Monday, April 28, 2014

Alabama Libraries in 1851

[This post is one of a series I'm doing on the history of libraries and books in Alabama.]

In 1851 Charles Coffin Jewett published one of the early inventories of public libraries in the United States. At the time Jewett was Librarian and Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution; he moved to the Boston Public Library as Superintendent in 1858 and worked there until his death a decade later. 

The report, Notices of Public Libraries in the United States of America, was issued as an appendix to the 1850 report of the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents. In some 200 pages Jewett gives state-by-state library listings and descriptions. Listings are organized by town within each state. In his “Preliminary Remarks”, Jewett tells the reader:

As might be expected, Jewett found through his tedious methods of circulars and private correspondence only a few libraries in Alabama at that time. His first entry for the state, under “La Grange”, says simply “College Library—3,000 vols.” He refers of course to LaGrange College, the state’s first chartered college established in 1830; the site is located eight miles southeast of Muscle Shoals. The college was burned in April 1863.

From that brief entry Jewett moves on to Howard College, founded in Marion in 1842, with a library containing 1500 volumes. “It is opened once a week for half an hour”, he notes. Organized by Alabama Baptists and chartered in 1841, Howard was moved to the East Lake area of Birmingham in 1887 and finally to its present location in Homewood in 1957 and renamed Samford University in 1965.

In Mobile Jewett located the library of the Franklin Society, founded in January 1835. “The library contains 1,454 volumes, with a few coins and maps….The library and reading-room are open daily for the use of members of the society and subscribers to the reading-room.”
 In Spring Hill Jewett found the state’s second largest library of the time, that of the Catholic college holding 4,000 volumes. The school was founded twenty years before Jewett’s report was published. He gives no other library details.

The original main building of Spring Hill College, built in 1831. 
Source: Wikipedia

Jewett’s longest entry is the last, as expected the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa with 7,123 volumes. This figure included the 4,500 volumes in the “Rotundo” and two student libraries containing 2,623 volumes. He notes an annual circulation of some 800 volumes, a “stated annual appropriation of $200” and two extra $500 appropriations within the past five years.  “The library is opened twice a week, and kept open about an hour each time.”

The Rotunda in 1859, one of seven UA buildings existing when the school opened in 1831.
Source: Encyclopedia of Alabama

Jewett also mentions the two library catalogs that had been prepared by Richard Furman and Wilson G. Richardson. He notes that Richardson’s effort “is on the plan of the catalogue of Brown University Library.” In 1841 Jewett became librarian at Brown, reorganized its library and published a catalog in two parts: an alphabetical description of items and an alphabetical index of subjects. 

Thus Jewett found six “public libraries” in Alabama ca. 1850; he seems to have missed the one in Huntsville and probably others. By way of comparison, he found eight in Georgia, four in Mississippi and three in Florida.

Jewett knew this effort was only the beginning:

Charles Coffin Jewett [1816-1868]
Source: Wikipedia 

This document is available at Google Books



Saturday, April 26, 2014

Birmingham Photo of the Day (7): Alabama Theatre, 1959

This photo of the Alabama Theatre in July 1959 is from the Birmingham Public Library's Digital Collections. I wonder what kind of business Goldstein's Furs did during an Alabama summer. The film people are lining up to see was Audrey Hepburn's latest, The Nun's Story

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Monday, April 21, 2014

Dispensary at the Edgewater Mine, July 1946

Large coal mining operations were often self-contained communities in the U.S., and the Edgewater Mine in western Jefferson County was no exception.

According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad [TCI] entered the Birmingham area in late 1886. "In addition to [its] Tennessee holdings, TCI now owned 76,000 acres of coal land, 460 coke ovens, two blast furnaces, and 13,000 acres of land that included the Red Mountain ore seam. The company moved its headquarters to Birmingham in 1895." In other words, TCI was a mighty player in central Alabama and would remain so for decades. In this area we are living with the results today.

The current unincorporated community of Edgewater is a perfect example. Located north of Pleasant Grove, Edgewater began as a TCI coal mine opened in 1911. At first state convict lease system prisoners were used, and their mined coal was hauled by railroad to the coke ovens at the company's Ensley Works. 

In about a year TCI ended its use of prisoners, hoping to attract better, more dedicated workers and their families. A modern village soon opened near the mine that included houses, schools, churches, recreation facilities and modern sanitation methods. TCI trucks picked up garbage on a regular basis. Recreational activities included baseball leagues and regular community dances. Segregated facilities were created for black and white workers and families. 

This kind of corporate paternalism was common in other industries as well. My maternal grandfather, John Miller Shores, was a longtime Methodist minister in the North Alabama Conference. One of his postings over the years was the Methodist Church associated with the giant Avondale Mill textile operation in Sylacauga. 

The Edgewater Mine thrived during the World Wars, but changes continued to occur. The schools were sold to Jefferson County in 1932. At its height the mine employed over 1200 workers and produced more than 800,000 tons of coal a year. The mine closed in 1962.

The BhamWiki web site gives many more details on the mining operation and the community that survives today. 

