Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Ensley, Alabama

A large city neighborhood in Jefferson CountyAlabama, Ensley was once a separate and thriving industrial city. It was formally incorporated on February 12, 1899, but later annexed into Birmingham on January 1, 1910 under the "Greater Birmingham" legislation.

Founded in 1886 by Memphis entrepreneur, Enoch Ensley, as a new industrial city on the outskirts of a rapidly developing Birmingham (then just 15 years old) and directly adjacent to the Pratt coal seam. Zealously promoting and investing his own wealth in the project, Ensley soon attracted the interest of the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company (TCI), which bought a controlling interest in the Ensley Land Company. In the first year of development, sanitary engineer Edwin Waring, Jr. of Rhode Island was contracted to lay out the new city's streets and infrastructure, including an early application of separate storm and sanitary sewers. Meanwhile, Ensley and TCI erected four 200-ton blast furnaces which were in operation by April, 1889, the largest such grouping in the world. Despite the grand beginning, a series of setbacks began with the death of Colonel Ensley in 1891. The economic panic of 1893 resulted in the dissolution of the land company. The entire property was sold at sheriff's auction for less than $16,000.

In 1898 the Ensley Land Company was reorganized and active industrial development resumed, including the construction of hundreds of small workers' cottages. It was here that TCI pioneered the open-hearth process of making steel in the Birmingham District. By 1906 two more blast furnaces were completed and a record 400,000 tons of steel were produced in a single year. Schools, churches, public buildings and stores were rapidly constructed to keep pace with the scores of new mills and plants opening up.

The success of the development established a corridor of industrial development reaching out to the southwest of Birmingham. During its heyday between the late 1890s and the Great Depression, Ensley was known for its lively fraternal halls and dance clubs, including Tuxedo Junction at the crossing of the Wylam and Pratt City streetcar lines. In 1939 the hit song "Tuxedo Junction" made the spot nationally famous. It was written by local musician Erskine Hawkins and arranged by Glenn Miller.
When U. S. Steel purchased TCI in 1907 they began planning a new, larger plant northeast in the center of a large planned community to be named Corey (now named Fairfield). Although the new plant was close enough that workers living in Ensley wouldn't have to relocate, the move did stifle any ongoing development. 

With the loss of the major industrial activities in the 1970s, Ensley has lost much of its population and economic base and white residents fled to the suburbs after desegregation.

(The following is an excerpt from

Mr. McCall is Ensley's neighborhood president, and his neighborhood stretches from about the old U.S. Steel plant to Avenue W, and from Village Creek to about 35th Street. It's a big area, but it's not as big as the area of Birmingham where the streets are named "Ensley." In Five Points West, Ensley Highlands and other areas south of Interstate 20/59 that aren't part of the Ensley neighborhood or community, as defined by the city, the street names still end with "Ensley."

Even in Green Acres, which is far closer to Midfield and southwest Birmingham than to the old U.S. Steel plant, the street names say Ensley. The City of Birmingham annexed Green Acres in 1949, nearly four decades after Birmingham merged with the old City of Ensley.
McCall has seen how people refer to the entire west side as Ensley, and has seen how, when people see every bad thing that happens west of Legion Field lumped in with one name, it's hurt the chances for growth in his neighborhood.
"It doesn't make Ensley look good," McCall said. "I guess people don't know when they talk about Ensley, what Ensley really is."
Ensley still has its crime, he said, but it's not as bad as its reputation suggests.
"Ensley is a safe community," he said. "You don't see kids standing on the corners like other areas, you don't see that."
When Mr. Hawkins talks about bringing Ensley back, he sees the hesitation from people who live in other parts of Birmingham. He knows the thoughts of crimes that might have happened in Central Park or Five Points West are going through their minds.
"I tell them Ensley is really safe and they always challenge me on that," he said.
Both Hawkins and McCall realize that the key to bringing Ensley back is to convince people of its potential.
"I believe it can come back," McCall said. "You've got to get the people with the money that there is a need to come back to this area.
"There are opportunities out here that could make it come back to what it used to be." (end)

Historical Ensley

1st Baptist - organized 1900

Ensley Ambulance - circa 1900

Ensley Bank - cica 1909

2801 Lomb Ave -circa 1950's

Ensley-Franklin Theater - circa 1900-1910

Ensley High School Basketball Team - circa 1910

Ensley Yearly Kindergarten Picnic - circa early 1900's

Holy Family Hospital

In February 1941 four nurses---three of them nuns---from Nazareth, Kentucky, arrived in Ensley to open a clinic to serve poor blacks in the area. For a little over $12,000 they bought land, a duplex for the convent and "a little Negro hut" for the clinic. Interns from St. Vincent Hospital donated their services two days a week to the free clinic.

After the U.S. entered World War II, the Sisters of Charity were unable to obtain materials to build a clinic, so they added two more "huts" to the complex. In 1946 seven black physicians formed the first official medical staff, and fund raising efforts began in the city for a new building. By July 1950 some $250,000 had been raised.

On January 10, 1954, the new structure, Holy Family Hospital, was dedicated. After an expansion in 1964, the hospital had 83 beds and a staff of 130. Four years later the Sisters sold the facility and the new owners renamed it Community Hospital. After another sale and renaming to Medical Park West, the hospital closed in 1988. 

Investment Opportunities for Ensley

The area of Ensley, Alabama has mainly smaller single family homes and apartments and has the potential to grow which comes from the continued progress of its local enterprises. The population has increased by 20% since 2010 and is projected to grow by an additional 10% by 2018. The median household income of the area is $50,051 with 20% of those occupants holding a bachelor’s degrees or higher. Health care and social services make up 15.81% of the civilian workforce in this area and retail trade making up 10.81% of the workforce. 

According to City-Data's website, as of 2015, there were 7,379 people living within Ensley's zip code of 35218.  60% of them were renters.  That site also touted Ensley as being significantly above the state average when it comes to renters "length of stay since moving in."  This is a very good thing for potential investors.  Couple that with the much lower than state average home prices and a solid average age group of 38.5 and Ensley would appear to be a very good place for landlords.

The town of Ensley is only 7 miles west of Birmingham, so if you are trying to plan your commute to work, expect an average travel time between 15-25 minutes, depending on traffic patterns. 

Ensley has a long historic history.  With a long history comes periods of great prosperity and equally long periods of economic struggle.  I, for one, see Ensley making a comeback.

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