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
Alice McSpadden Williams President
Thomas N. Carruthers
Harry F. Bradford
BOARD OF DIRECTORS:
Cathy Criss Adams
Craig Allen, Jr.
Thomas E. Badham
Jeanne B. Bradford
Judy S. Haise
Catherine Pittman Smith
Mary Ellen West
Herb F. Griffin
Edward W. Stevenson, MD
reetings and, although late, Happy Spring. According to Birmingham Bill, our resident groundhog, Spring would come early this year. He was right. With it being spring, Jerry Desmond, executive director of the Birmingham History Center, has again changed out the display case in the lobby of Mountain Brook City Hall. The new display will be a mix of recently acquired artifacts as well as a slide show of some 70 other pieces in the collection.
On a bittersweet note, Dez is leaving us to assume the position of Executive Director of Pamplin Park’s National Museum of the Civil War Soldier in Petersburg, Virginia. The park spreads over several hundred acres, has historic homes, and several museums. It is on the exact spot where Union soldiers broke through Confederate lines on April 2, 1865, ending the war seven days later.
Dez started at the History Center in July of 2009, and in the almost eight years of his directorship, the Center has added over 5,000 artifacts to the collection, bringing the total to around 17,000. He also mounted many exhibits and displays, gave countless speeches to community groups and wrote a quarterly article for this newsletter as well as publishing the newsletter for the Center.
While we are all sorry to see him go, we are truly indebted to him for his excellent job, and wish him well in his new position as director of one of America’s finest Civil War attractions. The Civil War is his passion; he moved south for 26 years to study it. Now, in moving partway back north, he has become a "halfback."
We have written a letter of endorsement for Vulcan Park and Museum for their grant application to the National Endowment for the Humanities for funds to support a collaboration with the Birmingham History Center to get more of the History Center Collection out into the community. We have also written a letter of endorsement for Khari Marquette’s efforts to get the Finley Roundhouse on the 2017 list of Alabama’s Places in Peril.
Finally, a big round of applause for our April speaker, James Lowery, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cahaba River Society at its annual meeting in January. This award is given only a few times a decade to those who have performed exceptional service for the Cahaba River.
James was cited for his countless hours of volunteer service on nonprofit boards, his years of roaming and documenting Shades Creek and the Cahaba River, educating the public about environmental issues, and for the creation of the Birmingham Mineral Railroad Project. Huge congratulations!
If you have not done so, please pay your dues; we need your support. Don’t forget to go by City Hall to see the new display. See you in April.
— Alice McSpadden Williams, President
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: Tom Badham, Editor.
Mail: The Jefferson County Historical Association Editorial Office, 471 Midway Road, Union Grove,
Published quarterly by and for the membership of the Jefferson County Historical Association.
Copyright © 2012. All rights reserved.
Tom Badham, Editor Email:
Jim LaRussa, Design Editor Email:
Judy Haise Email:
Dr. Ed Stevenson Email:
—by: Catherine Greene Browne
or over 150 years, there have been many folks who ventured into the Avondale Cave and who returned with fascinating tales of the wonders they beheld there. According to Birmingham’s The Weekly Iron Age on June 25, 1885:
"The Avondale Cave is just a small hole, just large enough for a man to slide into. It is located behind the grandstands on the side of a hill above a large mineral spring. The cave has never been fully explored."
Another story is told that, many years ago, in an effort to chart the course of the underground spring which dominates the cave, a dye was poured in the stream which courses through the caverns. The purpose in loading the dye in the underground spring was to discover exactly how far the cave continued under the hills of Birmingham. Imagine the amazement of the experimenters when they learned from reports that the dye appeared in the waters of Village Creek, near Rickwood Caverns in a community of West End, a distance of approximately six to eight miles from Avondale..
Another story told is that once in the past, a group of young boys had in their possession a huge ball of twine. They entered the iron ore mines at Blenheim-Timberlake, using the twine to mark their way as they explored. Their exit point was Avondale Cave.
Earlier cave explorers reported that they had discovered ancient artifacts such as arrow heads, lying on the floor of the cave. And they noticed that the walls of the cave had places niched out, places which appeared to have been used as shelves, possibly to hold pots.
Some who have explored the caverns before the entrance was sealed report that Avondale is not a very attractive cave. The cave entrance became a handy trash dumping spot. One had to crawl over garbage to enter the cave. There are several good-sized caverns, but the ceilings of all of them appear to be unstable.
Avondale still has clear, deep, cold water in the depths of the caverns. In the latter half of the 19th century in 1871 Avondale was known as King’s Spring. Peyton Griffin owned the property that is now Avondale Park and many acres beyond that as well.
In 1871 King leased the cave to a Mr. McCauley from Columbus, Georgia. McCauley was interested in quarrying the brown Alabama marble which was reputed to be in abundance in Avondale Cave.
