Saturday, October 7, 2017

Woodlawn (Changing for the Better)

The Woodlawn area of Birmingham was settled by Huguenot farmers in 1815 who traveled from South Carolina to settle in Alabama.  The leaders of this group were Obadiah Washington Wood and his son Edmond.

Edmond was granted 1200 acres of his father's homestead and went on to form a small community known as Rockville in 1832.  It was just a small group of homes near the roadway.

When the railroad came through in 1870, the area was renamed Wood Station and with the advent of the railroad through this area, it began to grow.  But the end of the 1870's, Woodlawn Academy had been created to educate the children of the approximately 90 families that called Wood Station and Rockville their home.  By 1891 Wood Station was recognized by the State of Alabama and it was incorporated under the name "City of Woodlawn".  In 1895 the residents erected their first city hall and jail.

In 1922 the gothic-inspired and historical Woodlawn High School opened.  It is still a thriving high school and truly a landmark in the Woodlawn area.

By 1910 the city of Birmingham had annexed Woodlawn but the sense of community in Woodlawn remained strong.  The Wood family had turned their estate on Georgia Avenue into a park for Woodlawn complete with a spring-fed swimming pool and named it Willow Wood Park.  

Unfortunately in the 1970's a culmination of events saw urban blight take over.  Some of those events were the tumultuous race riots of the 1960's, white flight, the aging population in Woodlawn and the desertion of Woodlawn by its younger residents as they moved elsewhere in search of employment.

As for notables who were raised in Woodlawn, Richard D. Zanucks wife, Lili was from Woodlawn as was Hop-a-Long Cassidy's wife, Dorothy.  Dorothy Sebastian was raised at 801 N. 49th St.  

Follow the link below for a street view of what her childhood home looks like today.,-86.762978,3a,75y,90h,81.73t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sGj1X8RJ45Fi_kQ_r64RWcQ!2e0 

Of course, no town would be complete without a cemetery.  The Wood family still owns and maintains a private cemetery located on 57th St. N. across from the Woodlawn High School. The descendants of the founders of Woodlawn maintain the cemetery themselves.

There is another cemetery in Woodlawn.  This one is a lot larger and a bit more notorious.  It is known as Greenwood Cemetery and is located by the airport.  

Some years ago, the airport took many acres of the cemetery and expanded their runway system.  They were supposed to move all the graves in their paths in order to accomplish this but there are doubts that this occurred.  A part of the interstate runs on the edge of the cemetery which again raised some suspicions as to whether the graves they disturbed were properly moved as well.  

For years folks had complained about not being able to find their loved ones but no one ever paid much, if any, attention to them since the cemetery itself was not always properly maintained.  This fact coupled with the common knowledge that vandals frequented this cemetery led authorities to take the families complaints with a big fat grain of salt and they simply replied that the graves in question simply could not be found - but certainly were still there. Perhaps the headstones had been vandalized?

Then in 1998, the sister of Addie Mae Collins went to visit her sister grave for the first time since Addie Mae and 3 other young girls were killed in the 16th St. Baptist Church bombings of 1963.  The owners of Greenwood had gone bankrupt in the 1970's and the cemetery was nearly in shambles and had been completely deserted.  

A few times a year the city would go out and have it mowed and would have the police patrol it from time to time, but that was all the maintenance that it ever received. The City of Birmingham estimates they have spent approximately $250,000 maintaining the abandoned cemetery. 

Addie Mae's family wanted to move her to another cemetery.  One that was better maintained and perhaps had security to keep the vandals away.

They found the marble headstone marking her grave but when the workers dug, they didn't find a coffin. 
To this day, no one knows what happened to the coffin containing the body of this young girl who was killed in the bombing of her church.

The original fire station for Woodlawn still stands.  It was built in 1929 and was one of the most interesting fire stations in the area as it was not built in the usual square box like fashion.

When Woodlawn hit its lowest point in the early 1980's the fire station was all but abandoned and sat empty and boarded up for 20 years.

