Thursday, December 1, 2016

The History and Charm of Centerpoint, Alabama

If an investor was looking to rent to career oriented families, singles or even room mates, Centerpoint would be a great place to spend your investment money.  The diversity of properties in the area is huge with plenty to choose from.

Centerpoint was hit just as hard, if not harder, than other areas when the real estate market crashed in 2007. As a result, the inventory of properties currently on the market is just as plentiful and diverse as the types of properties themselves.

As noted later, this area has a much higher rate of people who move into the area and stay.  One of the reasons is that while Centerpoint butts up against Birmingham, it is not a part of Birmingham.  Their schools are newer, more spacious and higher rated on the whole than those of Birmingham.  Yet the drive to Birmingham is mere minutes - or seconds depending upon which part of Centerpoint you are in.

As the name would imply Centerpoint is centrally located with Birmingham to the south, Gardendale and Fultondale to the west, Trussville to the east and Pinson and Clay to the north.

According to the government census' Centerpoint currently has approximately 17,000 residents.  At its peak it would boast of 22,784 in 2000.  It covers approximately 8.1 square miles.


In 1816 the Reed family arrived in the area from North Carolina.  5 years later they would apply for and receive a land grant for the area now known as Centerpoint.  From its inception, the area's only water source was the spring that runs through the middle of the town.  Folks would hook up their wagons to their horses, drive to the spring, fill up their buckets and then drive the water back home.  It wasn't until 1871 that Dave Franklin finally hit water by drilling.  He then built a store out of local stone in front of the new well.  That well served the community until 1957 when Cullen Scott finally found enough water to furnish the entire town and built the city water tank.

The town officially received Centerpoint as its name in 1900 but wasn't officially a city until March, 2002. From 1960 until 1990 Centerpoint was the largest unincorporated area in the entire United States.  In 1900 when the city was named, it consisted of a blacksmith shop, a grocery store and a post office in addition to the houses scattered about the area.

Andy Beard of Centerpoint invented the coupling mechanism for railroad cars and later sold that invention for $10,000.

The 10 acres that now serve as the Reed Harvey Park was once the home place of the founding family. Throughout the generations they had steadfastly refused to sell any of it for fear that the natural spring, the gristmill, the beautiful trees and landscaping and the wooden bridge that crossed the spring would fall victim to "modernization" and would eventually become a housing development.  However, when the last of the family grew too old to continue living on the property, they graciously sold it to the city in exchange for a promise never to develop that land or tear down the existing buildings.  It is now a beautiful city park with fishing, picnic areas and other areas of interest for all to enjoy.

Below are a few shots of both the spring that kept the residents supplied with water for the better part of 50 years and a couple of shots of the wonderful pedestrian bridge that was built on the edge of the water. Every year the city hold a kid fishing competition here that is attended by huge crowds.

The building below was the family gazebo and it sits at the edge of the water.  It is constructed of fieldstone gathered from the area.

The picture blow shows the original well house.  The water in the well is so pure, the city has developed it's own water brand using water pulled from this well.

The government numbers for Centerpoint are pretty attractive.  The average renter is a family with less than 30% of the renters being single with no children.  The median household income (from 2002) is $41,284 with a state median of $41,574.  31% of residents are renters with 26% being owner occupied.

The state of Alabama claims an unemployment rate of 6.6%.  Centerpoint's number is 6.0%.  Centerpoint also has a higher high school graduation rate than the rest of the state as a whole.

Only 20% of the residents are considered to be living in poverty.  As mentioned in the opening paragraph, Centerpoint has a much higher number of residents that move into the area and stay than the rest of the state.

As for inventory, there is a lot of real estate to be bought in this area of all kinds.  There are apartments, condo's, small starter homes, larger family homes and even a lot of large family homes.  Lot sizes on average, are larger than the lot sizes in Birmingham.  Most of the streets are lined with mature trees and the terrain is rolling hills.

The housing in Centerpoint typically consists of ranch and split level homes mostly built between 1957 and 2002 with some a bit older and many that are newer.

If I were in the market for rental property, this is probably where I'd begin my quest.  I like the space between the houses, the well maintained streets and the fact that the residents take good care of their lawns. There is ample shopping within the city limits of Centerpoint and the school district is a good one.  It would have my attention most certainly.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Forest Park neighborhood of Birmingham, Alabama

The Forest Park neighborhood of Birmingham, Alabama has often been described as a neighborhood of sidewalks, old trees and neighbors who get out and meet each other.  Driving through this neighborhood is like being transported back in time to an era when neighbors knew one another well enough to borrow the occasional cup of sugar.  A time when children walked around the block to visit their friends versus sitting in their rooms with their eyes glued to an electronic gadget.

