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
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teve Murray is Assistant Director for Administration at the Alabama Department of Archives and History. Prior to joining ADAH in 2006, he was managing editor of The Alabama Review: A Quarterly Journal of Alabama History for six years. From 2002 to 2006, he was also managing editor of the Encyclopedia of Alabama, an online reference work that launched in 2008 and was named a 2009 "Best of Free Reference" by Library Journal.
A native of Louisiana, Steve completed undergraduate work at Louisiana College and earned a Master’s Degree in history at Auburn University. He is past president of the Alabama Historical Association and a member of the Council of the Alabama Museums Association.
$20 single, $30 couple.
Mail to: Harry Bradford, treasurer
P.O. Box 130285,
Birmingham, Alabama 35213-0285.
hope all of you are having a wonderful summer and as you are reading this either are planning or have already had a grand Fourth of July celebration. We are blessed to be citizens of our great nation, and with the many freedoms and privileges we enjoy, we can all be deeply thankful.
Once again, Vice President and Program Chairman Tom Carruthers has arranged a marvelous program for our July meeting. Steve Murray will be speaking on Governor Miller and the fiscal problems Alabama faced in the early 1930s which should encourage a lot of conversation. I hope you all plan to attend.
The Birmingham History Center will again be participating in the county-wide Member Day on Saturday, July 21. This event showcases museums and venues across the county and your membership in any of the participating entities entitles you to free entry into all of the other institutions for that day. It is a great event. You can go for as long as your legs hold out and truly get a huge bang for your buck. Please plan to attend, and if you are not a member of the History Center, please consider joining.
On a board note, we all owe a huge vote of thanks to George Jenkins, secretary, aided by board member Tom West for their tremendous year-long effort toward getting out our new membership directory (last printed in 2003). You get a copy as soon as your 2012 dues are paid. Please give George and Tom a big personal thank you, and if you are unsure about your dues, please call Harry Bradford at 205‑871‑7739.
In attempting to get a grant from the Legislature for a new historical marker, Tom West ended up having to study for and pass a test to qualify JCHA for E-Verify , which addresses the hiring of illegal aliens, even though we have no employees! This is one of those strange things volunteer jobs get you into.
I missed being with you in April, thank Tom Carruthers for taking over, and look forward to seeing you on July 12. (And yes, we did see a lot of myzomelas, flowerpiercers, sea-eagles and tropical birds on our trip).
— ALICE WILLIAMS
he Alabama Legislature passed a bill before ending its current session cracking down on the theft and sale of metal statewide—including historical markers.
Sponsored by Rep. Bill Poole of Northport, HB 278 establishes new requirements for the sale of metal scrap and stiffer penalties for metal thieves. Sen. Ben Brooks of Mobile, who guided the bill through the Senate, said he heard complaints not only about copper thefts but thieves who made off with manhole covers, grave markers, air conditioning coils and other metal items. Thieves sell metal objects for a fraction of the cost it takes to replace them.
Under the revised law, scrap sellers must be photographed, provide a copy of personal identification and give information to identify their vehicles. Scrap metal dealers must submit the information to a statewide data base.
Several years ago, unknown persons made off with the Irondale Furnace historical marker. Historical markers in Birmingham and Montgomery have been stolen. Violators now face anything from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class A felony, depending on repeat offenses. Working with Senator Slade Blackwell, JCHA Board Member Tom West had the bill amended to include thefts of historical markers.
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—by: Bill Weaver, PhD
s mentioned in the previous newsletter, the state of Alabama was indeed fortunate that Dr. Lawrence Reynolds remembered his roots even when he received so much encouragement to do otherwise. Having acquired by the mid-1950’s a world-class collection of rare medical books and other medically-related items, Dr. Reynolds became the focus of attention of several institutions wishing to receive the collection. Yale University already had the Dr. Harvey Cushing collection and fervently wanted to add the Reynolds collection. The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and Wayne State University in Detroit both thought their proximity to Dr. Reynolds would give them an edge on receiving the collection. All of those institutions were to be disappointed, however.
