Thursday, December 7, 2017

Red Mountain Suburbs

Anyone who has ever visited Birmingham, Alabama is familiar with the Vulcan statue and museum that sits atop Red Mountain.  What they might not be familiar with is the gorgeous neighborhood that shares the top of Red Mountain with him.  This neighborhood is called the Red Mountain Suburbs.  It was built between 1911-1935 and is the state's second oldest fully-realized, garden-landscaped residential area. It is situated on the slopes and crest of Red Mountain which provides spectacular views of the city below. 

The Red Mountain area is made up of several real estate developments spanning the years between 1911 and 1935. Although each of these developments was originally planned as a separate entity, they collectively embody the same general feeling of design with similar architectural and landscaping features that unify the area. The overall design is based on a single curving street along the edge of the mountain crest from which a number of winding streets and cul-de-sacs radiate into the surrounding natural woodlands. Along one portion of the street skirting the edge of the crest is a park. Another small circular park near the center of the crest, called Key Circle, provides a formal entrance to the area and is a major intersection for the main access streets. Many of the streets cut deeply into the slopes and the resulting banks are reinforced with high walls of natural stone. The majority of the houses are the largest and most impressive homes in Alabama. They comprise the finest examples of Tudor, Classical Revival, Dutch Colonial, Spanish Revival, Renaissance Revival, English Cottage and Chateauesque domestic architecture in the state. The houses are situated on large lots, some encompassing several acres, and are shaded by enormous trees, most of which are a part of the natural vegetation of the mountain. Many of the estates retain their original servant and guest houses. 

The district is comprised of 379 homes with approximately 100 contributing garage buildings and 3 special park features.  The boundaries of the district have been drawn to encompass the largest concentration of housing within the Valley View, Milner Heights, Altamont/Redmont Drives and Redmont Park subdivisions from the original (early 20th century) plats of these exclusive and upper middle class suburban neighborhoods.  

The Red Mountain Suburbs in Birmingham contain Alabama's finest collection of residential architecture built between 1911 and 1935 and include the state's best examples of the domestic use of the Tudor, Spanish Revival, Chateauesque, Classical Revival, Dutch Revival and Colonial Revival. In the district are some of the best designs by the city's most noted architects — John Miller, Hugh Martin, Warren, Knight & Davis, as well as designs by landscape architect George H. Miller of Boston and architect Richard Johnson of California. Criterion C - Landscape Architecture; The Red Mountain Suburbs (1911-1935) are significant as the second of Alabama's two fully-realized examples of garden-landscaped residential suburbs popularized in the United States by Frederick Law Olmsted in developments such as Druid Hills (1893) in Atlanta and Riverside (1869) in Chicago, Utilizing the natural contours of the crest and north slope of Birmingham's Red Mountain, the district features scenic overlook drives relieved by curving cul-de-sacs. The district encompasses four separate residential developments: Valley View (1911); Milner Heights (1914); Redmont/Altamont (1914) and Redmont Park (1925). 

The developments, however, are harmoniously bounded by the similar landscape designs utilizing the natural topography and native foliage. Drawing from the plans of landscape architects C. W. Leavitt of N.Y. (Milner Heights, 1913-14 and the Woodward Estate, 1919, Inv. #278 grounds) and George H. Miller of Boston (Valley View and Altamont Road, 1911-19), as well as Birmingham landscape architect William H, Kessler and engineer John Glander (Redmont Park, 1925) , the district incorporates almost every conceivable precaution to guard against undesirable encroachments, preserve property value, provide natural environmental beauty and reflects the position and wealth of its residents. Criterion A - Urban Planning; The Red Mountain Suburbs is an exceptionally good example of the automobile suburb. Sited two hundred feet above the nearest streetcar stop, the district reflects the transportation transition to the private automobile during the early 1920s as Birmingham's affluent sought refuge from the pollution of the city's heavily industrialized areas.

The October 1929 collapse of Wall Street and the subsequent Depression nearly halted the south suburban movement on Red Mountain. Harder hit than many cities in the state because of its heavy dependence on industry, Birmingham suffered massive unemployment and labor unrest. Only an occasional home was built during the 1930's, but many changed hands at severely depressed prices. Economic recovery and stability did not resume until the 1940's, as the Birmingham industries joined in the lucrative nationwide armaments production and war support effort. As prosperity gradually returned, the few vacant lots were developed. As a result, the district contains a few contemporary constructions. However, excluding these few intrusions, the district has retained its original character as outlined by its developers, and has resisted commercial service amenities often indicative of suburban development. 