Below are some photographs from the U.S. National Archives. The first is the company store at Edgewater. The rest are views outside and inside of the dispensary, which provided medical care, supplies and drugs onsite. 

In 1913 TCI hired Dr. Lloyd Noland to run its health and sanitation efforts, which became elaborate at the mines and resulted in the building of the hospital in Fairfield eventually named after him. 

Edgewater Mine Company Store in July, 1946. The photo is from the U.S. National Archives.

The exterior and interior photos below of the dispensary at Edgewater are also from the U.S. National Archives

Friday, April 18, 2014

Alabama Ruin: Clanton Drive-In Theater

In August 2012 my son Amos IV and I were tooling down I-65 South headed for Montgomery to see some historic sights there. Not long after we left Pelham, we were slowed to a crawl by a traffic backup and decided to use one of the Clanton exits to detour. 

We hadn't gone far when we passed this Great Alabama Ruin, the former Clanton Drive-In, located at 3404 7th Street North. We looked at each other, both saying wow!, so I turned around. The photos below were taken by my son and reveal what we saw on that hot summer day. 

The Cinema Treasures web site notes the drive-in opened sometime before 1955, was owned by a B. Clark and had 416 spaces for cars. That number would provide a lot of eyeballs to watch such late 1950's movies as Some Like It Hot [1959] a comedy with Marilyn Monroe; The Big Country [1958] a Western with Gregory Peck; the Ten Commandments [1956] with Charlton Heston; and Alfred Hitchcock's thriller North By Northwest [1959] with Cary Grant. We can also hope that in the 1960's such classics as Beach Blanket Bingo [1965] with Annette and Frankie also appeared on that giant screen.  

At the time this theater opened, the only places to watch a movie on a big screen were probably way up in big bad Birmingham or way down in Montgomery. After all, the only Over-the-Mountain community developed at that time was Vestavia. Wonder when the first movie theater opened there? Small town movie theaters were not unknown back in the day, however. 

No indication is given on the Cinema Treasures site as to when the drive-in closed. At some point S&H Mobile Homes opened there, and it closed in 2010. The only signs left of the original use are the screen, the empty marquee and the flat field for cars. We can only imagine the building that housed projection equipment, the snack bar and restrooms, and all of the poles for the little sound boxes to be hung on car windows.   

Some 86 open movie theaters in Alabama are currently listed on the Cinema Treasures site; a few are drive-ins. The site also lists 361 closed theaters in the state; many of those are drive-ins. That number includes the Whitesburg Drive-In in Huntsville, opened in 1949, closed in 1979, and since demolished. At least the people who watched drive-in movies in Clanton still have something tangible left in addition to their memories.

On his LiveJournal site, J.J. MacCrimmon provides a number of photographs of this drive-in that he took in 2011.

Anyone having more info about this site should feel free to comment below!

There I am, probably pointing out the obvious.

Here I am again, trying to grin in the heat.

Once a field of Tinseltown dreams, long ago and far away.

Another view of that field of dreams.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Birmingham Photo of the Day (5): Downtown, 1939

This 1939 photo of the south side of the 1800 block of 4th Avenue North is from the Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections. Businesses include Boston Sample Shoes on the left, National Lunch in the middle and the Roosevelt Hotel on the far right. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Alabama's First Library, Books and Printing

Alabama's oldest operating library is now known as the Huntsville Madison County PublicLibrary. An effort to open a library began in 1817 when the city was still part of the Mississippi Territory. Records show that on December 10th of the following year, William Atwood purchased two shares of stock in the Huntsville Library Company. Thomas G. Percy was listed as President and Robert Fearn as Treasurer. In the following year, during the assembly called to form the State of Alabama, James G. Birney gave notice that he would ask to incorporate the Huntsville Library Company.

An 1818 stock certificate in the Huntsville Library Company. 
Source: HMCPL Digital Archives.

Printed books and printing itself arrived even earlier. In July 1540 Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto and his expedition entered what is now Alabama; among their supplies were some books. All were burned in the battle of Maubila on October 18. The two most extensive accounts of the expedition describe the destruction by de Soto's men of many of their own supplies as they tried to trap Native American forces. The burning included clothes, ornaments and chalices, wafer molds and wine for mass. The books destroyed may have been mostly religious in nature.

File:De Soto by Telfer & Sartain.jpg
Hernando de Soto [1496-1542]
Source: Wikipedia

 In September 1807 a political pamphlet was published at Wakefield, a town in Washington County that no longer exists. On February 19 of that year former vice-president Aaron Burr was arrested in Wakefield as he attempted to flee to Spanish West Florida and escape President Jefferson's warrant.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Birmingham Photo of the Day (4): Downtown, 1939

This 1939 photo of the south side of the 1700 block on 3rd Avenue North is from the Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections. Businesses include Seals Piano Company, Gluck's Hat Cleaning Company and Raymor Printing. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Alabama Pizza Pasta in London, England, in 1998

No, we couldn't believe it either. But here's the story.

In May 1998 I headed to England to give a talk at an anesthesia history meeting in Bristol. Wife Dianne, son Amos and daughter Becca went along for the ride--well, several of them, actually. Although the travel there and back was a nightmare which included two lost days, we had a blast in England.

