Category Archives: Research

Celebrating 150 Years of Religious & Civic Growth: A Panel Discussion

“Sacred Spaces, Civic Places,
and the Building of a Magic City”

February 27, 2022
3:00PM to 4:30PM
First United Methodist Church Sanctuary
518 19th Street North
Birmingham, AL 35203

Panelists:

  • Pam King, Assistant Professor of History and Historic Preservation, UAB Dept of History (retired)
  • Jim Baggett, Head, Archives Department, Birmingham Public Library
  • Barry McNealy, Historical Content Expert, Birmingham Civil RIghts Institute & Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Historian

Participating Congregations:

  • St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 1869
  • First United Methodist Church, 1872
  • Cathedral Church of theAdvent, 1872
  • First Presbyterian Church, 1872
  • The Cathedral of St. Paul, 1872
  • First Baptist Church, 1872
  • Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, 1873
  • Temple Emanu-EL, 1882

This event is free and open to the public and childcare will be available


In 1871 the City of Birmingham was incorporated by the Elyton Land Company on farmland that would soon be the juncture of two major railroads. The location had everything – coal, iron ore and limestone, all necessary for the soon to be thriving industrial city.

At that time, there existed an African-American Methodist congregation that, according to church records, began meeting in tents in 1869. In 1872 Elyton gave five land grants to establish houses of worship for white congregants of five major denominations – Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, United Methodist and Baptist.

In 1873 the first Black Baptist church was established downtown. Then in 1882 the first temple was built for the growing Jewish community. These eight congregations comprise Birmingham’s earliest houses of worship, and they are still thriving today and have over a hundred years of sacred and civic commitment to the Magic City..

View the reprint of the 1997 newsletter with MAP here

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

By Popular Demand!

The evening lecture at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens entitled, Celebrating Olmsted with Historian Laurence Cotton, on February 16th, filled overnight. In an effort to accommodate all those with an interest in attending, an additional lecture has been added at 10AM. Registration opens to the public at 5PM on Wednesday, January 19th.