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masthead edition

Terrance Isom

Terrance Isom


April 10, 2019

Terrance Isom
“Chervis Isom, The
Newspaper Boy”
Isom speaking on his days as a newspaper delivery boy in North Birmingham


July 2019

Gerry Hodges
Behind Nazi Lines “The Story of Gerow Hodges”


To Preserve And

Alice McSpadden Williams
Honored with the Tynes Award

—by: Dr. Edward Stevenson, M.D

Alice Williams with nominating members Holman Head and Ruffner Page..

Alice Williams with nominating members Holman Head and Ruffner Page..


n January 17th at the Grand Bohemian Hotel during the Mountain Brook Chamber of Commerce meeting and awards luncheon, the Emmet O’Neal Library board presented Alice Williams with the William Tynes Award for being a major community partner. Alice played a major part in the library’s late 1990s building project when she was on the Mountain Brook City Council and was a city council representative on the committee to build the new library, as well as liaison to the library during her time on the council.

The construction which essentially created an entirely new facility, spanned several years. The city council contributed 1.6 million dollars of the eight-million-dollar cost. After ten years on the Mountain Brook City Council, Alice was on the Emmet O’Neal Library Foundation for a term and has served on Mountain Brook’s Planning Commission for seven years.

Alice Williams is retiring as President of the Jefferson County Historical Association, after having served 7 years on the JCHA Board, six years of which she was our President.

By accepting this involvement in our history association, Alice was not, in any stretch of the imagination, suggesting that she was searching for another activity to occupy her time. On the contrary, it was more as if she recognized and accepted another valuable position for which she was uniquely qualified. This will be only a quick and very limited resume of Alice’s activities.

Alice has been a dedicated worker and leader in many civic organizations, which have recognized her contributions with their highest honors. Her alma mater, Goucher College, awarded her their national annual award in 2013 “The Alumnae Award for Excellence in Public Service”. The Children’s Aid Society of Alabama named their Headquarters building in Birmingham “The Alice McSpadden Williams Building”. The Girl Scouts of North Central Alabama, in 2017 created “The Alice M. Williams Community Impact Award” and she was its first recipient. In addition, the Girl Scout Day Camp in Shelby County named their lake “Lake Alice”.

Politically, she served from 1996 until 2006 on the Mountain Brook City Council, most of that time serving as its President. She played an active role in that capacity in the planning and building of the Emmet O’Neal Library, where we now hold most of our JCHA meetings. She is now serving on the Mountain Brook City Planning Commission.

It may have been natural for her to be interested the work of the Jefferson County Historical Association, since she is a direct descendent of Col. John T. Milner, who decided where the present city of Birmingham would be located. With her serious involvement with all of these other civic activities, our Association has been very fortunate that she agreed to be our President.

I would be doing a serious disservice, however, if I did not recognize the extremely important factor of the unwavering support of Alice’s husband, Tommy Williams. As a successful engineer and leader in his own career, he has proudly supported her work throughout.

In recognizing Alice’s leadership in JCHA, it is important to point out that there have been some good times and some hard times. Examples of unfortunate events during her tenure include the loss of two of our strongest members, Tommy West and Jim Bennett. While serving as our member on the Board of Directors of the Birmingham History Center, Alice and their Board, endured the closing of that museum as a result of losing its lease.

Many good things also occurred during her leadership, and because of her leadership. She diligently worked to rescue the Birmingham History Center by negotiating to combine it with Vulcan Park & Museum. She represents us on their Board of Directors. Our History Association has experienced increased membership and financial stability during her tenure. We have had excellent programs. She has recruited a fine dedicated Board of Directors, and has fine operating officers as her Executive Committee. She appointed Tom Badham to be Editor of our outstanding Jefferson Journal, which has become one of the bright stars of JCHA. The future is in good hands, with the elevation of Vice President Dan Puckett to be our President for 2019.

To Alice McSpadden Williams, for leading us through all of these times, both unfortunate events and good works, the Jefferson County Historical Association extends our heartfelt thanks.




