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.

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.