Arriving bright and early one morning at Gatwick airport, we picked up the rental and started toward Bristol on one of the "M" roads, British for Interstate. We hadn't been tooling along for long [on the wrong side of the road, of course] before this young lady's voice blurts out, in a wonderful accent, "Traffic flowing freely." In a word, we were startled. Our rental agency clerk had neglected to tell us we were getting a speaking car. What will they think of next? Remember, this was the digital dark ages of 1998.

After awhile we arrived in Salisbury finding ourselves in the metaphorical shadow of the great cathedral and very hungry. We parked the car and then had a decision to make. What would be our first meal in England? Traditional pub food or pizza? The kids opted for the pizza parlor just across the street and so the theme for the journey was established. 

The adventures in England continued for several days. We stopped to see the big rocks at Stonehenge on the way to Bristol, drove through the wonderful city of Bath, and got to see something of Bristol. During the meeting Dianne took the car and the kids up to Stratford-on-Avon looking for that Bard guy. 

The big rocks

Once the meeting was over, we drove back to Gatwick, dumped the car, checked into the hotel, and took the train to Victoria Station. That evening we rode a double-decker London bus and had dinner at the original Hard Rock Cafe.

The following day, our last full one, we mostly spent watching the changing of the guard at some big palace and took in the Tower of London. They wouldn't let us sample the Crown Jewels, unfortunately. 

The big palace 

The guards at the big palace

Anyway, after that we headed to a shop devoted entirely to Beatles memorabilia and took tea at a nice place on Piccadilly Circus. Then it was time for a little stroll before heading back to the hotel. Low and behold, we rounded a corner and there it was:

We were surprised, to say the least. Since we had just had something to eat with tea, we weren't hungry. We took these photos, but didn't go inside and ask about the name. We've regretted that decision ever since, although the name may have been chosen just for the startle effect.

Others have also wondered about that name. In a January 14, 1997, entry in his travel diary [link is broken], Roger MacBride Allen wrote "The only restaurant name I saw in London that made less sense was one in Piccadilly -- Alabama Pizza Pasta. I never knew that Alabama was famous for Italian food." Another web page [link is broken], with a photo from 2006, feeds from the same trough, calling the name "nonsensical" since "Alabama is not widely known for its Italian foods."  

I wonder if these people have trouble dealing with "Beatles" and "Yahoo" and the whole concept of naming things in a way that will be remembered. Don't tell them about "Google."

I doubt if the restaurant is still operating. A search on that Google thing doesn't turn up a web site or other current presence on the net. Ah, well, we have the memories....

Friday, April 4, 2014

Pelham Railroad Depot Then and Now

Perhaps the oldest structure in Pelham is the former train depot now located in Pelham City Park along with the baseball and softball diamonds, football field, tennis courts, picnic areas and walking trail. The depot stood by the tracks behind Pelham City Hall from the early 1900s until it was moved to the park in 1988 and restored. Owner CSX Transportation donated the building to the city. An open house for the refurbished structure was held on May 7, 1989. The project was part of the statewide Alabama Reunion effort to promote heritage and economic development.
For many years the building housed the area chamber of commerce office. In 2005 the Greater Shelby Chamber moved its office to the Shelby County Services Building. After another renovation, the city’s Park and Recreation Department moved into the former depot. The structure was repainted olive and khaki which were believed to be its original colors.
The depot is included on the “Surviving Depots in Alabama” web page, which is part of the site. There the building is identified as a “former ACL Depot.” By 1986 the Atlantic Coast Line railroad and its successor were owned by CSX.
Pelham’s railroad service predates the depot. An 1887 “Railroad and County Map of Alabama” engraved for Grant’s Business Atlas shows the town on a railroad line from Birmingham to Montgomery. At that time the route belonged to the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, which later became part of the ACL system. A good history is Wayne Cline’s Alabama Railroads published in 1997.

Note: A version of this post was published in the Pelham
City News
Holiday 2013 issue.

This painting by local artist Carl B. Salter [1919-2005] shows the Pelham Depot as it looked in its original location. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Birmingham Photo of the Day (3): Downtown, 1930

This photo from the Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections shows a portion of 2nd Avenue North between 19th and 20th Streets around 1930. Visible are Kress's, the Trianon Theatre, F.W. Woolworth and on the right Caheen Brothers. In the lower left is apparently the sign for a dentist. Aren't those cars and streetlamps wonderful? 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Pelham's Oak Mountain State Park

Alabama’s largest state park forms the northeastern section of Pelham since annexation by the city in 1990. Pelham was a small, unincorporated town when the park was created in 1927 by the State Land Act’s grant of 940 acres. Improvements to the park were made during the Great Depression of the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

In 1943 the National Park Service deeded some 8000 acres to the park from an acquisition in the previous decade. Further improvements such as the golf course and the demonstration farm were made in the 1970s. Our largest state park also has the state’s largest wildlife rehabilitation center.

These two photographs from the 1940s or 1950s are among several Girl Scout scenes at the park available from the Alabama Department of Archives and History in Montgomery.


Note: A version of this post was published in the Pelham City News Summer 2013 issue.