Neighborhood amenities include Highland Golf Course and Triangle Park (a meeting place for families and friends).

This area also includes the South Avondale neighborhood which is home to Avondale Elementary and the newly renovated Avondale Park.

41st Street has received national attention within the last year due to the impressive new commercial development, offering residents from the neighborhood and surrounding areas a vibrant destination, complete with a huge and enormously popular local farmer's market, brewery, bars, retail, and dining.

Forest Park Village, located on Clairmont Avenue, a shopping and dining destination, includes a café, the historic Silvertron Café, Full Circle and Zoe's Boutique. Naked Art Gallery is a favorite spot for local art lovers.

Forest Park is minutes from downtown and UAB. It is very close to Highway 280 and Interstates 20, 59, and 65, as well as the airport.

It sits on the northern slope of Red Mountain southeast of downtown Birmingham.   The main residential neighborhoods were designed and developed by the Jemison Company beginning in 1906. 

Robert Jemison, Jr. Mansion built 1907 on the
main street that runs through the heart of Forest Park

The first subdivision in Forest Park was Mountain Terrace.  The same patterns of residential roads following the contours of the hillside was continued in later subdivisions through the next two decades.  These include Glenwood, Valley View, Altamont and Forest Hill subdivisions.

High atop the Red Mountain sits the Hassinger Castle at the corners of Carlisle and Wellington.  This massive castle was built in 1929 by William and Virginia Hassinger.  It boasts extensive gardens, garden ponds, grotto's and locally mined limestone.  The interior is finished with European woods and every attention to detail was meticulous right down to no visible hinges anywhere in the house. 

Hassinger Castle
Hassinger Castle

This home sits on Cliff road coming down Red Mountain towards Forest Park

Once you enter Forest Park, you will notice the variety in housing styles.  Below are a couple of apartment buildings that, while apartments, still speak volumes to the esthetic of the area.

As is evidenced by the pictures below, the housing in this area ranges from typical turn of the century Birmingham bungalows to baronial mansions.  Their designs range from Federal architecture to modern and their lots range from generously sized rolling lawns to postage stamp lots.  

The contrast in housing is often striking.  It's not unusual to find a low slung working class home sitting directly across the street from a brick palace complete with spiked wrought iron fencing, carport and carriage house. 

The landscape architect who designed the exterior feel of this area brought trees from Europe to plant in abundance.  He brought over sycamore, oak, hackberry and poplar trees.  Grand and stately trees that give the area a strong aura of rootedness.  Moss and ivy covered stone walls also land a feel of permanence to the neighborhood. 

This is the McWane mansion on Clairmont.  Anyone who has ever
been to Birmingham knows of the McWane Center which was created
by the original owners of this magnificent mansion.

In the first quarter of the 20th century this was THE place to live for the area's most influential people.  The roster of home owners and former home owners reads like a who's who of Jefferson county with former mayors, doctors, lawyers, judges, school superintendents and successful local artisans liberally included on that list.

Through the great depression and world war II, the area maintained its stability but slowly in the 1950's, it began to decline.  The trend of that time was to build smaller, ranch style houses.  They were cheaper to own and cheaper to maintain.  Many home owners gave into developers, sold their large old houses and headed to newer subdivisions.  The developers wasted no time in tearing down these beautiful old homes and building apartments in their place.

The decline stopped and an upswing began in the late 1960's when the baby boomers began to shop for their homes.  It was at this time that the movement of historic preservation really took off and these baby boomers were fighting to own homes in Forest Park.  A lot of these baby boomers grew up in Forest Park but their parents had moved them to Hoover or Vestavia during the declining years.

Another event that drew this community together and gave it an even stronger neighborhood spirit happened in the early 1970's when highway planners designed an airport expressway from the eastern area of Birmingham right through Forest Park.  A neighborhood association was formed and they fought that expressway right off the drawing boards.

The late 1970's saw the neighborhood association apply for the area to be a national historic district.  They surveyed 626 structures, prepared histories, photographs, maps and other supporting data of them that culminated in the 1980 listing of Forest Park on the National Register of Historic Places.  This offers them some protection against incompatible redevelopment.  I doubt they will ever have to face the threat of a freeway cutting through their neighborhood again.