Then in about 2008, a drive was founded to restore the formerly beautiful building.  Below is what the fire station looks like today.

There are a lot of buildings in the Woodlawn area that are still in decent shape.  The downtown area of Woodlawn is attractive and for the most part well maintained.  It could be brought back to its former glory and when that happens, the rest of the area will follow suit.

Other neighborhoods in the Birmingham area such as Avondale, Crestwood, South Side to name a few have all had their ups and downs but once their commercial area began to be refurbished and revived, the residential areas followed suit.

Woodlawn is a stone throw from downtown Birmingham.  The trendier neighborhoods of Avondale and Crestwood sit on its borders.

The original City Hall is still standing.  It has been repurposed as a funeral home and is well maintained.

Below are a few more shots of downtown.

The downtown area of Woodlawn has a nice urban feel to it.  I can imagine coffee shops, art galleries and perhaps even a community theater there.  The trendier neighborhoods are so close to Woodlawn that I am positive these residents would bring their business to Woodlawn rather than drive further down the road to Forrest Park or Southside to get their Sunday cup of coffee while watching the traffic and reading their paper.  

Follow the link below to read an article about the revitalization of Woodlawn and the exciting changes that have taken place and are soon to take place in Woodlawn.

As recently as 2010, 1st Avenue South in Woodlawn was once a long stretch of neglected rent subsidized apartments and falling down houses.  If you ventured down that strip at nearly any time of the day or night, you would see hookers walking their beat and drug deals taking place in plain view.

Then investors and the YWCA stepped in, bought up the properties along that strip, tore everything down and rebuilt a mixed-income development that is stunning to see.  They kept the architecture in line with the age of the area and added beautiful landscaping and lighting.  The difference is day and night.

The changes that have occurred in Woodlawn are many and all it took were a few investors with a few good ideas.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Norwood Neighborhood in Birmingham, AL

Norwood is a historic neighborhood in Birmingham, Alabama. It is located in the northeast corner of the "North Highlands" area.

The neighborhood borders follow an irregular path of creek, roads, and railroad tracks. Village Creek forms the northern border for 1.24 miles. To the east, the border comes down along the Louisville & Nashville Railroad's track to Interstate 20/59, then follows the interstate west to Vanderbilt Road; it then follows that road down to Richard Arrington, Jr. Boulevard and back to the east to the railroad and then down to the southern border. The southern border follows 9th Avenue North southwest to 31st Street North, then turns due west until meeting Arrington Boulevard; it follows Arrington briefly before turning due west again across the interstate to meet Carraway Boulevard. Carraway is the western border up to 19th Avenue North. The northwestern border follows 19th Avenue east to the Southern Railroad track, then follows the track NNW back to Village Creek.

The location of this neighborhood is ideal.  It is a 10-minute walk from the BJCC, 20 minutes from Linn Park and about that distance from the Railroad Park.  Interstate access is literally next door to the neighborhood and it lies smack in the middle between downtown and the airport.
Norwood was designated a historic neighborhood in 2012.  The main street in the neighborhood (Norwood Blvd) had been on the National Registries for many years prior.

In 2013, the popular television show and magazine, "This Old House" comprised a list of 61 historic neighborhoods nationwide that they viewed as the best historic neighborhoods in which to buy and renovate.  In the southern region, Norwood was number 2.  Nationally, Norwood was in the top 61.  The results were based on community involvement, purchase price, condition and cost of renovation as well as the city in which the neighborhood was located.
Once Norwood is brought back to life, it will be the largest restored historic neighborhood in the state of Alabama.
This neighborhood has a total of 3,510 people.  The houses are built in the styles of Craftsman, American Foursquare, neoclassical, prairie and various Victorian era styles.  Prices for these houses range the gamut of well under $20,000 (for fixer uppers) all the way to over $120,000 for the more renovated and completely renovated houses.
There are over 1,000 homes included in this neighborhood.  They range in size from 2 bedroom bungalows all the way to 8 bedroom mansions.  As a matter of fact out of the 1,000 homes included 382 of them have more than 4 bedrooms and 352 of them have 4 bedrooms.
Below are just a sample of both renovated homes and homes in need of renovation as of December 2014.