Alone, McCauley entered the cave and was immediately captivated by what he beheld there. He was determined to explore the mysteries before him as he walked downward. Later, he said that he noticed, as had other explorers before him, that the ceilings slanted and there were tilted layers of limestone extending deep into the caverns. But, he became lost and was forced to remain several days in the darkness of the cave before he was finally rescued by friends.
Shortly thereafter, McCauley began blasting in an effort to extract the Alabama marble. During one such blast, a large rock was thrown across the tiny opening completely sealing the cave, and the entrance to the cave remained closed for 14 years until another effort was made to again explore its depths.
The entrance to Avondale Cave is now closed. The entrance to the Blenheim-Youngblood Mines has been closed, but can still be seen behind the home at 1403 Blenheim Place off Morningside Drive.
Sources: Catherine Greene Brown, The History of Avondale.
—by: E.W. Stevenson, M.D.
he name, Mortimer Jordan, is prominent in the history of Jefferson County and Birmingham. The name is well spoken of in Alabama histories and historical articles. Few people know that different individuals in different eras had the name.
The Jordan family down through the generations married into a number of the other pioneer families in Jefferson County, including the McDavid, Mudd, Munger, Owens , Hawkins families. Today their DNA is spread liberally throughout the area. Here are several of the more-prominent Mortimer Jordans.
The first Mortimer Harvie Jordan to live in Jefferson County left his home and family at Goose Pond, Georgia in 1818, at age 19. His parents, Rueben Jordan, Sr., and Jeanette Harvie Jordan, were a fairly wealthy family originally from Albemarle County, Virginia. When Reuben died in 1816, he left a sizable inheritance for his sons.
Alabama had been admitted to the Union when Jordan moved to Jefferson County. His inheritance made him one of the wealthiest men in the county. He first lived at Old Jonesboro, then developed a large plantation for cotton farming near Hueytown. Much of the Woodward Iron Company was subsequently built on the site of his home place.
The oldest active Methodist Church in the county, the Bethlehem Methodist Church, was built with the help of slaves that he loaned. (The church is still active, and is near Interstate 20/59 at Allison-Bonnett Memorial Drive.) He and his family were among the founding members of that church. He, his two wives and several children are buried in the adjacent cemetery.
Mortimer’s first wife, Lucy Scott Gray, had 7 children. (The Graymont section of Birmingham was named in her memory several generations later.) One of their sons was named Fleming, who subsequently named his son, Mortimer Harvie Jordan II.
Here the family’s genealogy can get confusing. Another son, named William, also named a son Mortimer. That particular Mortimer Jordan was born in 1841. He was in the Confederate Army and fought in the battles of Chickamauga and Gettysburg. However, he never married.
The patriarch’s second wife, Amy Welton, from Connecticut, had three children, one of which was Mortimer Harvie Jordan, Jr. It is this Mortimer Harvie Jordan, Jr. who became prominent in the history of early Birmingham.
After his junior year at the University of Alabama, Mortimer Jordan, Jr. joined the Confederate Army and achieved the rank of Captain in 1864. Following the war, he attended medical school at Miami Medical College in Cincinnati, returning to Elyton in 1868 to practice medicine.
Mortimer Jordan, Jr., married Florence Mudd in her home, the now named Arlington Mansion. In 1873, they moved from Elyton to the new town of Birmingham, just as the disastrous cholera epidemic occurred. He distinguished himself by his exhausting work and research on cholera.
Prospering in the booming town, he built a mansion near the Church of the Advent on 20th Street North, where the original Tutwiler Hotel was subsequently built. He served as President of both the Jefferson County Medical Society, and of the Medical Association of Alabama. During the typhoid epidemic of 1883, he again distinguished himself by his exhausting work.
He died at the young age of 55 of tuberculosis in 1898, and is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery. His widow subsequently built the Mortimer Jordan mansion on Highland Avenue, but he never lived there. (The wording on the historic marker in the yard is ambiguous in that regard.) The beautiful house remains a showplace.
Their son, Mortimer H. Jordan III (1881-1918) was a physician also. He joined the Army in World War I, serving in the Rainbow Division in France as an infantry unit commander, rather than as a doctor. He held the rank of Captain, and was a much-respected commanding officer. He was killed in combat, and became a local hero in Birmingham. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
In 1920, the Mortimer Jordan High School in Morris, now located in Kimberly in sight of Interstate 65, was named for him. In 1924, a city park on the Southside of Birmingham was renamed Mortimer Jordan Park in his memory; but has changed in recent years to become the UAB baseball field.
Before being demolished in 2002 to make way for the Shelby Biomedical Research, a UAB administrative building located at 1825 University Boulevard was named Mortimer Jordan Hall. Before being part of UAB it was the Fort Mortimer H. Jordan Alabama National Guard 109th Evacuation Hospital Armory.
(A word of caution to subsequent historians, the war hero was not "Mortimer Jordan Junior", as is stated in some sources.)
Mortimer Jordan IV, the son of the war hero, was born in 1911 and died in 1980. He was associated with Rust Engineering and is probably remembered by some our members. He is buried in Birmingham’s Elmwood Cemetery.
