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There really is a place called
Sweet Home, Alabama


weet Home Alabama, released in June 1974 by Lynyrd Skynyrd, is arguably one of the most popular Southern rock songs of all time, and most assuredly in Alabama.

But did you know there really is a place called Sweet Home in Bessemer? Located at Arlington Avenue and 19th Street, the house is a unique blend of the Queen Anne and Neo-Classical architectural styles. It was built for H.W. Sweet (1866-1919), a native of South Carolina, and Bessemer’s first undertaker and a furniture merchant.

While the rock band’s song mentions of Muscle Shoals, Birmingham and Montgomery, a historical marker in front of the Sweet home proudly proclaims it as one of Bessemer’s landmarks. Likely, bassist Ed King didn’t know about the real Sweet Home when he wrote the song. In 2009, when Bob Riley was governor, the state of Alabama began printing the words "Sweet Home Alabama" on its automobile license plates.

The Sweet house was built in 1906 by architect William E. Benns at a cost of $10,000. It features two identical pedimented entrance porticos supported by fluted columns and full-length wrap-around porches on the first and second stories. It also has an octagonal corner tower.

Sweet served as a Jefferson County commissioner, helped bring the University of Alabama Medical Center to Birmingham signing the deed conveying land and the Hillman Hospital and the Jefferson Hospital to UAB. Sweet also served as director of the Alabama state docks and was a candidate for governor in 1954.

Sweet Home, Bessemer, built 1910 (Waymarking.com).

Sweet Home, Bessemer, built 1910 (Waymarking.com).


Artifact: What Is It?


his ancient bowl was found in excavations of the Bessemer Indian Mounds by the University of Alabama in the late 1930s as part of a Wapsipinicon archaeological investigation.

The pre-historic Mississippian Era Indian site included three mounds, a ceremonial mound, a burial mound and a domiciliary mound. The site, perhaps the first residential location in Jefferson County, was abandoned 200 years before the arrival of Columbus.

It is not known what became of the population but it was likely associated with a disease, climate change or war. Pre-historic populations such as this were predecessors of the later day Creeks and other modern tribes.

In the 1816 at the close of the Creek-Indian War, the town of old Jonesboro was located nearby, the first pioneer settlement in the county. The place was first called Indian Mound Campground. The bowl is on display at the Bessemer Hall of History.

Pre-historic era Indian bowl

Recent History Center Acquisitions

Portrait–Mrs. Bert Monroe Meadow by Julian LaMar

Portrait–Mrs. Bert Monroe Meadow by Julian LaMar

The History Center recently received a donation of items from the estate of Mrs. Katherine Meadow McTyeire. Included was this large portrait of her mother, Mrs. Bert Meadow by renowned portrait artist Julian LaMar. Mr. LaMar was perhaps the best known portrait painter of the period between 1930-1965. He transferred to canvas the personality, character, and facial features of many thousands of persons, a large majority being celebrities, including such famous names as: Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, General Douglas MacArthur and Governor Frank Dixon of Alabama.

History Center building


Bring any items of historical interest to our new office at 310 18th Street North, Suite 401. Our phone number and e-mail has stayed the same: 205-202- 4146    Email:

Tight rope walker from the collection

Recently donated photo of the daredevil who walked a tightrope above 1st Av. N. thirty years ago. For the complete story go to the History Center blog at–



German Potpourri Jar

German Potpourri Jar

Julian LaMar painted this potpourri or incense jar into the portrait of Mrs. Meadow using it as a yellow rose flower vase. This ornate porcelain container has a Sitzendorf mark (Germany) on the bottom and was created sometime between 1887- 1900. It now has a home at the Birmingham History Center.



Then and Now: Woolworth’s
1901 Third Avenue North, Birmingham

Birmingham Public Library, 1930 (Encyclopedia of Alabama).

Birmingham Public Library, 1930 (Encyclopedia of Alabama).


ot much has changed in the looks of the old Birmingham Public Library except for the model of cars out front.

The impressive neo-classical building of Indiana limestone was completed in 1927 and served as the central facility of the Birmingham Public Library for 57 years. That was before the building was renamed the Linn-Henley Research Library in 1985 and a new central library was built across Richard Arrington Blvd. (20th Street) connected by a overhead crosswalk. The older facility houses research areas, special collections and government publications.

The night my number came up movie poster

Birmingham News, April, 1957.

Birmingham Public Library, 2016 (Jim Bennett)

Birmingham Public Library, 2016 (Jim Bennett)

The library was established in 1886 as an adjunct of Birmingham’s public schools. John H. Phillips, then superintendent of the public school system, set up a library in a room not much bigger than a closet. In 1913, a public library board was established, and the City of Birmingham assumed responsibility for funding the growing institution. The library was later moved to City Hall, where the collection burned in a fire in 1925.