Major Willis Julian Milner

The success of the Red Mountain suburbs reflects the long-range vision of two Birmingham developers: W. J. Milner and Robert Jemison. Major Willis Julian Milner (b.1842), is recognized as a pioneer of Birmingham, where in 1871 his professional engineering skills were of great value in laying out the young city. In the 1880's he laid out South Highlands, but it was not until after the turn of the century, however, that he and his son, Henry Key Milner (who laid out the town of Fort Payne), developed the Milner Heights Subdivision. Robert Jemison, Jr. (1878-1974) was the son of businessman Robert Jemison of Birmingham. The senior Jemison is best known for his role in organizing the Birmingham Railway and Electric Company, and for his tenure as president of that company (which later became the Birmingham Railway, Light and Power Company). Jemison, Jr. moved to Birmingham from Tuscaloosa with his family while still a child and attended the Birmingham public schools. He later attended the University of Alabama (1895-96) and he completed his studies at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. His entry into the business world was with a Birmingham retail hardware and building supply business where he worked until 1903. That year, he organized the Jemison Real Estate and Insurance Company. 

The Tutwiler Building
Among the long list of his successful ventures are the Empire Building, the Chamber of Commerce Building, the Tutwiler Building, and the Ridgely Apartments. He also built the industrial town of Fairfield and developed subdivisions including Central Park, Bush Hills, and some of the suburbs that comprise Forest Park including Mountain Terrace (NRHP 11/21/80). Jemison's company slogan, a quotation from Daniel Webster amply reflects his principles for real estate development: "Let us develop the resources of our land, call forth its powers, build up its institutions, promote all its great interests, and see whether we also, in our day and generation may not perform something worthy to be remembered." Today, the suburbs certainly exemplify Jemison's goal, as they are "something worthy to be remembered" and preserved.

One of the more infamous houses in the district is the Chaucer Hall a/k/a Swann-Coleman House a/k/a Swann Castle which is located on over 2 prime acres with spectacular views.  Below are several photos of it.  These photo's date from 1938 to 2003.

Located on Redmont Road, this property boasts eight bedrooms, eight full and three half bathrooms and is approximately 21,385 square feet.   The castle was built for Theodore Swann who made his fortune as an early leader of the chemical industry.

The stones were brought to Birmingham for use in the construction of another house erected on Shades Mountain in the early 1920s. The architect was from California, and, by his representation, he obtained them from the cache of William Randolph Hearst. That house no longer stands. The leader architect on the Swann house, William T. Warren, acquired them for use in the "Norman Hall" which is a subterranean or basement room. 

Swann suffered a reversal of fortune and was reduced to living in the basement of his house, trapping rabbits on the property for food. He was unable to make the last mortgage payment on the property, and, the bank foreclosed. The second owner died in an airplane crash before taking possession. The wife of the third owner went blind in the house. The fourth owners, Joseph and Virginia Simpson fared no better.  the wife was found murdered in her bed, and, the husband died shortly thereafter; the fifth owners got out with any misfortune, although the husband died before the sale of the house closed. The sixth owner spent a million dollars restoring and modernizing the house; unfortunately, he, like Swann, suffered a reversal of fortune, and he sold the house at a considerable loss. The house is now on its seventh set of owners.

Several of the amenities that make this house unique are things such as a 12th-century Norman hall, preserved from an English castle. Ten fireplaces, including living-room setup with hand-carved oak paneling. Georgian dining room and stone-and-glass conservatory overlooking a pond. Small gym and two new wine cellars. Outside, an English garden with a rose arbor, a Provence garden with a pond, a kitchen garden, a dogwood grove and a boxwood parterre.

To drive through the Red Mountain District is like driving through a Hollywood movie set.  Steep curving streets barely wide enough for two cars, stately trees framing the avenues and giving shade to the wondrously designed mansions whose views are beyond anything else in the city.

Red Mountain District is a unique and picturesque section of the city.  

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Trussville Alabama

Trussville is a city in Jefferson and St. Clair counties in the State of Alabama. It is a suburb of Birmingham and part of the Birmingham-Hoover Metropolitan Statistical Area. Its estimated 2015 population was 21,023.
Trussville has been recognized as one of the most livable cities in the state and country. It was named one of the ten best towns in Alabama for young families, listed among the five best Birmingham suburbs, and included in Money magazine's list of 100 best places to live in America coming in at number 56.

The first European settler to establish residence in the area was Warren Truss, who entered the area with his brothers and constructed a grist mill on the Cahaba River in 1821. Truss was a North Carolina man of English descent. 

