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Message from the President

Alice Williams

Alice Williams


hope all of you have had a wonderful Fourth of July, and somewhere in the festivities remembered to give thanks for the tremendous privileges and freedoms we enjoy being citizens of our great country. They are priceless blessings.

In response to several comments made at our last membership meeting, we have arranged for Mountain Brook City Hall to remain open until 6:45 p.m. the night of our July 14 membership meeting. The Birmingham History Center will change out the display case in the lobby several days beforehand, so this will give you a chance to check out the newest artifacts. Remember, monies from the Association’s book fund helped to acquire a good number of these artifacts, so do yourself a favor and go see.

In May, the Association received a wonderful gift from Sam Rumore. Sam is a past editor of this newsletter, and he recently turned over copies of almost all of the newsletters going back as far as the 1970’s. It will give us an extra set of both the Kracke and the Bennett newsletters to bind. The Kracke set we particularly wanted as we have only 2 or 3 complete sets. The other newsletters we will go through to make a decision as how to best preserve them, which probably will also be binding. There is also a lot of original correspondence relative to the founding of the History Center which will be shared with their board. A real treasure trove. Thank you Sam!

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:

At its April meeting, your board voted to endorse Khari Marquette’s nomination of the Findley Roundhouse to the 2017 list of Alabama’s Places in Peril (see Tom Badham’s article). We are joining the Jefferson County Historical Commission, the Birmingham History Center, and several other organizations in this worthwhile endeavor.

I will have copies of the Historical Markers book for sale at the meeting, and we hope to have other books as well. Bring your checkbook! See you in July. Don’t forget to go by City Hall!

— Alice Williams, JCHA President

Appearance Rescheduled:

Dick Pizitz

Dick Pizitz


ichard Pizitz, Sr., former president of the Pizitz Department Store, has been rescheduled to speak at the October 13 meeting due to a publisher’s delay in receiving the new book, "Pizitz, Genesis of a Retail Giant" by Jim Bennett.

Both Pizitz and Bennett will be present to discuss the history of Alabama’s largest retail store, which, launched in a small storefront on First Avenue in 1898, grew into a seven-story landmark that dominated the commercial hub at Second and 19th Street until its sale to McRae’s in 1986. The downtown store closed in 1988.

Next Meeting

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Emmet O’Neal Library
Time: 6:30 p.m.
Speaker: Marvin Clemons

“Birmingham’s Terminal Station”

“The only thing new in this world is the history you don’t know.”—Harry Truman


Debate Looms Over The Courthouse Murals

Photographs of the Jefferson County Courthouse murals painted by John Warner Norton, “Old South” and “New South”, 1931 (Ryerson & Burnham Archives, University of Chicago).

Photographs of the Jefferson County Courthouse murals painted by John Warner Norton, “Old South” and “New South”, 1931 (Ryerson & Burnham Archives, University of Chicago).


mid calls for removal of the Depression-era murals from the first floor of the Jefferson County Courthouse, a compromise may have been reached which would preserve the artwork.

A committee headed by County Commission Chairman Jimmy Stephens is recommending that instead of removal, which would destroy the illustrations, that they be covered with a retractable curtain and informational panels added explaining the story behind them. They could be seen at the push of a button.

Local historian Robert Corley has been asked to prepare interpretation material which was never done when the murals were created in 1931. They are the work of John Warner Norton, a Chicago artist, who painted similar Depression-era murals around the country prior to World War II including some on display at City Hall in Kansas City.

The Birmingham murals, labeled The Old South and The New South, have come under fire for romanticizing class distinction. Historians contend they have historical value and should be preserved, the position taken by the Jefferson County Historical Commission. Both murals depict minorities picking cotton and working in a steel mill against the backdrop of white people in more prominent positions.

The Jefferson County Commission is expected to soon discuss a recommendation to install the screens which would cost $26,000.

Criticism of the murals has been a part of a larger protest including calls to remove the Confederate monument in Lynn Park erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy in 1905. Although removal was recommended by the Birmingham Park and Recreation Board, the land on which the statute sits was deeded to the DOC a century ago and does not belong to the city.

Maring ad 1957

Birmingham News, April, 1957.



Pioneer Builder Was First to be Buried in Oak Hill Cemetery

A lonely cherub pray fully watches over Oak Hill (Virginia Jones).

A lonely cherub pray fully watches over Oak Hill (Virginia Jones).


ver wonder who was the first person to be interred in Birmingham’s historic Oak Hill Cemetery?