Forest Park is worth a drive through on a nice afternoon.  Who knows?  You just might find your dream home there.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Alabama Cemetery Tour

October has rolled around again!  Time for my yearly "Is it haunted or not?" blog.  This year, let's look at a few cemeteries in and near Birmingham that may...or may haunted.  

The sites listed below are all privately owned.  As such, it is neither legal nor recommended that anyone step onto these properties without the express consent of the owner or manager.

East Lake Cemetery – Birmingham, AL

East Lake Cemetery was a part of the Ruhama Baptist Church and was established in the early 1830’s thanks to the donation of one acre by Richard Wood and his wife, Harriet Bradford Wood.  Over the years, more land was added.

This cemetery boasts 60 Confederate, one Union, three Spanish-American War and six World War I soldiers among its residents.

It has been said that beneath the cemetery are a web of caverns unbeknownst to the cemetery owners until sometime later when graves began falling into the caverns below.

When you walk about the cemetery, there are several graves that have either completely slipped into the caverns below or are well on their way.  You can actually look down into these sunken graves and see the coffins that have crashed into the caverns below.  Some are still intact but some have busted open spilling their contents below.

Rumor has it that during the 70’s a couple of teens were in the cemetery after dark when one of them accidentally stepped into one of the graves that had sunk.  He landed maybe 20 feet below and when he came to his senses and looked around, he noticed with great fright that he was laying on top of a body that had slipped out of its coffin when his grave collapsed.

Haunted or not, it’s one scary looking place.

Fraternal Cemetery - Pratt City, AL
(formerly the Pratt Mines Cemetery and United Mine Workers Cemetery)

This cemetery was established in 1881 and is located in Pratt City off of Sheridan Road on “Irish Hill” close to Pratt Mine #1.  Lands were added in 1898 & 1926 and for most of its early history, the cemetery was maintained by local fraternal organizations who bought parcels.  

Many immigrants who settled the Pratt City area are buried here.  The Pratt City Memorial Day Parades in the 1930s used to begin at Pratt City Hall and would end at the cemetery.
During the 20th century, the cemetery fell into neglect.  Since 2013 the Fraternal-Greenwood-Foley Cemetery Preservation Society has been working to secure funds and volunteers to maintain the cemetery.

This cemetery has an incredible history and boasts some of the most unusual headstones and mausoleums in the area not to mention many many stories about its residents that are just too fantastical not to be true.

The cemetery is entered through an arched stone gateway.  Inside the cemetery you will find a mausoleum structure, now dubbed “the gazebo” which consists of two circular domes supported on a rectangular arcade four bays long by two bays wide.  This structure was completely unnoticed for decades as the cemetery had been allowed to fall into a massive state of neglect.

Once a restoration organization had been formed and they began the massive job of cleaning up the cemetery, they discovered this structure.  An expert was brought in who determined that the stonework was old Italian and that this wasn’t actually a gazebo but rather had been a very ornate mausoleum complete with glass doors by which to view the coffin.  He surmised that over the years, vandals had broken into the vault thus necessitating that the coffin (and its contents) be relocated.

Another interesting thing is the grave of the three Italians.  This marker was made to honor three Italian boys who died shortly after they arrived from Italy.  Sadly, their names have never been known.

Another monument simply says “outlaw”.  I don't know if that's the residents name....or a description of his character.

The cemetery also contains the graves of one of the victims of one of Birmingham’s most horrific crime sprees, the Axe Murders of the 1920s.  Victim Calogero “Charley” Graffeo was murdered on May 28, 1923.  The next day the papers reported: “Graffeo was found dead at his store in an outlying residential section last night with his skull crushed by the blow of an axe and his throat slashed.”  The Axe Murder spree would continue for four long years.  The number of victims varies in newspaper account of the time, from 16 to as many as 44. 

How would you like to take a midnight stroll in this cemetery?

Bass Cemetery - Irondale, AL

This cemetery is a mecca for ghost hunters from all over the country.  Numerous reports of ghostly sightings, ghostly sounds, orbs of light and even ghostly touching have been reported there throughout the years.  There are even reports of occultists who have sacrificed animals at the cemetery along with an empty mausoleum.

The cemetery is just over 200 years old.  Among its residents it lays claim to being the final resting place of many civil war soldiers and deceased slaves.  Apparitions have been seen and the feeling of being followed is common.  Strange screams have also been heard.

