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
hen early explorers visited the Southeast and Alabama in the 1700s, they saw "a vast forest of the most stately pine trees that could be imagined".
But Alabama’s state tree, the Longleaf Pine, is now on the endangered list of America’s most imperiled ecosystems. Starting about 150 years ago, over exploitation of the longleaf pine forest accelerated and the face of the southern landscape changed radically.
This story and efforts at restoration will be the subject of Bill Finch’s talk at our October 9 meeting.
Dr. Bill Finch
Dr. Finch, executive director of the Mobile Botanical Gardens, is a writer, conservationist and consultant on environmental issues including the demise of Alabama’s state tree, the longleaf pine. He is also a senior fellow at the Ocean Foundation and a former assistant managing editor of the Mobile Press-Register. He also served as conservation director for the Nature Conservancy.
Legislation requiring licenses for Alabama drivers and authorizing the creation of a State Highway Patrol is approved. Beginning in October, annually renewable licenses were issued to qualified drivers at least 16 years old. License fees were designated to fund the State Highway Patrol, which Gov. Bibb Graves established in December.
Alabama lawmakers pass legislation requiring a new look for the state’s license plates. Beginning in October 1954, tags were to carry an image of a heart and the phrase, “Heart of Dixie,” a slogan that had been used for several years by the Alabama State Chamber of Commerce to promote the state.
hope all of you have had a wonderful summer and are looking forward to a fall/winter season of more outstanding programs arranged by VP/Program Chair Tom Carruthers. The upcoming one, while somewhat of a departure from the norm, features Bill Finch talking about long leaf pines, which, while they still grow here now, used to grow all across the South in the millions. He will be accompanied by noted photographer, Beth Maynor Young, and they will have copies of the book, "Longleaf: Far as the Eye Can See," available for purchase. I am really looking forward to it.
Articles submitted for consideration should be 750‑800 words and must include the writer’s name, address and daytime telephone number or email. Several high resolution photos are also requested. Stories may be edited for grammar, spelling and brevity.
Email: Jim Ben net, Editor.
Mail: The Jefferson Journal,
112 Meadow Croft Circle,
Birmingham, AL 35242.
Published quarterly by and for the membership of the Jefferson County Historical Association.
Copyright © 2012. All rights reserved.
Jim Bennett, Editor Email:
Judy Haise Email:
Tom Badham Email:
Dr. Ed Stevenson Email:
Treasurer Harry Bradford and I are still working with the management of the Tutwiler Hotel on their upcoming 100th anniversary celebration which will be November 6, 2014. In response, the hotel is now a corporate member of our Association. The work on their commemorative historical marker is in progress; we are also trying to arrange for a display of some of the hotel memorabilia that is in the collection of the Birmingham History Center. Harry has also been successful in collecting insurance money for our twice-damaged Brock’s Gap marker. It is the first of our markers, and Sewah Studios is working to remake it using the new logo of the Association. The City of Hoover has agreed to reinstall it.
The Birmingham History Center’s production of "Don’t Remind Me" was a rollicking success. It was hilariously funny, very well attended, and did raise a nice amount for their general fund. It was also an event I hope we will be able to repeat next year. Jerry Desmond, executive director, has a new book out which he will have at the October meeting.
I missed being with you at the July meeting, which I hear was excellent, and thank Tom Carruthers and the officer team for taking over. Tom and I did not see either the aye-aye or the fanaloka in Madagascar, but did see lots of lemurs, indris, sifakas and tenrecs. See you October 9.
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: Robert J. Lindberg and Joseph Mitchell
oseph Mitchell, formerly of Birmingham-Fairfield, grandson of Joshua Lafayette Mitchell, cherishes a May 1, 1904 Atlanta Constitution article that he showed at a family reunion recently. The article is about his grandfather and the trestle that crossed New Found Creek west of Mt. Olive for more than a hundred years.
The trestle has had several names: L&N Trestle #10, Cane Creek Branch Line Trestle, Trestle near Crocker Junction or Brookside Trestle. This magnificent frame work was a single track, timber and ballast deck bridge built for the Pratt Coal and Coke Company to service the newly opened Mineral Springs Mine in Jefferson County. Four decades later, in World War II the trestle was used for hauling dynamite from the DuPont powder planet in Brookside. It was a magnificent beauty and a colossal example of turn of the century engineering.