Dan Puckett

Dan Puckett

James L. Hahn

Harry Bradford

James H. Hard


Cathy Criss Adams
Leah Rawls Atkins
Thomas E. Badham
Jeanne B. Bradford
David Bright
Thomas N. Carruthers, Jr.
Walter Dean
George L. Jenkins
Judy S. Haise
George L. Jenkins
Catherine Pittman Smith
Randall Pitts, Jr.
Mary Ellen West


Herb F. Griffin


J. Morgan Smith
Margaret D. Sizemore
Elmer C. Thuston, Jr.
Chriss Doss
Betsy Bancroft
Tillman W. Pugh
William A. Price
Thomas M. West, Jr.
Madge D. Jackson
Thad G. Long
Don G. Watkins
Fred M. Jackson, III
Thomas O. Caldwell, MD
Charles A. Speir
Craig Allen, Jr.
Edward W. Stevenson, MD
Jim Bennett
Alice McSpadden Williams
Thomas N. Carruthers

Alice McSpadden Williams


Tom Badham, Editor (thomase.badham@yahoo.com)
Jim LaRussa, Graphic Designer

Message from the President

W. Dan Puckett

W. Dan Puckett


am pleased to report the Association’s outstanding programs continue in 2019. At the January meeting, your board member, Cathy Adams, reminded us of Birmingham’s special heritage of development in her wonderful program about Robert Jemison, Jr. and W.P.G. Harding. On Wednesday, April 10, Chervis Isom will present the history of North Birmingham through his eyes as a young newspaper delivery boy in that community.

The Association has long benefitted from the leadership of Alice Williams. She was president for many years and her tremendous contributions to it were acknowledged and our appreciation shown at the January meeting. We are indebted to her for her commitment and hard work. She leaves very large “shoes” to fill. From all of us, Thank You, Alice!

As your new president, I am honored with your trust and understand the responsibility to see that the Association continues it’s standard of high quality. The board and I are committed to spreading that quality to an increasing membership and to encouraging larger attendance at our events. Stay tuned for more efforts in those directions.

If you have not shared your email address with us, please do so. We expect to use that tool in several ways going forward. Without the cost of printing and postage, we will be able to stay in touch with you more often and in a more complete way.

I hope you find our newsletter, The Jefferson Journal, as interesting and educational as I do. Tom Badham and his talented contributors excite us with each issue. I have been archiving articles from issues for a long time. As my file grows larger, it has helped convince my family that I know a little something about our local history.

Please join us Wednesday, April 10th !

— W. Dan Puckett, President

Birmingham a Century Ago in 1918


irmingham’s smog problems were obviously created by the steel industry upon which the city thrived. But the steel industry really wasn’t the only culprit. The problem was exasperated by Birmingham’s geography...a city in a narrow valley surrounded by mountains. There was no air current to carry the smog away. The city passed anti-smog ordinances in 1945 but they were largely ineffective. Nothing was really done to stem the pollution until national anti-pollution laws were passed. As now seems fit, some of Birmingham’s industries were the first in the U.S. to be closed down temporarily until the air cleared. (Thinking back to my childhood – when we would drive to downtown from “over the mountain”...the Sloss city furnaces at illuminated the night skies with an eerie glow that is hard to describe but not easy to forget).

Hardin ad

Photo of Sloss Furnace today

Photo of Sloss Furnace today.

Sloss Furnace Today

—by: Richard Neely


irmingham has one of the most unique National Historic Landmarks in the country – Sloss Furnaces. I grew up in Birmingham and remember clearly how Sloss lit up the sky at night with fire and flame. My brother, John, and I always looked forward to riding to my father’s job downtown just where we could beg him to stop on the viaduct and watch molten slag and iron flowing from the furnaces. I have lived, traveled, and taught in Latin America, China, Korea, Europe and up North in Pennsylvania, but I always had Birmingham in my mind as the place I wanted to end up.

I finished my Ph.D. at Penn State and immediately came to Birmingham to look for a job. I started teaching part time at UAB and at Samford, but I also landed a full-time job at Sloss Furnaces as Director of Education. When I got a full time at Samford, I still couldn’t stay away from Sloss and so I committed to giving tours one weekend a month. I have now been doing that part time job for 31 years and I never get tired of it. We have people come to our city from all over the world to see this excellent site.