The first known grave belongs to Burwell bass, a revolutionary war soldier who died in 1831.  It is also the final resting place of Montezuma Goodwin, a farmer who was shot and killed by his brother in law in 1904.  

No one seems to know exactly who is haunting Bass or why...they just know it's haunted!

Hughes Family Cemetery - Gardendale

Motorists passing by this cemetery have witnessed some strange occurrences, including objects banging against the car and ghostly hands or faces appearing on the windows.  Some say they have been chased by a wolf with glowing red eyes, accompanied by a glowing light, and others have heard strange noises.  Shadowy figures have been seen darting between the tombstones, and some of the tombstones themselves are said to move about on their own.

These reports are either incredibly frightening.....or a PSA against drugs and/or decide.

Oak Hill Cemetery - Birmingham, AL

Located just north of downtown, Oak Hill is Birmingham Alabama’s oldest cemetery...or at least the oldest cemetery within the original city limits of Birmingham.  Elyton Cemetery is older but when it was built, the Elyton community was outside the city limits.  Elyton Cemetery was built in 1821 some 68 years before Oak Hill.  

Originally 21.5 acres on the estate of James M. Ware, it was already a burial ground by April 1869 when it served as the resting place for the infant daughter of future mayor Robert H. Henley.  It was marked as “city Cemetery” on the original plats for Birmingham laid out by the Elyton Land Company and was formally sold to the city on December 29, 1873 for the sum of $1,073.50.

Most of the 10,000 or so burials at Oak Hill were interred before 1930, including nine of the ten landholders who founded the city, many early mayors, a Revolutionary soldier, numerous civil war veterans, and the first male child born in the city.  Although few records exist from the time, most believe the “Potter’s Field” section was also used as the final resting place for many victims of the 1873 cholera epidemic.

With this many graves and age, it’s no wonder people have long reported hearing disembodied voices, seeing shadowy visions, reporting instances of seeing a person who appeared to walk past them and then disappeared into the headstone of a nearby grave.

Salter Cemetery - Mulga, AL

If looking spooky and being really old were the only criteria of a haunted cemetery....then this one would be extremely haunted.  The building in the first shot is on the cemetery grounds.  I couldn't find anything that might tell me what it was used for.  An onsite funeral home?  Who knows?  The cemetery was established in 1832.  I have found graves as recent as 2009.    

High Hill Church – Parrish, AL

This church and cemetery is believed to be haunted by many ghosts.  Local residents have reported seeing people in the cemetery late at night.  Some have reported witnessing crowds of “people” late at night at the church and surrounding area.  They said it resembled a revival at the church even though the church has been abandoned for years.  One man reported that he happened across another man while he was out hunting near the church.  The man introduced himself to the hunter as the pastor of High Hill Church.  Later the hunter found out that the church had been abandoned for years and that the pastor who ran services there had died in the late 1970’s.  The pastor had also been known to enjoying hunting in the area.  Another person reported seeing a bride and groom walk out of the church late one night.

Adams Grove Presbyterian Church – Sardis, AL in Dallas County

The Adams Grove Presbyterian Church and the attached Adams Grove Cemetery in Sardis, Alabama is reportedly haunted.  The church was built in 1853 which was actually five years after the first person was buried in the cemetery and was an active congregation until 1974.  Today it is listed on the national historic registry and is privately owned. 

It is said that the ghost of a confederate soldier orders people off the property.    A spirit believed to be a former minister of the church dressed in black has been seen in the church as well.  Several paranormal research teams have investigated the property recently and have claimed to encounter ghosts during their investigations.

Consolidation Church Cemetery – Red Level, AL

Located not far from Oaky Streak Graveyard, this Butler County cemetery is the subject of legends that include banshees, hellhounds and even a haunted outhouse. 

The Greenville Advocate, a local newspaper, reported in 2012: “One of the most common legends shared about the church is that of a Gaelic banshee, whose shrieking, sobbing and whimpering can supposedly be heard from the wooden walls of the church.  It is said that whenever this happens, it won’t be long before someone inside the church dies.

Another story claims that hellhounds, with glowing red eyes roam the cemetery located just in front of the church.  Legend also has it that if someone enters the outhouse, the door will shut and lock behind them holding them prisoner until someone from the outside opens the door.”

Unfortunately, in 2015, someone set the church on fire and it was completely destroyed.