There was also one female whose maiden name was Mortimer Jordan. After marriage to James McAdory Gillespy, they lived in Glen Iris Park.
Sources: Rose McDavid Munger: Pioneer Scrapbook, 1967; Mortimer Jordan, Pioneer, 1974.
—by: Tom Badham.
ames Lowery found a digitalized copy from the Library of Congress of a fact filled booklet about Birmingham. Printed by the Caldwell Printing Company of Birmingham, it was written by R. W. A. Wilda, a local real estate, stock and bond broker, and paid for by "the bankers of Birmingham". It gives a glowing detailed economic snapshot of Birmingham in 1889.
Classified as an Ephemeral Historical Artifact, the vest pocket sized booklet, designed to entice small industries to the area, gives an amazingly concise and detailed view of thirty-one segments of the city’s economics. Population (55,000), railroad service (seven), streets, water works (daily consumption 4 to 4½ million gallons, 8 miles of water mains), sewerage (19¾ miles of sanitary sewers, 10 miles of storm sewers), lighting (four electric companies!), housing, trolley and steam dummy line service (61¼ miles), industry payrolls and worker wages are covered.
Listing ten banks, ten blast furnace companies, four rolling mills, twenty-seven coal and iron mining companies, a dozen coke oven companies and two limestone quarry companies, it gives details of their outputs and payrolls with daily and monthly breakdowns. Under the heading, Buildings, it lists the locations by avenues of homes, businesses and their valuations. These listings include the names of the owners or the names of businesses. One example is in the Fifth Avenue North listing, located as "near 18th street, B. F. Roden’s residence valued at $40,000".
Every street in the square mile of the Birmingham city limits had its buildings listed by owner or business and valuation. Total valuation of the city’s buildings was listed as $3, 245, 110. The two streets with the highest real estate values in Birmingham were Second Avenue North listed at $438, 900 and Third Avenue North listed at $444, 500. Those valuations included the Second Avenue U.S. Government building at $300, 000 and the Third Avenue Roman Catholic Church at $75, 000.
Remember at that time a one ounce gold double eagle coin was worth twenty dollars and a silver dollar held one ounce of silver. If you compare the prices of gold and silver today, the Roden residence was a great mansion. Under the Wages Paid listings the daily wages ran from plate rollers in rolling mills at $12 to $15 to unskilled workers paid $1 to $1.50 daily. Railroad engineers received $100 to $175 paid monthly. Comfortable four room houses rented for $15 to $25 a month.
To emphasize the continuing growth of the area, a section labeled Birmingham’s Wonderful Growth detailed the public improvements that were finished, altered or in construction or under contract in just the first eight months of 1889. The brochure pointed out that all these improvements were inside the city limits of one square mile. It also noted that more improvements in the county and the city of Bessemer were not included.
One of the public improvements proudly touted was the $13,000 "Bridge across Railroad tracks, connecting North and South Birmingham (plans still in the hands of Engineer)." That wooden bridge became the 21st Street Viaduct. Another public improvement was the $500,000 Cahaba River Pumping Station addition to the Birmingham Water Works. Total public improvements were valued at $893,000.
Twenty-five churches (and 25 Sunday Schools with 292 SS teachers, 3,806 SS Scholars), 34 preachers, 8,479 Communicants were noted along with eight suburban neighborhoods. Distances from the center of Birmingham to the neighborhoods were noted with East Lake being the furthest away at six miles. Prices for a 50 foot by 150 to 190-foot lot in those neighborhoods were shown as $50 and up in Cleveland; $100 and up for Highland Lake; $300 and up for North Birmingham; $500 and up for Smithfield.
Building construction material prices (delivered) were also noted. Brick per thousand was $6 to $6.50. Lumber was $10 to $11.50 per thousand feet. Flooring was $15 to $18 per thousand feet. Shingles were $2.50 to $3.50 per thousand. Coal delivered was $3.25 per single ton.
Food prices then are equally amazing to our eyes. Bacon, ham and fresh meat was 10 to 12½¢ per pound. Sugar was 7¢ to 9¢ per pound. Irish potatoes were 75¢ per bushel with sweet potatoes only 50¢ per bushel. Corn meal was 60¢ per bushel with flour costing $5.50 to $6.00 per barrel. Green coffee beans were 18¢ to 20¢ a pound.
The postscript to the brochure reads: "The remarkable combination of CHEAP COAL and IRON with UNLIMITED RAILROAD FACILITIES makes Birmingham the superior of all locations for SMALL INDUSTRIES. This is the best opening for men of SMALL or LARGE MEANS, and upon investigation they will find that in every respect CLIMATE, LOCATION, RAW MATERIAL and an UNLIMITED MARKET for product gives advantages that cannot be found in other sections of the United States."
If you would like to study this amazing document, please Email me and I’ll forward it to you along with an outline of it that I made which is easier to read since the printing of the original is small and somewhat faded and blurred.