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masthead edition

Fight Looms Over Historic Tax Credits

Bayer Properties is making progress in renovating the old Pizitz Department Store into a new downtown commercial hub which is to open later this year (Bayer).

Bayer Properties is making progress in renovating the old Pizitz Department Store
into a new downtown commercial hub which is to open later this year (Bayer).

substantial private funding and city loans. Sen. Jabo Waggoner of Vestavia is leading the fight to keep the tax credit alive while Sen. Tripp Pittman from Mobile is seeking its repeal. The extension passed the House last year but died in Senate committee. Critics say it gives some developers advantages over others. Alabama is one of 34 states offering a historic tax credit for rehabilitation of older buildings that qualify.

Birmingham’s older architecture is part of the fiber of the city’s past. It also can be part of the formula to its future.

Next Meeting

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Emmet O’Neal Library
Time: 6:30 p.m.
Speaker: Dr. Larry Clayton

“Cuba and the
U.S. DeSoto to Today”


hile a fight looms in the State Legislature over renewing Alabama’s historic tax credit to rehabilitate abandoned buildings, Birmingham developers are making good use of the funding source.

That includes the former Pizitz Department Store, closed since

1988, in which Bayer Properties is investing $66 million to make it a new commercial hub on Third Avenue. It is slated to open this October with multifamily housing on top floors and retail and restaurants on the bottom.

It is one of 20 projects in Birmingham that have utilized the state tax credit and one of 52 projects statewide including the Lyric Theatre, Redmont Hotel and the Florentine Building. The credit has a $20 million ceiling taken into consideration with



Message from the President

Alice Williams

Alice Williams


reetings. I hope that by the time this arrives in your mailbox, Jefferson County will be in the midst of full blown spring. Tom and I will still be in Morocco birding, looking for, among other birds, the critically endangered Northern Bald Ibis, which has got to be one of the ugliest creatures on the planet. We will be home for the April meeting. On a board note, Tom Badham, representing your Historical Association, has been working on a volunteer basis with Billy McDonald, our January speaker, and his editor, on his book about his father’s exploits in China. The book itself is a mammoth undertaking; Billy in his talk said it could be three books, not just one. Tom is helping with the editing and trying to get it down to just 400 pages. To quote Tom, "It has been a bit tricky, but it has also been a real adventure. Mr. McDonald saw so much, so many famous people, so many events."

How To Contact Us

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.

Jim Ben net, Editor.

Mail: The Jefferson County Historical Association
Editorial Office
112 Meadow Croft Circle,
Birmingham, AL 35242.

The Jefferson Journal

Published quarterly by and for the membership of the Jefferson County Historical Association.
Copyright © 2012. All rights reserved.

Editorial Board

Jim Bennett, Editor    Email:

Judy Haise    Email:

Tom Badham    Email:

Dr. Ed Stevenson    Email:

Billy is planning to be at either the April or July meeting with (we hope, fingers crossed) soft backed versions of the book to sign. He will also have one of the four framed replicas, which he has commissioned, of the Commander’s Wing his father was awarded, which he will be presenting later this year to four museums in China. Exciting!

On another front, Jerry Desmond, executive director for the Birmingham History Center, will change out the display case in the lobby of Mountain Brook City Hall at the end of March, so by April there will be a new exhibit. Go by and check it out. The History Center also continues to collect donations, a lot of which are textiles. To that end, your Historical Association, from the book fund, has contributed funds to acquire the acid free, steel edge storage boxes necessary for their preservation. The collection continues to grow with your help.

If you have not yet done so, please pay your dues; we need your support. Thank you, and see you in April with, I hope, bald ibis photos.

— Alice Williams, JCHA President


Thanks to Margaret Gresham Livingston for pointing out that the caption under the banquet photograph for Charles Lindbergh on page 12 in the last issue was misidentified as U.S. Sen. John Bankhead. It should have read Hugh Morrow, president of Sloss Furnace, who introduced Lindbergh at the dinner. Morrow sits to the left of the famed flier.


Bob Edwards, the gentleman who signs members and visitors in at the door during regular meetings is a relative, it turns out, of U.S. Sen. Dixon Hall Lewis, the heaviest man in the US Senate in 1844, a story on whom ran on page 3 of the last edition. We were not aware of the connection.


apanese Heavy Cruiser Kako under fire (Terry Manton).

Japanese Heavy Cruiser Kako under fire (Terry Manton).

Birmingham’s Unknown Naval Hero

—by: Tom Badham


ew people knew that the Hardy Tynes steel fabricating company vice-president quietly living on Stone River Circle in Mountain Brook had won the Navy Cross in the dark early days of World War II for sinking the Japanese heavy cruiser Kako.