Trussville remained an agricultural community until after the Civil War when the Alabama-Chattanooga Railway was built through the city. By 1886 a blast furnace was built on what is now the site of the new Cahaba Elementary School. Trussville was listed as an incorporated community on the 1890 and 1900 U.S. Census rolls. At some point after 1900 until its reincorporation in 1947, it did not appear on census records.

For several decades, Trussville was a rural, rather isolated community, and farming was the major occupation. Although the tiny hamlet sent a contingent of officers and men to fight for the Confederacy, the Civil War directly touched Trussville only toward the end of the conflict. According to Trussville Through the Years, by Carol and Earl Massey, Union Gen. John T. Croxton led a raiding party to Trussville early in 1865 to burn the Confederate storehouse. They succeeded, but the people of Trussville put out the fire and salvaged much of the burned grain and flour.

Formal education was a little slow in coming to Trussville, although the literacy rate was above average for central Alabama in 1860. In 1869, Professor R. G. Hewitt founded Trussville Academy, a log structure housing 100 students. Hewitt made a lasting impression on the community. The middle school and high school in Trussville still carry his name.

Much of Trussville's growth and development came from the Cahaba Project, a planned development of nearly 300 homes constructed by Franklin D. Roosevelt's Government Resettlement Administration during the 1930s. The Cahaba Project was originally planned by staff at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute to be a rural community of small farmsteads raising potatoes and vegetables.  Unofficially, it has been known as the Slagheap Village.  The project was built on "slagheap" land vacated by the old Trussville Iron Furnace, thus the name Slagheap Village.  

During the Depression, part of the government’s economic recovery program was to allocate land suitable for low-rent housing and part-time farms. One such location was to be in the Trussville area, but further investigation showed that the 615 acres of “Slagheap Village” was unsuitable for farming.
However, the land was suitable for suburban housing. Fired by the vision of project manager W. H. Kestler, the “Cahaba Project” went up, opening in April 1938. Homes were sturdily built, with indoor plumbing, running water, electricity, and amenities rare at that time in much of Alabama. The project included 287 residential units – apartments, duplexes and single-family homes. The government also built a high school and cooperative store, interspersing the area with malls, sidewalks, paved streets, and parks.

Slagheap Village/Cahaba Project circa 1937.  Photo's taken by Arthur Rothstein
About 60 existing houses were demolished, with white residents moved to the Roper Hill community and cottages for African-Americans built on a 40-acre tract northwest of the Cahaba Project called "Washington Heights" or, more commonly, "The Forties".

Local landscape architect W. H. Kestler designed a relatively dense suburban layout with many of the houses on 1/2 to 3/4 acre lots encircling a central green space called "The Mall". The design was approved in 1936 and constructed over the following two years. In all, 243 single-family houses and 44 duplexes were constructed at a total cost of $2,661,981.26. They were rented to approved lower-middle-income families for $14-$23 per month. The village featured paved streets, sidewalks, and landscaped park areas. An entrance gateway with a covered gazebo was built at the corner of Main Street and Parkway Drive to serve as the community's "front door".
A special charm of the Project today is the canopy of stately trees that line Chalkville Road and adjacent streets. Many were planned in the 30s and 40s. Most of the Project was originally devoid of trees because the area had been farmland before the government acquired it.

Most of the one- and two-level homes were constructed in the American four-square style with brick and wood siding, pine floors and metal roofs. Each house had electricity, hot-and-cold running water, and a sewer connection. Two oak saplings were given to each household to beautify their yards. During World War II many families planted Victory Gardens to supplement their grocery rations.
Oak furnishings and appliances were also available to renters at a nominal cost from the government. A back porch was supplied with a hose for a wringer-type washer. A communal washer was also available in a separate building on the mall. Other community facilities included a swimming pool, an elementary school and a high school, all built near the mall. A co-op store was erected near the high school, serving as a general store and lending library. Several churches were founded, including the Holy Infant of Prague Catholic Church.
The Cahaba Association, the Village residents' organization, elected community leaders, raised funds for civic projects and published the Cahaba Hub newspaper. Many residents participated in an amateur softball league which made use of a lighted field at the mall. 

