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
n planning a major offensive the Germans thought would clinch their victory, they overlooked the resolve of Allied forces bolstered by the newly-arrived Rainbow Division and its 167th Alabama Infantry.
The 167th earned two honor medals during a long campaign which advanced as far as the Meuse River and claimed the first German prisoners of World War I for the U.S. The heroics at Croix Farm by Alabama soldiers led the way for the Allies to push the Germans out of France.
This story will be told by Montgomery businessman Nimrod T. Frazer at our July 17th meeting. Mr. Frazer is author of a new book on the subject, Send the Alabamians and the cost is $34.95 each. Books will be available.
Mr. Frazer attended Huntingdon College and Columbia University before receiving an MBA degree from the Harvard Business School. He was inducted into the Alabama Business Hall of Fame in 2008. His father fought in every battle participated in by the 167 Infantry Regiment in World War I except for the fighting on the Ourcq River when he was in the hospital from wounds received in the Battle of Croix Rouge Farm. He received two Purple Hearts.
Like his father, Mr. Frazer, received military honors being awarded the Silver Star for Gallantry in Action as a tank commander in Korea. Frazer went on to become chairman and CEO of The Enstar Group.
The Rainbow Division was the only infantry regiment in World War I referred to by its home state – "The Alabama." The viaduct along 21st Street at Richard Arrington Boulevard honors the regiment.
The State’s Rights Party, commonly called the Dixiecrats, assembled their national convention in Birmingham, with over 6,000 delegates from across the South. They selected South Carolina Gov. Strom Thurmond as their presidential nominee and Fielding L. Wright, governor of Mississippi, for vice president.
In the 1948 presidential election the Dixiecrats carried four states, including Alabama, where Democratic candidate Harry Truman’s name did not even appear on the ballot.
The party did not run local or state candidates, and after the 1948 election its leaders generally returned to the Democratic Party.
hope all of you are having a happy summer, and that as you are reading this you are either planning or have had a glorious Fourth of July celebration. We are truly blessed to be citizens of our great nation, and can be deeply thankful for the many freedoms and privileges that citizenship grants. In that vein, VP/Program Chair Tom Carruthers has arranged an outstanding program by Rod Frazer on "Alabama in the Rainbow Division, World War I". This program has been in the making for a year, and will mark our association’s commemoration of the 100th anniversary of World War I.
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112 Meadow Croft Circle, Birmingham, AL 35242
On a board note, Treasurer Harry Bradford and I have been working with the management of the Tutwiler Hotel to have a historical marker made and installed in commemoration of its 100th anniversary. The hotel is finishing up a $4 million renovation and hopes to have the celebration at the end of September or beginning of October. They are also now carrying Jim Bennett’s book, Historic Birmingham & Jefferson County, in their gift shop which features products from Alabama..
As a reminder, the Birmingham History Center’s exhibit will be at The Alabama Power Company Museum until August 8. The grand opening was lovely with great TV coverage. The beautiful old lobby is larger than the prior museum space, and the exhibit well worth your time, showing artifacts that have not been exhibited before. Please do yourself a favor and go visit.
Also, in conjunction with the Virginia Samford Theatre and other community partners, The Birmingham History Center is putting on "Don’t Remind Me", an entertaining game show about Birmingham history featuring some of our city’s most well-known local pundits and personalities. Some of the more than a dozen contestants are John Archibald, former Mayor Richard Arrington, Frank Stitt and James Spann. Show time is 7:30 p.m., Thursday, August 7. Tickets are $25 and available online through VST at www.virginiasamfordtheatre.org. All proceeds go to benefit the History Center. For more information go to www.birminghamhistorycenter.org. or call 205‑202‑4146.
Lastly, I will not be at the July meeting as I will be in Madagascar on a trip rescheduled from last year. Tom and I will be looking for lemurs, sifakas, the aye-aye, tenrecs, and fanalokas to name but a few. You will be in the able hands of Tom Carruthers, Harry Bradford and George Jenkins. Happy summer! See you in October.
— Alice Williams, JCHA President
—by: Jim Bennett
t the turn of the century in 1900, Birmingham had 40 churches and 98 saloons
The most desirable business corners in the city were occupied by taverns of one type or another. While wealthier families occupied themselves in social clubs, the working class frequented downtown drinking establishments.
Many were located along 20th Street including a saloon in the Metropolitan Hotel and another at the corner of 20th and First Avenue, North that would become the site of the Woodward Building.
Across the street sat the Solomon & Levi Saloon which was popular with businessmen. The Dude Saloon, which also had a restaurant, was down the street at 20th and Second.
The Dude Saloon was located in the Webb Building and had rooms upstairs for rent, in case one may have had one too many. It opened the first year Birmingham became a city in 1871 and stayed open through 1907. It offered "regular meals" for 25 cents.