It was Jesse S. Thompson, a contractor and builder who was a member of one of the city’s pioneer families. He came to Birmingham in the year of its founding in 1871 and died July 5, 1872. His oldest son, Burges Asbury Thompson (1850‑1922) was mayor of Birmingham from 1888‑1890. Two other sons, William H. Thompson (1866‑1913) and Thomas C. Thompson (1825‑1872) played important roles in building the Siluria Cotton Mill in Shelby County.

Thompson High School is named for T. C. Thompson due to his generosity in donating land and capital to education.

Jesse Thompson’s oldest child, Miss Cornelia A. Thompson (1848‑1935), was prior to the time of her death on February 11, 1935 "the only surviving charter member of the First Methodist Church in Birmingham."

As the city’s oldest cemetery, Oak Hill was originally located on the estate of James M. Ware and was already a burial ground by April, 1869 when it served as the resting place for the infant daughter of Birmingham’s first mayor, Robert H. Henley. It was marked as "City Cemetery" on the original plats for Birmingham laid out by the Elyton Land Company and was formally sold to the city on December 29, 1873 for the sum of $1,073.50.

Most of the 10,000 or so burials at Oak Hill were interred before 1930, and include many of Birmingham’s most prominent families. In 1977, Oak Hill Cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Among the famous people interred at Oak Hill are Judge William S. Mudd, builder of Arlington, railroad engineer John T. Milner who plotted the city of Birmingham, famous madam Louise Wooster, former Gov. Frank M. Dixon and civil rights leader, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth.

Sources: Siluria Cotton Mill Company, Bobby Seales,
~alshelby/SiluriaMills. html; Wikipedia, Oak Hill Cemetery,
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oak_Hill_ Cemetery_(Birmingham,_Alabama);
Jefferson County and Birmingham, Alabama: Historical and Biographical, John Witherspoon DuBose, 1887.

The Old Cottage Ad 1946

Birmingham News, March, 1946.



Once There Were Peaches on the Mountain

A vintage photo of the Overseer’s House, built in 1889, on Park Avenue in Bluff Park, once the center of a peach orchard (Hoover Historical Society).

A vintage photo of the Overseer’s House, built in 1889, on Park
Avenue in Bluff Park, once the center of a peach orchard
(Hoover Historical Society).


ith its picturesque homes, sidewalks and baby strollers, you might be surprised that once a large peach orchard occupied 160 acres on Shades Mountain as part of the A. B. Howell farm. The orchard was planted in 1882 on 560 acres surrounding an overseer’s house which is still in place at the corner of Park Avenue and Chapel Road.

A fruit broker, Howell lived in Chattanooga but developed the orchard as a commercial enterprise. At one point, it stretched from Shades Crest Baptist Church to Sulphur Springs Road. Caretakers hired by Howell also planted sweet potatoes and strawberries and engaged in a flourishing agricultural enterprise.

Overseer's House Historic Marker

The overseer’s residence, originally a three-room house with a dirt floor, was first occupied by William W. Morgan, who lived here with his wife, Eliza Hale Morgan and their two sons. Later, William and his family swapped houses with Morgan’s neice, Sophronia Hale, and her family who lived in Dadeville. Both families left their furniture and livestock, taking only personal items with them.

Massive hand-hewn timbers form the foundation and the original stone fireplace and chimney are still visible. The Hales, among Bluff Park’s founding families, are descendants of John Howland, the 13th signer of the Mayflower Compact. William Hale and his brother, Evan, were in charge of the orchard from 1889 until 1897.

The Hale brothers also owned and operated a saw mill, ice house, and cotton gin on what is now known as Valley Street, and milled their own timber off land they owned to build houses. According to the Hoover Historical Society, William built and lived in several of the present historic homes on Shades Crest Road (originally known as Indian Wagon Trail), including 633 and 645. Around 1909, he built the mansion that is now 2136 Bluff Road known as Shangri-la.

The peach orchard house, board and batten, was eventually occupied by John McGraw and his descendants from 1906 until 1980. During the early 1900s, the Overseer’s House was expanded when the orchard property was sold and the house became strictly a residence. Since that time, it has been renovated several times.

The Overseer’s House was listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage on September 28, 2000.

Sources: Bluffparkal.org; The Overseer’s House is documented in the original abstract held by Thomas Tucker; Barefield, Marilyn, The History of Hoover, 1992; The Tradition Continues, published by Bluff Park Elementary School; Copeland, Susan Hale, "Early Memories of Bluff Park Region" (manuscript), Skaggs, Heather, Hoover, Images of America, 2014.




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