Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Quick Visit to a North Alabama Town: Joppa

I visit mom, watercolor artist Carolyn Shores Wright, in Huntsville on a regular basis. On the drive to and from Pelham I often make brief side trips to see some of the small towns along or near I-65. Arkadelphia is a recent example. I look for a landmark or two and research a bit of the town's history. This time Joppa is up.

There are several small towns along Alabama Highways 69 and 67 northeast of Cullman including Fairview, Baileyton, Hulaco and Florette. If you stay on 69 toward Arab, you pass through Joppa. 

So what's up with that name, anyway?? Jaffa, a Hebrew word for "beauty", was a port city in ancient Palestine; the area is now part of Tel Aviv. According to Virginia Foscue's Place Names in Alabama, a Mrs. Berry chose the name for this state's town. Foscue also notes a U.S. post office was established in 1888. The Geographic Names Information System maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey includes several places named Joppa in other states, such as Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia. 

Another source, Annals of Northwest Alabama, vol. 2, 1965, second edition [compiled by Carl Elliott] includes two essays with much information about Joppa. In his piece "Sketches of Early Cullman County, Alabama" [pp. 26-28], Marc Miller notes the presence of several farms in the area before the Civil War. By the early 1890's the population had grown enough to support a post office, which had to have a name. A Marion Berry chose Joppa; no reason is given. Four rural routes were started from the post office in 1904.

According to Miller the first school was established in the late 1880's in a Baptist church, but later moved to the Methodist one. Founded by Prof. J.B. Sherill, Joppa School was built in 1893 and eventually evolved to encompass grammar, junior high, high school and teacher's college levels.

The American Missionary Association bought the school in 1895 and renamed it the Joppa Collegiate Normal Institute. This facility had two dormitories for the students who studied religion and teaching. Sometime after 1900 a fire burned the school's library, but the books--mostly religious--were replaced. 

The town incorporated in 1900. As a college town, Joppa developed hotels, various stores, a stage stop, saloon and hospital. Eventually a telephone system with switchboard opened. At the time the Annals book was published in 1965, Joppa had a cotton gin, six stores, a post office, elementary, junior and high schools and three churches.   

Another essay in the Annals volume is "A Short History of Joppa, Alabama" pp. 192-200] compiled by fifth and sixth grade students at Joppa School during the 1954-55 school year. This piece notes that two boarding houses served  as dorms for the college students, and that a "Mrs. Berry" gave Joppa its name. A brick Joppa School was built in 1939 with eight classrooms, an office, library and auditorium. Two grades and a lunch room were located in the two-story frame building that had become the second college building after a fire. In 1958 Joppa School had 325 students and ten teachers. This essay gives more detail about many people in the community's history.

Joppa seems to have reached its greatest population in the 1920-1940 period; in 1930, 1894 people lived there according to the U.S. Census. By 2010 the population had fallen to 501. 

Henry Everett "Jack" Lively was born in Joppa on May 29, 1885. During the 1911 season Lively pitched for the Detroit Tigers in eighteen games and ended the season with a 7-5 won-loss record. One of his teammates was Ty Cobb. Prior to that season Lively had played for several minor league teams. "He won 23 games for Gulfport in 1907, 25 games for two teams in 1908, 18 for Montgomery in 1909, and 31 for Oakland in 1910", according to the Baseball Reference site. 

Lively was a right-handed pitcher who stood 5'9" and weighted 185 pounds. He may have begun baseball play while attending Joppa High School. Whether he played for other teams before Gulfport is unknown; the 1911 season was apparently his only one in the majors. 

Lively returned to Alabama at some point. The 1920 U.S. Census list he and wife Minnie as living on a farm they own in Arab. He died in Arab on December 5, 1967. He is buried in the Hebron Church of Christ Cemetery. His son Buddy played in the majors for the Cincinnati Reds for three seasons in the late 1940's. 

In 1999 the Thomas Corbin farmstead in Joppa was listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage; you can see a photo here.  

More comments follow the photos and illustration below. 