Lt. Commander  John Moore

Lt. Commander
John Moore

Lt. Commander John Moore was the kind of hero of which movies were made. What made the sinking of the Kako so extraordinary was that he and his crew accomplished it in a dangerous, battle damaged, obsolete World War I era submarine – the S-44. The sub was so old and small that the boats (subs were considered boats, not ships back then) in its class when built in 1923 weren’t even given names.

On the night of August 9, 1942, during the first battle of Savo Island, five Japanese heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and one destroyer sank three USN cruisers and one Australian cruiser. Another USN navy cruiser was damaged as well as two more destroyers. The Japanese ships received only moderate damage. Two of the Japanese cruisers, Kako and Furutaka were not even damaged! It was one of the worse defeats suffered by the US Navy in the war.

That night, the Japanese admirals, flushed with victory, ordered four of the heavy cruisers back to their forward stronghold at Rabaul unescorted. The 200-foot long S-44 lurking near Kavieng crossed their paths early on the morning of August 10 off Simbari Island. Barely able to make 10 knots submerged, its 44 men crewmen frantically positioned their boat for their only chance at hitting one of the fast moving Japanese cruisers before they sped out of range.

The Kako was two football fields long with six eight inch (bore diameter) guns. She was almost as large as a battleship, had a crew of 616 and could steam at a top speed of 34 knots. She was the last ship in line. But the S-44 was in the right place and only 700 yards away. At 7:06 AM, the S-44 fired all her torpedo tubes – she only had four bow tubes and no stern tubes. At 7:08 all four of the obsolete, slow Mark 10 torpedoes struck the Kako in a text book perfect spread from the No. 1 turret then aft to the forward magazines and the first two boiler rooms. Within five minutes Kako rolled over on her starboard side, exploded as sea water reached her boilers and sank bow first.

If then Lt. Commander Moore had been in our newer Fleet class submarine, he may not have had such success. The larger and faster Mark 15 and 16 torpedoes had a horrible tendency not to explode when hitting enemy ships. Until the exploder mechanisms were replaced later in the war, most of our "modern" torpedoes were duds. The situation was so bad Hollywood even made a John Wayne movie about it.

John Moore and his crew sank the first Imperial Japanese capital warship of WWII by a USN submarine. A spectacular achievement for an obsolete old relic that had been pressed into emergency wartime service. For sinking the Kako, Moore was awarded the Navy Cross and promoted to Commander. The ship’s crew was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.

During those first three war patrols in the Southwest Pacific under Moore, the S-44 was credited with three confirmed sinkings totaling 17,070 total tons. Vice-Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, Commander Submarines Southwest Pacific, created a roll of honor for his submariners. When a skipper would have an outstanding patrol, Admiral Lockwood would present him in a ceremony a set of 10 karat solid gold dolphins for which the Admiral had paid for out of his own pocket. On the back of the large dolphin would be the name of the commander and his sub. Moore was well-known in submarine circles as being the most successful S-boat commander of WWII.

Moore would lead three more war patrols from September 9, 1942 to July 17, 1943 in the USS Sailfish (SS-192). This was difficult duty too. The Sailfish had been first commissioned as the USS Squalus in 1939. During a test dive off Portsmouth New Hampshire, the boat flooded and sank in 243 feet of water. With great difficulty 33 of the crew were saved, but 23 men drowned. Even though the boat was salvaged, refitted and re-named, sailors thought it was "unlucky" with the crews having low morale and performance. Under Moore, the boat successfully sank two Japanese ships.

He then was given orders ashore as engineering and maintenance officer for the Southwest Pacific Submarine Fleet. He was promoted to captain on March 3, 1945 and retired as a rear admiral in 1958. He passed away on June 10, 1985.

Sources: US Naval Records via the Steve Brannan private collection; Wikipedia.

Fairfroubds race ad 1944

Birmingham News, March, 1944



The Old Huntsville Road Down Which Rode The Early Pioneers

—by: Jim Bennett

1865 map showing the route of the Huntsville Road on the left from Elyton to Woodstock.  The Tannehill Ironworks was located bottom left. The next stop was Vance, then Trion

1865 map showing the route of the Huntsville Road on the left from Elyton to Woodstock.
The Tannehill Ironworks was located bottom left. The next stop was Vance, then Trion


ack about the time of statehood, an old settlement road, among the very first in Alabama, led from Huntsville through Jefferson County and on to Tuscaloosa. Known as the Huntsville Road, it stretched 150 miles through Indian Territory and the Alabama wildwoods.