Dr. Reynolds had discussed his Alabama leaning with Mr. Henry Schuman, the Detroit bookseller who had helped him develop the collection. His alma mater, the University of Alabama, and a few members of the faculty of his alma mater’s school of medicine had become aware of the collection and hoped to receive it. The medical school, begun in Mobile in the 1850’s, had been transferred to Tuscaloosa in 1920 as a two-year school (with students going elsewhere for their final two years of medical education). It was transferred to Birmingham in 1944 as a four–year school. As early as 1945, Dr. Reynolds had begun to inquire about the overall plans of the medical school. Although he offered no hint as to why he was inquiring about the plans of the recently relocated medical school, no doubt, the medical school personnel in Birmingham recognized the importance of addressing Dr. Reynolds’ request. Not until 1948 were folks fully informed by Mr. Charles C. Thomas (friend of Dr. Reynolds and publisher of the journal Dr. Reynolds edited) about the significance of Dr. Reynolds’ collection. At that time, Mr. Thomas also mentioned that Dr. Reynolds had stated to him that he would prefer to donate his collection to Alabama if it would be treated academically and not become a political football.
It was at Johns Hopkins that Reynolds came in contact with and was inspired by several of the luminaries in medicine who were on the faculty there. As were all students during their medical education, Reynolds was exposed to all fields of medicine, but he became enamored with a field that was just getting started: radiology. Before completing his radiology residency at Hopkins and shortly before the U.S. entered World War I, he volunteered for the armed forces. In this role, he helped to install the earliest x-ray equipment in the American Hospital in Paris, and, as is common for physicians in the military during wartime, he obtained an extraordinary amount of x-ray experience.
Following his military service, Reynolds returned to Hopkins, completed his radiology residency, and accepted a position on the Hopkins faculty. However, he was soon lured to Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and to join the radiology faculty at Harvard Medical School. It was there that he became a friend of Dr. Harvey Cushing, famous physician and medical history enthusiast.
Several people in Birmingham showed an intense interest in seeing that the collection would be housed in Birmingham. The list included Board of Trustees members Ehney Camp and Hill Ferguson, Medical School deans Roy Kracke, Tinsley Harrison, James Durrett, and Robert C. Berson, Medical School librarian, Mildred Crowe, and several Medical School faculty members including but not limited to Drs. Alston Callahan, Howard Holley, and others. It is not clear if any factors other than Dr. Reynolds’ ties to Alabama had anything to do with his decision, but certainly the fact that Medical School Dean Durrett had been a student of Harvey Cushing, Reynolds’ friend and fellow-bibliofile, did not hurt the Birmingham’s chances. The Birmingham folks sought to strengthen their case by inviting Dr. Reynolds to give a talk to the Alabama Society of Medical History, a talk which occurred on March 21, 1952. It was on the day following this talk that, at a luncheon at the Mountain Brook Club, Dr. Reynolds formally announced his gift to the Medical School of his alma mater. The donation agreement, crafted largely by Dr. Reynolds’ nephew Hugh Dowling, called for an appropriate facility for housing the collection. This was particularly important as many of the items in the collection were centuries old and required specific accommodations to prevent further deterioration. Although temporary housing facilities at the Liberty National Life Insurance Company office was offered by Ehney Camp, Jr., the offer was declined.
At the same time that Birmingham was trying to lure the collection, work was in progress in Tuscaloosa to do the same. University Presidents Drs. John Gallilee and O. C. Carmichael and University Librarian W. Stanley Hoole worked feverishly to attract the collection to the Tuscaloosa campus, one effort of which was the awarding in 1949 of a doctor of laws degree to Dr. Reynolds. As President of the University, Dr. Gallilee was the responsible person to sign the donation agreement, irrespective of whether the collection was ultimately to be housed in Birmingham or Tuscaloosa. When he signed the donation agreement, he added a caveat that the facilities would be developed "within the limited funds available." Presumably, this caveat would apply to both Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. Hoole went to Detroit, assessed the size of the collection, and reported to President Carmichael that two locations in Tuscaloosa would be adequate but none would be so in Birmingham. Hoole worked feverishly to get Tuscaloosa facilities ready, a task that was accomplished within a month.