According to Jimmy Emerson, the college closed in 1918 due to declining enrollment. The county school system used the building until it burned in 1995. This structure is a replica built on the same site. Another photo of this building by Emerson has snow on the ground.

Many rural post offices have been closed in recent years; Joppa's remains. 

This card shows Lively on one of his minor league teams, Oakland in the Pacific Coast League. He won 31 games there in 1910, the year before he moved up to the majors. 

Source: Gordon Brett Echols via Find-A-Grave

Source: Wikipedia

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Mobile and "Blues in the Night"

I am always on the lookout for appearances of Alabama-related things in popular culture and came across this one recently. Over the life of this blog I've posted several items discussing songs from the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries that relate to Alabama in some fashion. You can read two of the posts here and here.

This example is a bit different--a shout out to various cities including Mobile. The song is "Blues in the Night", which first appeared in the 1941 film of the same name. The song has become a standard; versions by many singers can be found on YouTube. Everyone from Peggy Lee and the Benny Goodman Orchestra to Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Shore, Frank Sinatra, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Rosemary Clooney and Amy Winehouse have recorded it. The piece was nominated for a Best Song Academy Award. 

The film is an odd one, a little crime musical if you can believe it. The story follows a ragtag group of jazz musicians as they find and lose great success and learn that their original life riding the rails from town to town was not so bad. 

Richard Whorf plays pianist and leader Jigger Pine, and Jack Carson is the loudmouth trumpet player. Priscilla Lane is Carson's angelic and pregnant wife. The clarinetist is played by Elia Kazan in his acting days before he became one of Hollywood's best known producers and directors. Of course there's a gangster (Lloyd Nolan) and his sometime moll (Betty Field) to add the crime element. 

I remember seeing this film years ago and enjoying it. I watched it again recently and found it a bit silly and over the top in places, but still worth seeing. The cast is great at chewing the scenery, and there's some good music. Betty Field is a great femme fatale. 

Now about that song. I don't remember catching the reference to Mobile the first time I saw the film, but I did on this viewing. The music was written by Harold Arlen and the lyrics by Johnny Mercer, two giants of American popular song in the 20th century. Together and with others they both made numerous contributions to the "Great American Songbook".

During their collaboration in the 1940's the pair wrote other hits including "That Old Black Magic" and "One More for My Baby (and One More for the Road)". Arlen wrote film and Broadway music for many hits with other partners including the 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz. Mercer also spent much of his career in Hollywood working in the film industry. 

Many popular songs about the South in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries were written by northerners selling an idealized vision of Dixie; most of them probably never traveled below the Mason-Dixon Line. Mercer was born in Savannah, Georgia, and exposed to much African-American music growing up. We can probably attribute his choice of town names and music for the song to that upbringing. Now about that woman he mentions....
The film shows up periodically on Turner Classic Movies. A trailer can be found here

Harold Arlen [1905-1986]

Source: Wikipedia

Johnny Mercer [1909-1976]

Source: Wikipedia

"Blue in the Night"

Lyrics by Johnny Mercer

My mama done told me when I was in knee pants 
My mama done told me, "Son, A woman will sweet talk
And give you the big eye but when that sweet talk is done
A woman's a two face, a worrisome thing who will leave you to sing
A worrisome thing
Who will leave you to sing 
The blues in the night

Now the rain's a fallin'. Hear the train a callin' Hoowee! 
Hear that lonesome whistle 
Blowin across the trestle Hoowee! 
A hoowee ta hoowee, clickety clack 
It's echoing back the blues in the night.

The evening breeze will start the trees to crying
And the moon will hide it's plight
When you get the blues in the night
So take my word the mocking bird
Will sing the saddest kind of song
He knows things are wrong
And he's right

From Natchez to Mobile, From Memphis to St. Joe
I've been in some big towns, and I've heard me some big talk 
I've been to some big towns
I've heard me some big talk 
But there is one thing I know
A woman's a two face
A worrisome thing who will leave you to sing
The blues in the night 

My mama was right, my mama was right
There's blues in the night

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Birmingham Photo of the Day (60): Hormel Meat Packing Plant

Wander around Alabama Mosaic, and you never know what you may find. Case in point is the photograph below, taken by Oscar V. Hunt [1881-1962] during his long, illustrious career in Birmingham. 