On April 29, 1904, Joshua, only 38 years old, from Logansville, Georgia, and the rest of his crew, working with W.H. Moore and Bros. , also of Georgia, completed, after two years of backbreaking work, the herculean task of grading and blasting and constructing the enormous rail bridge. It was 115 feet high, 720 feet long, with a curve in one end. It contained 600,000 feet of timber. Each trestle bent was made of 151 pieces of timber, many of them "12 by 12" and 40-feet long. It took more than a carload of bolts to complete. These Creosote timbers were delivered by wagon one to five miles over rough terrain to the site. There were 15 other trestles on the short stretch of railroad that were over 75 feet high.
The Constitution article includes pictures of both the trestle and J.L. Mitchell and his "Promising Family." Joshua and Nettie, his wife, and the rest of the "Promising" family, Jesse, Frank, Parnell, Seth, Ollie, Ruby, and Joshua, Jr., ranging in age from 15 to two, are all dressed in their finest clothes. Nettie is seven months pregnant with an eighth child, a second girl, who will be named Pauline.
In order to keep his family together while working in this remote region about 14 miles northwest of Birmingham, Joshua lived with them in newly built housing. Despite his wishes to keep his family together, early in 1906 Little Joshua died tragically after falling from another trestle and six months later that same year trestle builder J.L. died unexpectedly under peculiar circumstances.
Joshua’s thirty-five-year-old widow, Nettie, was faced with the decision about where she, her five boys and two girls would live. They knew they could not stay in one of the mining villages. They could have gone back to Georgia, but what would her growing boys find to do. They decided to move, first to East Lake and then, in order to get closer to the newly booming Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad works in Ensley and Fairfield, to a ten-room house on six lots only a short distance from the Fair Grounds.
The oldest son, Jesse, Robert Lindberg’s grandfather, after a few years as a fireman-engineer, left Birmingham and worked in bridge and other large construction projects in the southeast before settling down in the Biloxi-Gulf Coast area. The four younger brothers Frank, Parnell, Set (Joseph's father), and Ollie, worked as firemen and engineers for TCI. The four of them had their pictures on the front page of the Steel City Star, November 3, 1955. The headline, 51 years after they were part of J.L.’s "Promising Family," read, "Railroading Mitchell Brothers Total 167 Years of Service." The article described the part they had played in the making of iron and steel.
The trestle itself lasted over 103 years. On May 23, 2006, it somehow caught fire and burned completely down. Newspapers reported that the fire was probably caused by kids playing with fireworks on that Tuesday night. The nearby towns had little money to conduct any kind of investigation and the proper jurisdiction for investigation was unclear in this remote region. Most people accepted the fireworks story.
For some, the timing of the trestle fire left them at a loss for words. Previously in 1997, CSX, who owned the right of way, wanted to divest itself of the track line. Since 2002, talks had been underway with the county, adjacent landowners and CSX and planners about how this land could be used in any further development. During these complex discussions the trestle the fire occurred. The burning and total loss of the high wooden trestle left as many questions in the minds of people, especially descendents of the long dead trestle builder, Joshua Lafayette Mitchell, as his unexpected death in Birmingham more than a century earlier.
Some feared that the burning of the trestle would impact plans for the Cane Creek Branch Corridor as a part of the "rails to trails" conversion. All is not lost. Those involved in planning had wisely rail-banked the Right of Way which leaves more time for adequate planning and options open for use of the corridor by Jefferson County. There are even longer range plans to not only keep this 700 foot gap in the overall system but also rebuild a structure across Newfound Creek.
Prior to the fire, the discussion of possible ‘rails to trails’ conversion fortunately stirred interest in the abandoned, almost forgotten, historic landmark and several amateur and professional photographers captured its beauty before it was lost to the ages. Some photographers even shot awe-inspiring pictures of the burning icon and the heart wrenching morning-after images of the ashen remains of the engineering marvel. Little is left now but ruins which look like gravestones marking the site of its former glory.
For the two of us, Joseph, the grandson and Robert, the great grandson, and many other descendants of Joshua Lafayette Mitchell, these stories and photographs serve as reminders of the challenges our family had to endure and survive and the magnificent accomplishment of our trestle-building ancestor.