The house below is the original home of Dr. Charles Carraway.  He was the namesake for Carraway Blvd and also for the Carraway Hospital. Both of which are in the Norwood neighborhood.

When this neighborhood was developed around 1910, it was a well-planned neighborhood with a gorgeous scenic boulevard running the middle.  This neighborhood was where the doctor's, lawyers and entrepreneurs built their dream houses.  In the mid-1960's, the development of Interstate 20/59 cut the neighborhood off from having direct access to the rest of the city and in effect gave the neighborhood 1 easy way in and out.  It was about this time that the original homeowners began moving to the suburbs.  Was it because 20/59 was built near their homes or because 20/59 made it much easier to live outside the city yet commute to the city for work? Probably a combination of the two.  At any rate, the neighborhood began to see a gradual decline with fewer professionals either buying into the neighborhood or staying.  After a time, people focused on other historic neighborhoods, buying up the properties, renovating them and turning them into thriving districts while Norwood was all but forgotten.  As a result, many of the stately mansions have either been torn down, burned down or left to fall down naturally.  
Beginning in about 2005, a renewed interest in the neighborhood flared.  Many young professionals who wanted to own and renovate a mansion but had been priced out of many of the historic neighborhoods began to buy and fix up those in Norwood.  The Village Creek that runs for over a mile on the edge was cleaned up and turned into the Village Creek Greenway. An involved homeowners association was developed and a group known as the Norwood Resource Center began to sponsor such yearly events as the "Couch to 5K Walk/Run", the "Blvd Blast 5K", the "Garden Workday" and the "Norwood Market at the Trolley Stop".  A "Learning Garden" and community garden was developed.
Below is a picture of the running trail that follows Norwood Blvd.

The following shot is of a small portion of the Norwood Learning Gardens.
This picture is of Norwood Market at the Trolley Stop.
This neighborhood is an incredible area with tons of history as well as charm.  The rents in this neighborhood are diverse.  There are apartments that rent for as little as $350 a month and some single family dwellings that rent for as much as $1,200 a month and everything in between.
As with all historic neighborhoods, if people don't come in and turn it around, it will eventually become a ghetto wasteland.  Sadly we've seen far too many of those.  However, every time a house or apartment building is renovated, the neighborhood goes up a notch.  The property values go up a notch and the rents go up a notch.  
Norwood isn't beyond repair - yet.  I'd live in one of those majestic mansions sitting on the winding gently sloping historic Norwood Blvd.
But that's just me.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Ballplay Alabama and Burnt Corn Alabama

Summer is the month for traveling.  It's the time of year when folks like to get into their cars and see what lies beyond their home city.  Here are two small communities that are more than worth a tank of gas to visit.

Ballplay Alabama

Nestled in a large bend of the Coosa River in Etowah County, Alabama is the little town of Ballplay.  It sits about an hour from Huntsville to the northwest and an hour to Birmingham to the Southwest and only 15 miles northeast of Gadsden.

A post office was established in Ballplay in 1840 and remained in operation until 1905.  As of the 2010 census, there were 1,580 permanent residents of Ballplay.  10% of them have earned a bachelors or greater from a college or university.  The median age in Ballplay is 38 with a median income level of $43,346.  Unemployment rates in Ballplay are significantly lower than the state and national levels.

Ballplay is a scenic little community with a unique name.  Long before the town was established, the area was a Court of sorts for the native Americans who inhabited the area.  They would meet at Ballplay and would play ball to resolve disputes among various tribes.  Thus, the name. 

Old farmhouse on the main road leading into Ballplay

The majority of the jobs in this area involve farming or construction.  Nearby Gadsden offers a wide range of manufacturing and other areas of employment.  It is close to numerous community colleges and Universities and within minutes from 6 hospitals.

