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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bessemer, AL

Bessemer is a city in Birmingham, Alabama, United States eight miles west from Hoover. The population was 29,672 at the 2000, but by the 2005 U.S. Census estimates, the city had fallen to a population of 28,641.


Bessemer is located at 33°23′29″N 86°57′24″W / 33.39139°N 86.95667°W / 33.39139; -86.95667 (33.391343, -86.956569),[3] about 18 miles southwest of Birmingham, a little north of the center of the state.

Southern Railway Depot, 1905 Alabama Avenue, Bessemer, Jefferson County, AL

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 40.8 square miles (105.6 km²), of which, 40.7 square miles (105.4 km²) of it is land and 0.1 square miles (0.2 km²) of it (0.17%) is water.

Pyne Red Ore Mine, Pay House, State Route 150, Bessemer, Jefferson County, AL

Bessemer is situated in the midst of the iron ore and limestone district of Alabama, in the southern part of Jones Valley (about 3 miles wide). Iron ore was mined on the hills on the city's southeast side, coal was (and still is) mined to the north and west, and limestone deposits were also nearby. All three ingredients were necessary for steelmaking, which led to the area becoming a major steel center from about 1890 through the twentieth century. Steel is no longer made within the city limits, but is still manufactured in nearby Fairfield.

F. S. Guano Royster Company, Plant, Thirty-second Street, Bessemer, Jefferson County, AL


Bessemer was surveyed in 1887, and was incorporated in 1889. Its rapid growth in its early days led to the nickname of "The Marvel City," a moniker which still finds occasional use today.

Tennessee Coal & Iron Company, Superintendent's House, Minnesota Avenue, Bessemer vicinity, Jefferson County, AL


Bessemer uses the mayor-city council form of government. The council has seven members, one from each council district. As of 2009, Edward E. May is the city's mayor.

Pyne Red Ore Mine, Boiler House, State Route 150, Bessemer, Jefferson County, AL

A satellite Jefferson County courthouse is located in downtown Bessemer. This practice hails from the special county government district known as the "Bessemer Cutoff," established in the middle of the 20th Century when Bessemer was a major city in its own right; the "Cutoff" even had a separate series of Alabama license plates, with a different numeric prefix than the rest of the county. Bessemer's status in that respect has largely been supplanted by other Birmingham suburbs such as Hoover, but Bessemer retains its own branch courthouse to this day, and the term "Bessemer Cutoff" remains in everyday usage by area residents.

Company School for Blacks, 413 Morgan Road, Bessemer vicinity, Jefferson County, AL


In 1900 Bessemer ranked eighth in population in the state, second in amount of capital invested in manufacturing, and fourth in the value of its manufactured product for the year. By 1911 ore mining, iron smelting and the manufacture of iron and coke were the chief industries of Bessemer; truck farming was also an important industry.

Company School for Whites, Bessemer vicinity, Jefferson County, AL

Today, ore mining has ended as supplies exhausted. Manufacturing remains a factor with the Mueller Water Products U.S. Pipe division ductile pipe plant on the city's north side. On May 9, 2007, U.S. Pipe announced that it would be building a new $45-million foundry near the current plant. The site was selected, among other reasons, for the space which would be available for potential future expansions.

Worker Houses, 1500 Block Minnesota Avenue, Bessemer vicinity, Jefferson County, AL

The city was also once home to a large railroad car manufacturing factory operated by Pullman Standard for many decades and later Trinity Industries, but the plant ceased most production in the 1990s, though other industries have relocated to this facility. With the exhaustion of the mines and the exodus of the steelmaking and railcar manufacturing industry, the city faced an economic crisis in the early to mid 1980s with percentage of un-employed workers reaching into the mid 30s. Since that time the city, through the efforts of the Bessemer Area Chamber of Commerce and the Bessemer Industrial Development Board, has been successful in diversifying its economy and is recognized for its business growth.

Gibson Sheet Metal Works & Western Rope & Fittings, Incorporated, Twentieth Street at Fourth Avenue North, Bessemer, Jefferson County, AL


As with most cities and counties in Alabama, the tax structure forces Bessemer to be heavily dependent on sales taxes from retail stores. In recent years, the city has benefitted from new retail developments in the area of the Academy Drive interchange with I-20/I-59, as well as Watermark Place, an outlet mall near Alabama Adventure. In 2008, Colonial Promenade Tannehill, a new mixed used retail development, opened at the Exit 1 interchange with Interstate 459. Notable tenants include a Publix supermarket, Target, Hibbett Sporting Goods, and a 14-screen movie theatre. As of 2009, a JC Penney department store remains under construction.