Whenever I find old photos of buildings, I like to see if the place still exists and if so what it's current use is. This photograph is pretty interesting just for the neat cars, which I guess would indicate sometime in the 1930's. The place on 14th Street North was a Hormel meat packing plant then; note the missing "m" in the sign. I wonder if the building was constructed for the plant or adapted for it.

As you'll see in the more recent photograph below and the Google Earth extract, the building still exists. A United Methodist ministry for the homeless, Church of the Reconciler, currently operates there. The building looks very nice, but has really not changed much over the decades.

Four photographs taken inside the Hormel plant in Montgomery in the 1950's are available here. You can learn more about Hormel here; the company has operated for more than 125 years. A photo of founder George A. Hormel is also below, along with a link to more about him.

Source: Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections

The building is now used by the Church of the Reconciler.

Google Earth view of the building today.

George A. Hormel [1860-1946]

Friday, October 6, 2017

Old Alabama Stuff (15): A 1903 Souvenir of Birmingham, pt. 2

This post is part 2 of my exploration of Souvenir of Birmingham, Ala. published in the city in 1903. I've looked at some of the photos included in the book in part 1, and we'll see some more here. As I noted in that first part, a number of photos I haven't covered are also in the book, which was probably issued as a promotion of the city to potential investors. Also in part 1, I discussed the provenance of this particular copy of the book. 

Let's begin..

Is this the Ensley Works or Sloss Furnace, which are shown below, or Thomas Furnace, which is featured in the book but I have not included here? The book itself doesn't identify the cover photograph. 

Capitol Park is one of four names given to the public space now known as Linn Park. In the Elyton Land Company's original design for the city, the area was designated Central Park. The park was given a new name soon after to match the city's interest in getting Alabama's state capitol moved from Montgomery to Birmingham. Whatever happened with that?

In December 1918 during Woodrow Wilson's second term, the park was renamed after the President. In October 1988 the park was rededicated and named after banker and industrialist Charles Linn

St. Vincent's Hospital was founded in 1898 by a Catholic priest and four sisters of the Daughters of Charity of St.Vincent's DePaul. Until this building was dedicated in November 1900, the hospital operated in a rented mansion. The facility continues to operate as St. Vincent's Birmingham in modern buildings on the same site.

Hillman Hospital began operation in 1888 to meet the medical care needs of the city's poor whites and blacks. The hospital acquired its name in 1896 to honor benefactor Thomas Hillman, an important local businessman. The building shown above was dedicated in July 1903 and remains a landmark on the UAB campus. 

Construction on Highland Avenue began in the mid-1880's by the Elyton Land Company, which wanted to open up 1500 acres it owned for residential development. Over the years the long and winding road has seen dummy railroad lines, streetcars, parks, and a golf course as well as stately mansions and businesses along its route. The town of Highland included some of the street upon its formation in 1887; the entire area became part of Birmingham in 1893. 

Avondale Mills was founded in 1897 by Braxton Bragg Comer, future Governor of Alabama. The mill was constructed on 1st Avenue North in what became the suburb of Avondale and later a Birmingham neighborhood. The company eventually operated as many as 18 mills around the state employing 7000 people. The company survived until 2006.

This Birmingham mill became controversial in the early 20th century because it employed numerous children. The mill eventually closed in 1971 and was torn down in 1976.  

Sloss Furnace produced pig iron near downtown Birmingham from 1882 until 1971. Once abandoned, the site is now a National Historic Landmark and almost as iconic as Vulcan or the Civil Rights Institute. The Sloss Furnace Company was the work of James Withers Sloss, one of the founders of Birmingham.

The giant Ensley Works was an open-hearth steel mill opened in 1888 and operating until 1976. The plant was originally owned by the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company which became a subsidiary of U.S. Steel in 1907. For many years the mill was the largest producer of ingots and rails in the Southeastern United States. 

