Category Archives: Birmingham Historical Society

Heritage Society enjoys the Bush-Hill-Cooley Home

One of the most anticipated Birmingham Historical Society events each year is the annual Heritage Society party. It often features one of Birmingham’s most magnificent historic mansions and this year was no exception, with the Bush-Hill-Cooley residence.

Bush-Hill-Cooley Heritage Society Party 2022. Photo: Louise McPhillips

Local architectural firm, Warren, Knight, & Davis, was hired by Morris Bush soon after his marriage in 1920 to design a proper English manor house on top of the mountain on a large lot in a subdivision developed by Jemison & Co. The widely-respected firm designed a Tudor Revival style residence of smooth-face, random-laid Indiana limestone with steep roofs, gables, large chimneys, and surrounded by substantial gardens in keeping with the examples established by King Henry VIII (Henry Tudor) after the reformation.

Morris Bush (age 48) moved his bride Margaret Gage Bush (age 33) to the magnificent residence in 1928. Following subsequent funerals for both of her parents, his mother, and their next door neighbor, finally good news! Their beloved daughter, Gage, was born in 1931, but sadly, the following year, Morris Bush died of a massive heart attack. Margaret couldn’t bear to stay in the house after all that unhappiness and moved in 1934.

James Hill, president of the local Hill Grocery Co., his wife Rena McMurray Hill, with their son Delmar, purchased the estate in 1934 from Margaret Bush and they would live there for the next 30 years, followed by Rena and her sister, for the next decade. The Hill family thrived despite the Depression due to their ’shop local’ philosophy, positioning a neighborhood grocery store within walking distance of many households as well as their support of ‘cash and carry’ (including script issued by local industrial firms).

After Ed Craig, and then Lanny & Brenda Vines lived there, Tammie & Jim Dandy Cooley purchased the estate in 2015. They’ve enjoyed working with architect Hank Long of Henry Sprott Long & Associates to renovate the home and restore the features and plantings of the surrounding gardens.

”Three years on the inside and then three years on the outside” as Tammie Cooley describes the couple’s ongoing love affair with the residence and its gardens. As Jim Dandy adds, ”we see ourselves as the current stewards of this timeless place.”

Much appreciation to the Cooley family for sharing the rich history and their labor of love with the Heritage Society this year!

(Interested in the Heritage Society? Here’s how to join)

Slossfield, Midwifery, and Birmingham Historical Society – Then & Now

At its annual meeting on February 28th, the Birmingham Historical Society celebrated its 80th year. James White first shared a report on its financial history and its founders, as well as the current safeguards that protect its financial future. The Society’s stated goals of research, publication, and education often provide new owners with information that can enhance their property with unexpected historical perspective. Slossfield Maternity Center is an example of just that and three speakers highlighted its importance from their unique perspectives.

The Slossfield Community Center was added to the National Trust of Historic Places in May of 2008. It was purchased in 2018 by The Salvation Army with plans for it to be once again used as a core community center.

Slossfield is a complex of concrete buildings at the Finley Avenue exit off I65, built in the 1930’s and surrounded by industrial facilities including ACIPCO, Sloss, US Pipe, coal mines and quarries. One of the buildings, The Slossfield Maternity Center, was constructed in 1939 by WPA labor to train black physicians and nurses and improve prenatal care and delivery in one of the most underserved and poorest areas of Birmingham at that time. Under the leadership of Dr. Thomas Boulware, Jr., Slossfield became the most successful of four demonstration centers built by the U.S. Public Health Service in the late 1930’s.

The first speaker, Sharon Holley, is Director of the new nurse-midwifery program at UAB School of Nursing, and is passionate about the role that midwifery can continue to play in providing safe births and healthy babies. In researching Slossfield via UAB archives, she presented statistics illustrating that Slossfield had become a model of good prenatal and obstetric care reducing the infant and mother mortality rate in that area by up to 92%.

At that time, blacks could only be admitted to hospitals in Birmingham by white physicians. The few black doctors were not able to admit patients to hospitals until 1952 when Holy Family Hospital was built in Ensley. Consequently, most black births prior to that time were at home, assisted by midwives, as the Slossfield Maternity Clinic was reserved for high risk deliveries, or first time mothers. Holley spoke about how we can use Slossfield’s historic example in creating a program for today’s mothers.

Dr. Thomas Boulware, Jr. came to Birmingham from Missouri in 1929 to serve in Norwood Clinic (soon to be known as Carraway Hospital) under Dr. Charles Carraway. He was quite young and immediately became interested in caring for the underserved communities of Birmingham. Dr. Boulware established the first indigent maternity clinic at Hillman Hospital (UAB), and served as medical director of Slossfield Maternity Clinic, training all the doctors and nurses on staff there.