(to be continued next issue)
—by: Dr. Ed Stevenson
rock’s Gap is of importance to the history of the development of the Birmingham region, the iron and steel industry, and railroad transportation and as a most unique historical site. Birmingham is one of the few major industrial cities that was not historically located on a seacoast or a major waterway, since transportation is a key ingredient to industrial success.
The key to the industrial development of Birmingham was the unique contiguous occurrence of the major ingredients of iron manufacture, namely iron ore, coal and limestone. The fourth ingredient, major transportation, was deficient. The railroad was the obvious answer, and development of railroads connecting to the north and east was progressing well.
The southern end of the Appalachian mountain range effectively blocked the southern exit from Jones Valley and Shades Valley. John T. Milner, the civil engineer with extensive knowledge and experience in railroad development, who had selected the site for the city of Birmingham, was given the task of locating the best location for a crossing of the southern mountain barrier by the South and North Railroad. Suffice it to say, Milner’s choice has stood the test of time, as demonstrated by the fact that two major railroads, L&N and CSX, use Brock’s Gap today, each passing within a quarter of a mile on each side of the site of the original cut.
Access to the old cut, is controlled with a locked gate, by the Brock’s Gap Training Center, of the Steel City Sports Shooting Association. The gate and entrance are on South Shades Crest Road, across the road from the historical marker placed by the Birmingham-Jefferson Historical Society, and the Linn-Henley Trust.
Last January, a group from the JCHA visited the site accompanied by Jim Hughes, vice president of the board of the training center, and Mike Taylor, a member of the shooting club. The cut and the area had been owned by U.S. Steel, but they sold it to the training center, and paved the road leading down to the shooting ranges. The shooting ranges are used by the police departments of Vestavia Hills, Homewood and Hoover.
When parking to read the historic marker, one must read it carefully; otherwise you will be likely to misinterpret the area. The common mistake is to look down from the bridge on South Shades Crest Road into the deep cut and see a railroad, and believe you are looking at the original cut used by horse wagons during the War Between the States, and by a railroad after the war. In reality, you would be looking at a new cut made by the Atlanta, Birmingham & Atlantic Railroad, parallel to the original cut. The rails under the bridge on South Shades Crest Road are now the property of, and used by, the CSX Railroad. The rails that were eventually laid in the old cut were removed, and the road bed is the paved road mentioned above. It is east of the CSX cut.
Another cut was made by the L&N, with partial use of a tunnel. It lies just east and in plain view of the original cut. So there are actually three parallel cuts, within a quarter of a mile of each other, two of which are active rail lines. At this writing, there has been no explanation of the reasoning behind this seemingly unnecessary duplication. Research into the reasoning would probably require a study of the decisions of the Boards of Directors of the involved railroad companies. It would appear that all of the tracks could easily have been placed in the original cut, and legally shared by the L&N and CSX. Both active tracks ultimately go a few miles to Helena, where they cross each other.
The original cut and rail bed is a dirt road after passing the firing range, and it led to the now-abandoned town of Elvira. During the war, wagons took the pig iron from the Irondale and Oxmoor Furnaces to the railhead in Helena, for shipment to the Confederate States Naval Iron Works in Selma.
Our visit was arranged by local historian Jim Phillips with Jim Hughes of the firing range management. The firing range has a website with details that can be used by anyone wishing to visit either the range or the historical gap.
Editor’s Note: This is a sequel to an article by Weldon Buwe, which appeared in the NEWSLETTER of October, 2011, and the reader of this may find it useful to review the Buwe article.