Charlies Angels advertisement

Birmingham News, March, 1976.

Old Toadvine Road leads to the Toadvine Cemetery (Hotpads.com).

Old Toadvine Road leads to the Toadvine Cemetery (Hotpads.com).

Jefferson County Place Names: Toadvine


or more than a century Toadvine has been a small community in northwestern Jefferson County about 12 miles west of Bessemer and a half mile from Valley Creek. It is not far from the Donaldson Correctional Center.

Two general stores and a blacksmith shop for years served a community of scattered houses in a mountainous section with rustic scenery. Settled prior to 1810, more than nine years before Alabama became a state, it is one of the oldest communities in Jefferson County.

The community got its unusual name from an incident during the Civil War involving one of its prominent citizens named Cape Smith. Smith, it seems got captured by the federals and was imprisoned at Rock Island, Illinois where he remained until the close of the war. He had a nervous temperament and easily lost his cool. He especially disliked whistles. As other soldiers would provoke him by whistling, a soldier named "Toadvine" from Georgia came to his rescue and beat up a bully leading the aggravation.

Smith, who was an excellent gun maker, and Toadvine became such good friends that when Smith returned home to Jefferson County, he named the community in which he lived "Toadvine" when it got a post office.

Toadvine figured into the early political life of Jefferson County. There was an old saying: "As Toadvine goes, so goes Jefferson County." Its early settlers were thrifty farmers from Tennessee and South Carolina who attended to their own business but liked politics. Candidates came there for its reputation of voting for a winner, kind of like Beat 14 in Elmore County.

Sources: "How Toadvine Got Its Name" by W. J. Boles Sunday, September 28, 1928 Birmingham News; Wikipedia.

Pizitz Easter sale ad 1956

Birmingham News, March, 1956.


B26 Pilot To Rocket Scientist
The Travels Of Jesse Mitchell

—by: Robert J. Lindberg and Joseph Mitchell

Jesse L. Mitchell , B-26 pilot, WWII to NASA scientist.

Jesse L. Mitchell , B-26 pilot, WWII to NASA scientist.


t’s a long way from Fairfield High School to the reaches of outer space but it was a journey taken by Jesse LaFayette Mitchell.

Two years after graduating from Fairfield in 1939, he enrolled at Auburn (then called the Alabama Polytechnic Institute) in aeronautical engineering as a member of the USAAF Reserves. He was called to active duty in February of 1943 and received his wings as a second lieutenant the next year.

Assigned to the crew of a Martin Marauder B26 Medium Bomber, as part of the 344th Bomb Group, Lt. Mitchell flew out of a base near Paris and then Belgium to hit German marshalling yards. He flew 30 missions often encountering flak being hit four times. One of these missions against an ordnance depot at Wiesbaden drew even more serious flak damage disabling his right engine. He continued his bomb run, then made a single engine dash for an American fighter base in Luxembourg. Because he saved his crew of five and the bravery shown in combat, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Mitchell might have remained in the Air Force, but he wanted to join what would become America’s space race. He returned to Auburn where he completed his degree in aeronautical engineering. In 1947, he moved to Hampton, Virginia to begin a 25-year career with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (later NASA) where his job was to design and launch scientific instruments.

In the 1950s, he was involved in the design and development of the pre-satellite communication suborbital program known as ECHO. The large reflective surface of ECHO bounced radio waves from the earth across the country and was the predecessor to transmitting satellites which today commonly transmit cell phone, radio and TV signals.

After the Soviets launched Sputnik, the American space effort went into high gear to be the first to get to the Moon. During a Lunar probe project, the idea for a 12-foot satellite was Mitchell’s brainchild. In 1966, Mitchell became head of the Office of Space Science and Applications and moved to Washington, DC where he became a member of President Eisenhower’s Advisory Board of Science and Technology. A year later he moved to the newly created NASA headquarters working in the unmanned flight division.

There his work became focused on putting telescopes above the earth’s atmosphere for maximum clarity and other instruments on orbiting satellites. In 1969, Mitchell was given the Distinguished Service Award for his work on the orbiting astronomical observatory, the forerunner of Hubble. He not only was a leading exponent of space telescopes but X-ray astronomy including the HEAO project.

Mitchell died in 1998 ending a remarkable career of a local boy, who first became a war hero, then one of the nation’s leading authorities on orbiting telescopes.

Editor’s Note: Jesse LaFayette Mitchell was one of the grandsons of Joshua LaFayette Mitchell, builder of L&N Trestle #10 near Mount Olive featured in the Jefferson Journal, Fall Quarter, 2014.




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