Like many popular saloons of the era, the well-furnished Dude offered tokens to customers which could be exchanged for drinks.
Located on the northwest corner of 20th and First Avenue was another high-end bar at the present site of the Empire Building. The Bank Saloon had marble floors, a large copper chandelier and a 32-foot mirror. It closed in 1908.
The Peerless, located at the corner of Second Avenue and 19th Street, was also a fine establishment. It was a three-story, turn of the century Victoria styled saloon built in 1889 at 1900 2nd Avenue North across the street from the Florence Hotel.
There was also an array of more seedy places where fist fights and gunplay were common.
"No lady ever walked along the block on 20th Street, North between Third and Fourth Avenues," wrote Birmingham Age-Herald reporter C. M. Stanley, "because of the drunks and saloons and beer kegs on the sidewalks she would have to pass."
Louisiana lottery tickets were sold in many of the saloons.
From 19th Street westward, First Avenue, North, Stanley said, was a row of taverns, dives and pool rooms designed to meet the needs of employees of the Birmingham Rolling Mill, then on 12th Street and First.
"It was a rough and wild area," he wrote.
No one would be surprised if some drinks got exchanged for votes.
Some of the bawdy bars had colorful histories. The Majestic Burlesque was closed by police in 1903 after a city ordinance banned such shows. The building, which housed its own saloon, had been constructed in 1882 as O’Brien’s Opera House, but had lost its prestige when the traveling vaudeville shows moved to the new Jefferson Theatre in 1900. Under its assumed name as the Gayety, faded beauty managed to hold on until 1910, and it was razed five years later. Many of the old drinking places like the Gayety have been replaced by newer buildings.
The demolition of the Peerless was opposed by many preservationist groups including Operation New Birmingham as it was at the time one of the oldest surviving structures downtown. By May 2001, it was added to the Places in Peril list of the Alabama Historical Commission and the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation.
In summer 2003 it was demolished after its owner, George Ladd of Ladd Property Management, determined it would be too costly to both renovate the structure and bring it up to current building codes. In 2004, Ladd began construction of a new building on the site. Known as the "1900 Building", it was completed in 2005.
Birmingham in the Gay Nineties had become the region’s leading industrial city, evolving from a rough and tumble "boom town" of muddy streets, saloons, fist fights, and shoot outs, to a civilized place with paved streets, gaslights, telephone service, and a public school system. Continued industrial expansion also spurred the rapid growth of unions, particularly among railroad workers, miners, and the building trades.
Unfortunately, people still get shot in some downtown bars. You read about it every other week. In that aspect, we have some of the "Wild West" with us still.
ou might not realize it but downtown Birmingham has some skyscrapers that are over 100 years old. One of them, the Frank Nelson Building, just turned 111.
Although remodeled a number of times, the Birmingham landmark opened the year the Model A Ford was first produced and Theodore Roosevelt was in the White House.
It stands as a 10-story office building at the northeast corner of 20th Street and 2nd Avenue North. Originally known as the First National Bank Building, it was completed in 1903 as the bank’s new headquarters.
It is considered Birmingham’s third skyscraper. Architects for the building were William Weston and Charles Wheelock & Sons. It was named for bank executive Frank Nelson in 1939, and cost about $700,000 to build.
The office tower later became the home of the Birmingham School of Law. The street-level floor along both 20th and 2nd Avenue provides storefronts for the UPS Store, Trattoria Centrale and Pita Loco. It also currently houses various law firms, technology companies and miscellaneous professional offices. A. & A. Ash Jewelers was previously located in the prominent corner space. The Woodruff Manufacturing Company also has offices in the building.
When constructed, its concrete caissons were sunk 20-30 feet below the basement level. It features just over 1,600 tons of steel in its structural frame. During the Depression, temperature control meant opening or closing windows unless they were nailed shut.
Its namesake, Frank Nelson (1864–1927), was one of Birmingham’s most prominent businessmen. He became president of the Empire Coal Company in 1904 and the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce in 1909. He organized the Empire coal firm with the help of the Steiner Brothers (bankers) buying out the interests of Henry W. Milner, son of John T. Milner, one of the founders of the city.
Born in Shelby County during the Civil War, he initially took up making charcoal in large amounts to supply both the post-war Brierfield and Shelby Iron Furnaces. He also entered the banking business in Anniston and pursued real estate ventures in North Birmingham. During his lifetime he was instrumental in the establishment of 30 manufacturing plants in Jefferson and Walker Counties.
Interestingly, actor Mickey Rooney married Betty Jane Race, a former Miss Alabama, in the Frank Nelson House in 1944. The estate was eventually taken over as part of the Southeastern Bible College.