Pioneers from Tennessee and South Carolina drove their wagons and farm animals over it with high hopes of building a future in the new frontier. The dirt road followed an old Indian trail which dated to the previous century.

It was by this route in 1816 that Davy Crockett rode on horseback to visit friends and relatives near Jonesboro. In 1865, it attracted troops of Croxton’s Brigade who set the torch to the Tannehill Furnaces and the University of Alabama. In the 1840s, you could see coal wagons along this route on their way to Maxwell’s or Glasscock’s store in Tuscaloosa to trade for food and the familiar bottle.

The historic road is a particularly haunting destination, now largely lost in isolated woods but occasionally reappearing in more urban places like Bessemer , McCalla and Tuscaloosa. It was replaced by US 11 in the 1920s and faded into history. Now I-20 carries most of the local traffic to Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama.

For some reason I have always been intrigued by the Huntsville Road and its untold stories. I have spent more than a few Saturdays retracing the old route through neighborhoods and the piney woods. I did it again recently finding myself in a Bibb County forest not far from Bucksville.

The road here is heavily eroded but still visible in places. The fallen chimneys of pioneer houses and their adjacent wells show themselves every now and then, their stories mostly forgotten. Our exploration party stumbled across an old two-stone cemetery bearing the graves of Harry Franklin Moses and his wife, Dorcas. Moses died in 1878. So lonely was the site, just the two of them, hidden in the woods together in a forgotten country plot. Nearby was what appeared to have been a stage coach stop with a large rectangular stone foundation.

The Huntsville Road had stone mile markers which were used long before the era of metal signs. The metal signs would have rusted away but those of stone remain as they will forever. One can be seen as you approach Alberta reading "4 Miles" to Tuscaloosa. Others have been seen in the backwoods, one reading "Tuscaloosa, 30 miles."

A section of the Old Huntsville Road appears near the former site of the Salem Academy for Girls during the Civil War. The location is at the end of Prince’s Spring Road.

Stone Mileage Marker, Old Huntsville Road, Alberta.

Stone Mileage Marker, Old Huntsville Road, Alberta.

Mary Gordon Duffee, the historian of the Hill Country, often wrote about traveling down the road in the 1840s in her Sketches of Alabama, first published in the Birmingham Iron Age in 1885. Along the way she described humble homes built of pine logs, where the residents cultivated small patches of corn, peas and yams and got the coal out as they had the time, one load at a time.

From Tuscaloosa to Elyton, she described passing the Hillman Forge at Tannehill and the town of Bucksville where the buildings had a "venerable air of antiquity", a few rich plantations and various streams with wooden bridges. For 16 miles outside Tuscaloosa, they rode over a plank road, much improved from the pioneer days.

The late James Walker, who lived not far from the Huntsville Road as it passes through McCalla, called it, "the most traveled and oldest road" through western Jefferson County. It, he said, ran from Ditto’s Landing on the Tennessee River passing Blountsville where an old Indian named "Bear Meat" lived and operated a small trading post, then progressed south to the "Devil’s Race Track" which would eventually become Birmingham and on to Old Jonesboro, the first permanent settlement in the Jefferson County. In the distance, one could see the ancient Bessemer Indian Mounds which had been vacated 200 years before the arrival of Columbus.

E.A. Powell also remembered his travels along the pioneer route in his history of West Alabama.

"My first entrance in Tuskaloosa (Tuscaloosa) County was about the last of February 1830. It was what I then thought to be about the end of the long wagon journey from South Carolina. We came down the old Huntsville road from Elyton.

Elyton was the first town I ever saw in Alabama. It was there I saw the first stage coach I had ever seen. To me it was rather a big sight to see one man holding the reins of four horses, and they nearly at full speed and the driver cracking his long whip at every jump. I said I thought that we were at our journey’s end, but I was mistaken. We came down to about opposite the Asylum (in Tuscaloosa)."

The Old Huntsville Road, haunting and inviting, has no travelers now, only ghost riders in buggies, wagons and finally Model Ts who drove into history.

Sources: "55 Years in West Alabama", E. A. Powell, Alabama Historical Quarterly, Chapter 7, Vol. 4, No. 4, 1942; "Mary Gordon Duffee’s Sketches of Alabama", ed. Virginia Pounds Brown and Jane Porter Nabers, University of Alabama Press, 1940; "Things Remembered, Along the Huntsville Road", James H. Walker, Instant Heirloom, Press, McCalla, Alabama.

A section of the Old Huntsville Road near the site of the Salem School for Girls on Prince’s Spring Road, Bessemer.

A section of the Old Huntsville Road near the site of the Salem School for Girls on Prince’s Spring Road, Bessemer.




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