This is a view of Ballplay from atop a nearby hill.

Christmas sees Ballplay decked out in its finest Christmas lights and is a marvel to behold.  Mr. Gilley lights his farm up from Thanksgiving to New Years and people from all over make a special trip to see it.

Burnt Corn, Alabama

Located in southwest Alabama, Burnt Corn is the earliest known settlement in Monroe County, Alabama.  The population in 1880 was 33.  In 2004 the population had risen to a booming 300.

 Main Street

Abandoned Church on Main Street

Oral history states that the town received its name from the burning of the corn fields as part of the scorched earth policies during the Creek was in early 1800's.  It is also said that the nearby Murder Creek was so named because victims of the Creek war were thrown into the creek.

 One lane bridge over Murder Creek

Murder Creek as seen from the bank.

The Battle of Burnt Corn, an episode of the Creek War in July 1813, did not actually occur in the town of Burnt Corn but at a ford of Burnt Corn Creek to the south, in present day Escambia County.  when the Creek Nation was forced to cede land to the US, in 1815, Burnt Corn Spring was included in a 640-acre land grant to Jim Cornells, a trader who along with his brothers married into the Creek Indian Nation and were assimilated into the tribe.  The Cornells fought on the US side in the war.  Jim's second eldest daughter married Alexander McGillivray who was the most influential of all Creek Chiefs. He had uncanny diplomatic skills and until his death had successfully played the British, Spanish and Americans against one another to the advantage of his people.

Alexander McGillivray aka Hoboi-Hili-Miko 

As for the story behind the cause of the Creek War, according to General Thomas Woodward in his "Woodward's Reminiscences," Jim Cornells "swapped" his niece, Polly Kean, to a man named Sam Jones for a woman named Betsy Coulter with whom he had traveled in the Creek Nation with from Fort Wilkinson. He took Betsy for his wife. Sam Jones did marry Polly Kean but was killed by Jim Cornells in 1816 (Polly then married "one-eyed Billy Oliver" as he was known in Indian Country.")

As tensions heightened, a group of warriors headed to Pensacola to purchase weapons from the Spanish. Along the way, Betsy was captured by the leader, Peter McQueen, son of another trader, Old James McQueen who supposedly went into the nation in 1716 and married a Tallassee woman. Jim and his family did not follow the Prophet Tecumseh who had pushed the Creeks toward war with the whites. He and many half-native Americans were becoming victims of their fellow Indians. Peter and Jim Boy, another principal war chief, took Jim's wife and a man named Marlowe to Pensacola. They sold Betsy to Madame Barrone, a French lady, for one blanket.

Jim was not at his home when this out rage took place. When he returned and found his wife gone, his house and corn crib burned, he mounted "a fast grey horse" and rode south, warning others, including settlers at Jackson. On July 27, Cornells and others formed a large group of mixed blood and whites and waited in ambush for the returning war party. So began the battle of Burnt Corn.

After the surrender of Weatherford at Fort Jackson, William Weatherford returned to his home on Little River. But because of the hostile feeling his neighbor felt towards him, he decided to turn himself into Col. Russell at Fort Claiborne. He was placed in a tent and under guard. One of the guards assigned to him was Jim Cornells. Jim had sworn to kill Weatherford, whom he held responsible for the capture of his wife. Weatherford heard of the threat and confronted Jim directly, asking if Jim would take advantage of him while under guard. Jim replied that no, he would not take advantage of him while under his care. But promised to kill Weatherford when the time was over. Cornells later learned that Weatherford had nothing to do with the kidnapping of his wife and the two became friends.

U.S. Postal service to Burnt Corn began in 1817 when the village also became part of the Alabama Territory.  The post office was closed in 2002.

In December 2009 the Burnt Corn Creek overflowed causing major damage to the farming community.

Today, Burnt Corn is a sleepy little farming community.  Many of the old buildings are still standing and provide a historical backdrop to this old town.  Definitely worth a road trip.