James B. Helm operated a successful portrait studio in Woodlawn. You can see his house here. In the 1920 U.S. Census a James B. Helm is listed as living on 1st Avenue and identified his profession as "portraits and framer." I presume he was this Helm buried in Birmingham's Forest Hill Cemetery.

L.P. Hill of Ensley, an independent town until annexed into Birmingham in 1910, and photographer R.T. Boyett were the publishers of this booklet. One of Boyett's students was famed local photographer O.V. Hunt. I have so far been unable to find more information on either Hill or Boyett. 

This page and several following give more detailed information about the economy, real estate, and institutions of the city. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Old Alabama Stuff (14): A 1903 Souvenir of Birmingham, pt. 1

In 1903 a publication appeared entitled Souvenir of Birmingham, Ala. This book consists of a number of photographs and several pages of text. The entire item has about 50 pages. I would guess it was intended as a promotion for potential investors in the area. Let's investigate. 

More to come in part 2. 

You can find the entire publication online at the Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections. In this post and a second one I discuss only a portion of the many photographs. Not included in either post are the court house, various banks, schools and other structures, a fire department photo and more. Perhaps I'll do a third post on those I haven't covered in the first two! 

The BhamWiki site notes that this elaborate structure opened in 1891 on the corner of 1st Avenue North and 19th Street as the Morris Block. Over the years several businesses occupied the building including a bank, realty, jeweler, tavern and billiard parlor. The Southern Association, a baseball minor league which operated from 1902 until 1961, was organized there in 1901.

After 1894 the upper floors became a luxury hotel. The place was known as the Earle Hotel for a few years in the 1940's and then returned to the Morris name. The building was demolished in 1958 and replaced with a three-story parking deck. 

This luxury hotel opened in 1901 on the corner of 4th Avenue North and 19th Street. The first two of its six stories housed not only the lobby and ballrooms but barber and shoe repair shops, cafes, jeweler, optician and a men's clothier. The hotel was named after T.T. Hillman, vice-president of the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company; Hillman Hospital was also named after him. 

The Hillman remained Birmingham's leading hotel until the Tutwiler opened in 1914. The building survived until 1967; after demolition, parking replaced it. 

Birmingham's second city hall was constructed on the corner of 4th Avenue North and 19th Street on the site of the first city hall. The BhamWiki entry notes, "In addition to municipal offices, the building housed the Birmingham Fire Department, a National Guard unit, the first Birmingham Public Library and several retail spaces. It also housed a gymnasium that was opened for public recreation." See that entry for more history and photos of the building, including the fires in 1925 and 1944. A new city hall was finally constructed in 1950.  

Hugh Martin was a partner in the architectural firm of Miller, Martin and Lewis that designed many buildings in Birmingham and on the University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa. Martin worked at the firm until his retirement in 1952. His son Hugh Martin, Jr., was a theater and film composer who wrote the classic song, "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas."

Opened in April 1887, this building was the city's first real train station. Although constructed by the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, numerous other lines used it for decades. 

This view of 19th Street North has been annotated to point out City Hall and the Hillman Hotel. The street has served as one of the most important vectors of Birmingham business and history and continues to do so. 

The Birmingham News began publication in 1888 and after several name changes had settled on the name it still holds by 1895. In that year the paper moved into the three-story building seen here. In 1917 it moved to a six-story headquarters. Three years later the News purchased its rival the Ledger, which had occupied its own building in 1902. That structure was not part of the sale.  

The ten-story Woodward Building opened in 1902 and was the first steel-framed structure in the city. Although much changed, the building still stands today. 

Of course the book included photos of exemplary private residences. E.G. Sheppard owned the top one, E.N. Cullom the lower left, and Col. R.H. Pearson the lower right. 

In the 1910 U.S. Census Edward Northcroft Cullom [1858?-14 June 1924] and his wife Hattiel Louise Cullom were living at 1007 11th Avenue South. The 1910 Birmingham city directory says he was President of the Alabama Abstract Company and the Alabama Trust & Savings Company. The 1907 directory gives his office at 2026 3rd Avenue. He is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. 

I have yet to learn anything about the other two men. 

I've discussed this building in a previous blog post, which has a different illustration.