The second speaker, Dr. Boulware’s son, Thomas Boulware, III, told stories of his father’s commitment to his patients, in one instance, traveling back & forth from North Birmingham to Woodlawn to deliver two babies born on the same evening. He told of his father delivering three generations multiple times, and another in which he had delivered eighteen members of the same family. And he highlighted many of the achievements of his father over an esteemed 60-year medical career in which he delivered over 26,000 babies.

The last speaker, John Stamps, is Director of Operations at the Salvation Army. He pointed out that the Salvation Army is actually a Christian outreach church despite being known primarily for their humanitarian efforts. The Salvation Army purchased the abandoned and deteriorating Slossfield in 2018. They have taken on the challenge of restoring it as a core community center, bringing back many of its original services. John Stamps outlined their plans, and with his new understanding of its origins, hopes to re-establish its significance to the community.

Research and history once again come full circle.

The Life and Legacy of the Olmsted Family by Laurence Cotton, Historian

Celebrating Olmsted: BRINGING NATURE TO THE CITY AND CREATING BREATHING SPACE FOR DEMOCRACY

As part of a series of nation-wide, year-long events celebrating the legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted and the Olmsted family of landscape architects, historian Laurence Cotton presented a lecture detailing their impact at The Birmingham Botanical Gardens on February 16th.

Consulting producer on the PBS film, Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America, Cotton had not only visited, but was often intimately familiar with many of the Olmsted projects he discussed. His slides traveled the audience across America, giving the history, motivation, and importance of each of the parks and green spaces. Many are well-known and include:

  • Niagra Falls
  • The Biltmore Estate
  • Central Park in NYC
  • Yosemite
  • The Capitol Grounds and The Washington Mall
  • The Great White City – Chicago
  • Boston’s Emerald Necklace
  • Prospect Park in Brooklyn

Cotton emphasized the social importance of the Olmsted legacy. The green spaces and parks were designed to be available to all walks of life, to enhance the health and well-being of visitors, to encourage social engagement across economic & cultural divides, to provide forestry and landscape experiments, and to stand the test of time. As he stated, Frederick Law Olmsted and his sons were true artists of the landscape, while working on a vast scale, in FOUR dimensions, with the fourth being time…to allow their design visions to mature over decades.

However, their public spaces were not always green, as Cotton illustrated by Olmsted’s plan for the Capitol steps in Washington, D.C. There, Olmsted’s step design again encouraged democracy and provided an open forum for public engagement.

As another example, their design for Niagra Falls restored and enhanced the beauty that was already there. Before and after images were startling.

Niagra gorge circa 1901

Cotton ended his travel log in Birmingham, drawing upon the resources written by The Birmingham Historical Society and Marjorie White, with a special recommendation for Shades Creek, Flowing Through Time. Related artifacts assembled by The Southern History Department of The Birmingham Public Library, were part of a special exhibit and reception following the lecture. Books by The Birmingham Historical Society on Olmsted were available, and a reading list assembled by Laurence Cotton is available HERE.

Research, Publishing, & Education – Address Change

Birmingham has a very rich heritage and Birmingham Historical Society has been researching and publishing educational articles about Birmingham for 80 years. Established in 1942, the Society has published an impressive list of books about its neighborhoods, its origins, its industrial history, and its civil rights history among others.

Want to know more? Join us!

PLEASE NOTE OUR CHANGE OF MAILING ADDRESS:

P.O. Box 321474 BIRMINGHAM, AL 35232

SOCIETY PUBLICATIONS 1977-2021

  • 2021.  Birmingham: The City Beautiful, Compliments of G. Ward
  • 2020. The Birmingham District: An Industrial History and Guide (reprint of 1981 edition)
  • 2019. Pretty Posies, Powerful Healing: An Herbal Primer
  • 2019. Shades Creek: Flowing Through Time
  • 2018. Warren H. Manning’s City Plan for Birmingham, reprint of 1919 plan
  • 2016. Birmingham, 1915, reprint
  • 2016. For Science and Humanity: Building Southern Research
  • 2015. Bob Moody’s Birmingham: A City in Watercolor
  • 2014. Mountain Brook-A Historic American Landscape
  • 2013. MINUTES-Central Committee of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
  • 2012. The Jemison Magazine: Birmingham and Mountain Brook, 1926-1930, reprint of the magazines
  • 2011. The Jemison Magazine and The Selling of Birmingham, 1910-1914, reprint of the magazines
  • 2010. Digging Out of the Great Depression: Federal Programs At Work In and About the Birmingham Area
  • 2009. Mountain Brook Village: Then & Now
  • 2008. D.O. Whilldin: Alabama Architect
  • 2007. Hand Down Unharmed: Olmsted Files on Birmingham Parks: 1910-1925
  • 2006. The Olmsted Vision: Parks for Birmingham
  • 2005. A Park System for Birmingham, Olmsted Brothers, 1925, Reprint.
  • 2004. Art of the New South: Women Artists of Birmingham, 1890-1950
  • 2003. A Guide to Architectural Styles Featuring Birmingham Homes
  • 2001. Aspiration: Birmingham’s Historic Houses of Worship
  • 2001. A Pizella Affair: Portraits of the Comer Family
  • 1999. Walking Tours of Birmingham Churches Conducted from 1990-1999
  • 1999. Vive Vulcan! Activities for Schools
  • 1998. In Celebration of the Restoration of Alabama Power Company’s 1925 Tower
  • 1998. Low Virtues: The Value of Human Scale Architecture to Birmingham Urbanism
  • 1998. A Walk to Freedom-The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, 1956-1964
  • 1997. Birmingham Bound-An Atlas of the South’s Premier Industrial Region
  • 1996. Birmingham View: Through the Years in Photographs
  • 1995. Birmingham’s Vulcan, reprint 1938 booklet
  • 1995. Vulcan & His Times-A Tell all about Birmingham’s Most Famous Landmark
  • 1994. The Birmingham Industrial Heritage District Map
  • 1992. True Tales of Birmingham
  • 1991. Mountain Brook Estates, reprint of a 1926 publication
  • 1991. Judge Clarence Allgood: His Brother’s Keeper
  • 1990. Cinderella Stories, Transformations of Historic Birmingham Buildings
  • 1989. Designs on Birmingham: A Landscape History of a Southern City and its Suburbs
  • 1989. Buildings Against Cities: The Struggle to Make Places
  • 1988. House Detective: A Guide to Researching Birmingham Buildings
  • 1986. Image of the City, by Grady Clay
  • 1985. Go To Town, Birmingham: A Public Forum on a Vital City Center
  • 1984. Old Birmingham-New Architecture: Student Projects for a Historic Downtown Context
  • 1983. Five Points Heritage Hike and Patch
  • 1982. Town Within A City: The Five Points South Neighborhood, 1880-1930
  • 1981. The Birmingham District: An Industrial History and Guide
  • 1980. Birmingham Heritage Hike Guide and Patch
  • 1978. The Ghost in the Sloss Furnaces
  • 1978. Downtown Discovery Tour
  • 1978. Downtown Birmingham: Architectural and Historical Walking Tour Guide
  • 1977-1987. The Journal of the Birmingham Historical Society, 14 issues

Highland Avenue’s Historic Parks

When journalists write about the history of our city’s landmarks, the Society takes note, and appreciates their interest in Birmingham’s heritage. One recent example is Gabby Gervais’ article on 1/27/22 in Bham Now entitled, ”Discover the origin of the 3 unique parks in Highland Park”, in which she quotes BHS Director, Marjorie White.

Today, part of a much loved neighborhood with a variety of affordable housing, Highland Avenue was originally lined with mansions and was the preferred home of many of Birmingham’s founders. The three parks at that time were merely ravines along the popular avenue. So Mayor George Ward, who had a strong interest in public green spaces, declared the ravines on Highland Avenue “parks” assuring that they would remain undeveloped lots.

Rhodes Park, named after the founder of what is now The Birmingham News, is 3 1/4 acres with residential lots that were developed mainly between 1906-1911. The landscape plan was created by Boston landscape architect, George Miller, while some of the architectural features were designed by William Leslie Welton.

Rhodes Park, considered the central park on Highland Avenue, has a number of landscape features not found in the other two. Due to lack of city funds at the time, the stone entrances, steps, and concrete features in Rhodes Park were paid for by the wealthy residents who lived along Highland Avenue at the turn of the century. While the other two ravines remained largely undeveloped, thanks to the efforts of Mayor George Ward, they have nevertheless remained parks, and are included in the Olmsted Brothers plans for green spaces in Birmingham.

Courtesy of highland-park.org, postmarked 1913

Highland Park is a perfect example of a neighborhood that celebrates Birmingham’s past while shaping its future. Learn more about it HERE