20-43.

(Continued in next issue)

 
 

  The Birmingham News, August 1976.

The Birmingham News, June 1947.  

 

 

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