New Village Worker Houses, New Avenue, Bessemer vicinity, Jefferson County, AL


Tennessee Coal & Iron-U.S. Steel Surface Plant, Shop, East of State Route 150, on South slope of Red Mou, Bessemer vicinity, Jefferson County, AL

In 1911, the town was served by five railroad lines: Alabama Great Southern (Queen & Crescent route), the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, the Kansas City, Memphis & Birmingham (St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad system), the Birmingham Southern Railroad, and the Atlanta, Birmingham & Atlantic railways. By 2006, these companies had consolidated to CSX Transportation, which has lines to Birmingham and Brookwood; and the Norfolk Southern Railway, with lines to Birmingham, Mobile and New Orleans; Birmingham Southern continues in service. A major railroad feature is the "High Line," constructed by Tennessee Coal & Iron (predecessor to U.S. Steel) to ship iron ore from the mines on the city's south side to the steel works in nearby Fairfield. This elevated line traverses the eastern side of the city, and though tracks were removed over much of the High Line when the mines closed, part of the lines is still used by the Birmingham Southern, and all of the roadbed and bridges remain in place.

Koopers Coke Works, Woodward Iron Company Site, 2134 Koopers Drive, Bessemer vicinity, Jefferson County, AL

Bessemer is served by the small Bessemer Airport to the southeast of the city. Commercial service to/from the city is served by the much larger Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport located 5 miles from downtown Birmingham.

Tennessee Coal & Iron Company, President's House, 1405 Minnesota Avenue, Bessemer vicinity, Jefferson County, AL

Major highways in Bessemer include I-20/59, I-459, U.S. Route 11, and Alabama State Route 150, which connects Bessemer with Hoover.


Lawson State Community College operates the former Bessemer Technical College campus in the Academy Drive area; the two schools merged in 2005 as a cost-saving measure.

Points of Interest

Bessemer is home to a theme park, Alabama Adventure. The park was originally built as Visionland, and operated by a consortium of Jefferson County cities and the county itself. After a series of financial difficulties and finally Chapter 9 bankruptcy, the park was sold in 2002 to Southland Entertainment Group, which has since operated the park successfully. More than $100-million in upgrades and expansion projects are planned for Alabama Adventure over the coming years.

The Bright Star, a restaurant and local institution located in downtown Bessemer, is billed as the state's oldest continuously-operated eating establishment. Founded in 1907 as a small café, the restaurant has expanded several times over the years, most recently in 1985.

The Watercress Darter National Wildlife Refuge is a small National Wildlife Refuge protecting the endangered watercress darter.

The Bessemer Hall of History, a museum dedicated to the history of Bessemer and Western Jefferson County. The museum is housed in the former AGS depot which was constructed in 1916 and located at 1905 Alabama Ave. The building is listed on the National Historic Registry.

The Downtown Bessemer National Historic District. Bessemer, Alabama's downtown is listed as a National Historic District.

The Dr. Thomas McAdory Owen House, 510 N. 18th Street. Listed on the National Historic Registry in 1982.

The Owen Plantation House. Listed on the National Historic Registry.
The Thomas McAdory, 214 Eastern Valley Road. Listed on the National Historic Registry in 1972.

Canaan Baptist Church, 824 Fifteenth Street North. Listed on the National Historic Registry in 2005 due to its work during the Civil Rights Movement.

Notable residents:

Neil Bonnett, NASCAR driver

Alex Bradford, composer, singer, arranger, and choir director

Mildred Brown, journalist

Earl Cochran Jr., NFL player

Thornton Dial, African-American folk artist

Virginia Hill, actress, mob courier and girlfriend of Bugsy Siegel

Frank House, born in Bessemer, major league baseball player

Bo Jackson, NFL football and MLB baseball player

Kerry Rhodes, NFL player

Diana Ross, singer

DeMeco Ryans, NFL player

Glenn Shadix, born in Bessemer, American actor

Sun Ra, Avant-garde jazz musician and metaphysical progressive

Tim Ward, philanthropist

Corey White, NFL player

Jack Whitten, abstract painter

Andre Williams, singer and producer

Olanda Truitt, NFL Football player

Notable animals

Matilda (chicken), famous fowl and Guinness World Record holder

Click Here For Bessemer, AL Website

Bessemer, AL Chamber Of Commerce

Pullman Standard Company Plant, 401 North Twenty-fourth Street, Bessemer, Jefferson County, AL

United States Pipe & Foundry Company Plant, 2023 St. Louis Avenue at I-20/59, Bessemer, Jefferson County, AL

High Line Railroad, From Red Mountain to Fairfield Works, Birmingham, Jefferson County, AL