Sloss was founded by Col. James Withers Sloss and went into blast in the early 1880’s. What our visitors see is the last major rebuilding of the furnace complex in the mid-1920’s. The furnaces ran until 1971 and became a National Historic Landmark in early 1980’s. As a museum of industry, Sloss is unique. We can find furnaces from the Colonial and Civil War period. We can find them up North from between about 1950 onward. To find a furnace that represents the technology from about 1900 to 1930 is very rare.

There are pieces of equipment on the site that by themselves deserve museum status. There are two converted steam shovels on the site that were purchased in Marion, Ohio and brought to Birmingham in 1911. There are eight great vertical steam engines that the Smithsonian records as the largest and the last of their kind in the world. We have two Ingersoll-Rand turbo compressors that were only designed to be used in Iron Blast Furnaces. We have many evidences of the design engineer genius, James Pickering Dovel, who was recycling before the word was in the dictionary.

Most importantly, we have the evidence of the growth and culture of our city in the stories of Sloss workers and managers. We discuss with our visitors all the aspects of Birmingham both positive and negative connected to our foundries, coal mines, and limestone quarries.

Sloss has also been a challenge to preserve. With all of the exposed iron and steel, it has been like maintaining a battleship with never ending scraping and painting. My brother John and I got involved in this side of Sloss in 1998. Many people don’t know that Sloss produced over 100 products besides iron. One of their most important was processed coal commonly known as coke. They distributed coke from a series of bins which was right next to their concrete plant which they produced from the waste product of iron – slag. These coke bins had a row of advertisements painted by the workers for these various products. The current painting designs date from the 1930’s-40’s and were done in bright “safety” colors.

Twenty-two years ago, in 1998, Director Bob Rathburn and the Sloss Furnaces Association gave permission to my brother and I to restore (re-paint) the panels which were about to fade beyond recall. Since then, my brother and I have restored paintings in Bessemer and Marion. We also took care to restore the paintings just as the workers had done them even if the lettering was not quite perfect. My brother is a professional actor and I was a History professor but we took these projects on as labors of love. The Association provided the materials and the Neely brothers the labor.

The panels advertise some of the most popular Sloss products. Benzol, made from the by-products of converting coal to coke was Sloss’s benzene gasoline substitute which was sold at a little gas station still on the corner of the site. Sloss Concrete was manufactured from grinding slag into dust as the main ingredient. People who used it praised it as being as good as Portland – boiling when you put the water to it. Paint was also a Sloss product including both oil-based and aluminum. Ladle-mixing was something that Sloss was very proud of. If you needed a custom load of iron-soft and malleable or hard and brittle – Sloss could mix it in one of its giant ladle cars to get the iron just right for your particular job.

My brother and I love old trucks and we were very pleased to repaint a 1930’s style concrete truck on one of the advertisements. The most surprising panel advertises DDT which was suspended in an oil solution.

I invite the people of Birmingham to come to Sloss to check out our new visitor’s center and see what volunteers and staff are doing to preserve this important part of our Heritage. Keep an eye out! Our next project is to finish the last panel of the advertisements and to start work on the Frisco train engine on the site. This is the same engine that many of you remember from the old State Fairgrounds. Sloss was very fortunate to have gotten this important engine from 1918. My brother and I love the history of our state and so look for us working on projects in Birmingham and Bessemer. My brother just finished ramrodding the restoration of the World War I monument in Bessemer. Check out our restored signs across from the Hall of History in Bessemer.

Dr. Richard B. Neely: B.A. From Samford University, M.A. University of Alabama, Ph.D. Penn State. Taught at the Univ of Alabama, Tec of Monterrey in Queretaro, Mexico, top teaching honors twice, taught at Penn State and Bucknell, taught at Samford won the Buchanan Award, taught at Judson won the Holley Award, taught at Indian Springs School. Advanced collector of militaria John F. Neely, Jr.: B.A. Univ. of North Alabama, M.A. Alabama A&M, he has been in over 60 films, member of the Screen Actors guild. Advanced collector of Alabama and Georgia pottery and glass.

Sloss Furnase Fountains
Sloss Furnace Railcar
Sloss Furnase Shed
Sloss Furnase Advertizing wall
Sloss Furnase Wall Ads seperator


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