Mall at Slagheap Village/Cahaba Project

Resentment over the privileges given to residents of the government-funded Cahaba Project resulted in tensions between them and the "Old Trussville" families, many of whom lacked electricity and indoor plumbing. The presence of so many community facilities within the project limited interactions between the project's residents and their neighbors.
After World War II the government made plans to sell the houses to residents. It also offered undeveloped parcels for sale, giving veterans the first option at 10 percent down. The Cahaba Project was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

On June 10, 1947, Trussville was incorporated as a town, and on May 31, 1957, the town officially became a city. It was on this date the City of Trussville was adopted as the official name.
Trussville grew fairly slowly in the 50s. General suburban sprawl and the completion of I-59 created more growth during the 60s and 70s. However, Trussville was still a well-kept secret.  However, during 1985 the city expanded in all directions.
“It started when Birmingham was doing a lot of annexing. They tried to annex our new (Hewitt-Trussville) high school, which was less than a year old,” says City Clerk Lynn Porter. Fired by this move, the late Charles Grover, then the mayor, and city council members announced their own plan and policy of annexation. From mid-May through the end of the year, the council held annexation meetings several times weekly. Frequent annexation continued into 1987. When the dust settled, Trussville had tripled its land mass and doubled its population.
Things haven’t slowed down since. From 3,500 residents shown in the 1980 census, Trussville’s population has grown to about 12,500 in 2000. This growth is expected to continue at a fast clip.  According to Trussville has experienced a population growth rate of 60.2% since the year 2000.  Its closest neighbor Birmingham, on the other hand, has seen a population decline of 12.6%.
Attracted by good schools, a safe environment, and friendly atmosphere, Trussville has become a drawing card for young, middle-income families. Many have gravitated to older homes in the Cahaba Project, often upgrading or remodeling them. Numerous subdivisions and residential areas have also sprung up within its boundaries. The city now extends from I-459 northward to the Jefferson County line and takes in a sizable area west of I-59. To meet the needs of Trussville’s growth, restaurants, retail, and service establishments (including two major shopping centers built in 2000) have sprung up. A major, 120-acre complex for youth sports was completed in the mid-1990s. The public library completed a major expansion in 1997, and a senior citizens activity center opened in 1999.
Happy Hollow District Bridge is seen spanning the Cahaba River in Civitan Park in Trussville, Jefferson County.
Today Trussville is one of the Birmingham region's most rapidly growing areas. In the 30-year period between 1980 and 2010, the city grew by over 500%. It has seen much residential and retail construction, with two major shopping centers built during the early 2000s: the Colonial Promenade at Trussville on its western side and both the Colonial Promenade Tutwiler Farm and Pinnacle at Tutwiler Farm along Highway 11 at the I-59/I-459 interchange.

Completed in 2008, the Trussville Civic Center includes a fitness center, walking track, locker rooms and showers for individuals and participants in team sports.  An auditorium accommodates up to 1,000 people for banquets and large meetings.  Six smaller meeting rooms offer audio-visual facilities.  The town sports complex provides playing fields for organized sports such as football, baseball, softball, and soccer.  it also has a tennis club and four miles of hiking/biking trails.  The city also has a public pool and water park, athletic centers for special sports and a senior activity center for citizens aged 60 and up.

The Trussville community activities include a theater group, an art club, a historical society, literary and study clubs and a variety of civic and fraternal organizations.  The Trussville Public Library has one of the highest circulations in Jefferson County and offers many special programs for children, teens, and adults.  Major civic events include the annual Dog Daze Festival, a July 4 Freedom Celebration, the fall Maple Leaf run and a Christmas parade.  

View of the 13th hole at the Trussville Country Club

 View of the Cahaba River
 Girl Scouts at Camp Gertrude Coleman Girl Scout Camp

 Display at the Trussville Historical Society
Playground at the Masonic park
 Trussville kiddie park behind the library
Veterans Monument at the entrance to the Slagheap Village/Cahaba Project

Trussville City Data

The 2014 median family income was $94,875, with 1.1% of families living below the poverty line. The unemployment rate was 5.8%, and the city's future job growth is predicted to be 32.3%. The city's sale tax rate is 10% and the income tax rate is 5%.
Approximately 88% of Trussville residents are employed in white-collar occupations. The most popular jobs in Trussville are in sales and administration, which account for 28% of all positions.  Management, business, and finance positions made up 24% of all jobs, followed by healthcare professionals at 9% and educators at 8%.
Trussville has seen extensive retail development over the past twenty years, especially along Highway 11 by the I-459 exit and along Chalkville Mountain Road by the I-59 exit.

The median home value in the city of Trussville in 2015 was $250,983 while the median home value in the state of Alabama was $134,100.  Median rent in the city is approximately $1,300.
Crime in the city of Trussville is mostly burglary and theft.  According to, there hasn't been a murder in Trussville since at least 2000 (the year the site began keeping track).

The City of Trussville is mere minutes from downtown Birmingham and less than 30 minutes from Hoover.  It's a great location with the best shopping in the area right at your front door.  Merge all of that with the hilly, winding roads and spectacular scenery/views and you've got a winner!

Trussville Alabama is a fantastic place in which to invest.