The Jemison Magazine and the Selling of Birmingham


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Jemison Magazine Reprint Debuted in 2012

Forward-thinking Birmingham. Sky’s the limit. Growth, prosperity, promise, and innovation. A city on the rise, notable on the national scene. Vibrant and important. That’s the way our city looked in 1910.

The solid reasons for that deserved optimism are detailed in The Jemison Magazine and the Selling of Birmingham, 1910-1914, the newest book from the Birmingham Historical Society. The core of the volume addresses the planning and development of Fairfield, then a new site for U.S. Steel’s operations, and visionary Robert Jemison Jr.’s real estate dreams-turned-realities in the Birmingham area. The story is told through excerpts from The Jemison Magazine published by the Jemison firm from 1910 to 1914. More than 200 period photographs and drawings are included.

“This book is all about the optimism of the time,” says Marjorie White, Director of the Birmingham Historical Society. “They believed that they were creating a world-class industrial region. There was so much building, so much progress. It’s the Golden Era in many ways–and what they created paved the way for the Birmingham we know today.”

Among the exciting happenings during the period:

  • The industrial engine was expanding (mines, coal, coke, furnaces, foundries, iron, steel, pipes, rails) and the population was rising–a 10-year swell from 38,000 to 132,000, an increase of 245%.
  • Birmingham was recognized nationally as the rail and industrial capital of the South (10 trunk railroads–many more than Atlanta)
  • Jemison advanced civic pride by bringing world-class planners, engineers, and architects to lay out and construct new communities (Fairfield, Central Park, Forest Park, Altamont, Redmont, and real estate in the city center). Jemison raised investment capital and investors hung on.

The book’s 200+ photographs detail the extraordinary growth and enthusiasm:

  • Photo: The 1909 plan for Fairfield, introducing the concept of city planning and beautification. (Jemison put more than $1 million into landscaping, coordinating shrub, tree, and flower plantings. He later put these concepts into play in creating Mountain Brook and Redmont.)
  • Photo: Children frolicking in a Fairfield park wading pool, delighting in the green space and water of the planned community’s thoughtful addition. (Every Fairfield home was within a two-minute walk of a park or parkway.)
  • Photo: Bungalow cottages and backyards in Fairfield (innovative for the time, designed to attract skilled workers to this city with high standards).
  • Photo: Heaviest Corner on Earth–View of Birmingham Skyline, 1913–The newly completed office buildings at First Avenue and Twentieth Streets (they included the Woodward, Brown-Marx, Empire and American Trust buildings).
  • Photo: The Ridgley (today’s Tutwiler Hotel)–Completed in 1914, this apartment building was copied from Park Avenue, designed by New York architect J.E.R. Carpenter (an aristocratic and forward-thinking move for the city).

INSIDE THE COVER: A sampling of facts:

  • Former President Teddy Roosevelt visiting Fairfield (his comments: “Bully…splendid!”)
  • The “selling” aspect–Jemison’s magazine was designed to “sell” and boost Birmingham (great facts and figures in its pages)
  • The tradition of city and neighborhood planning–alive in today’s Birmingham
  • Period promotional rhetoric: “Fairfield stands Unequaled, Unparalleled, Impossible to Imitate, Impossible to Duplicate.” At one point, promoters called Fairfield the “8th Wonder of the World.”

The Jemison Magazine and The Selling of Birmingham, 1910-1914
Edited by Julius Linn Jr., Katherine Tipton, and Marjorie White
Paperback, 8 1/2″ x 11″, 288 pages, 200 black-and-white photographs and drawings
Publication Date: October 2011
Publisher: Birmingham Historical Society

Historical Research, Publishing, and Education