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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Birmingham, AL

City of Birmingham

Birmingham (pronounced /ˈbɝːmɪŋhæm/, with the h sounded) is the largest city in the U.S. state of Alabama and is the county seat of Jefferson County. It also includes part of Shelby County. The population of the city was 227,690 as of 2002, and 242,000according to the 2008 estimate. The Birmingham-Hoover Metropolitan Area, as of the 2007 census estimates, has a population of 1,108,210. It is also the largest city in the Birmingham-Hoover-Cullman Combined Statistical Area, colloquially known as Greater Birmingham, which contains roughly one quarter of the population of Alabama. If nearby counties Tuscaloosa, Etowah, Talladega, & Calhoun are added to the Greater Birmingham population it would exceed over 1.6 million as of 2008.

Walker House, 300 Center Street, Birmingham, Jefferson County, AL

Birmingham was founded in 1871, just after the U.S. Civil War, as an industrial enterprise. It was named after Birmingham, one of the UK's major industrial cities. Through the middle of the 20th century, Birmingham was the primary industrial center of the Southern United States. The astonishing pace of Birmingham's growth through the turn of the century earned it the nicknames "The Magic City" and "The Pittsburgh of the South". Much like Pittsburgh in the north, Birmingham's major industries centered around iron and steel production.

Over the course of the 20th century, the city's economy diversified. Though the manufacturing industry maintains a strong presence in Birmingham, other industries such as banking, insurance, medicine, publishing, and biotechnology have risen in stature. Birmingham has been recognized as one of the top cities for income growth in the United States South with a significant increase in per capita income since 1990.

Today, Birmingham ranks as one of the most important business centers in the Southeastern United States and is also one of the largest banking centers in the U.S. In addition, the Birmingham area serves as headquarters to one Fortune 500 company: Regions Financial. Five Fortune 1000 companies are headquartered in Birmingham.

John Hollis Bankhead House, 1400 Seventh Avenue, Jasper, Walker County, AL


Founding and early growth

Panorama of Birmingham, Alabama c.1916

Birmingham was founded on June 1, 1871, by cotton gin promoters who sold lots near the planned crossing of the Alabama & Chattanooga and South & North Alabama railroads. The first business at that crossroads was the trading post and country store Yeilding's, run by the still prominent Yeilding family. The site of the railroad crossing was notable for the nearby deposits of iron ore, coal, and limestone - the three principal raw materials used in making steel. Birmingham is the only place worldwide where significant amounts of all three minerals can be found in such close proximity. From the start the new city was planned as a great center of industry. The founders borrowed the name of Birmingham, one of England's principal industrial cities, to advertise that point. Birmingham was off to a slow start: the city was impeded by an outbreak of cholera and a Wall Street crash in 1873. However, it began to grow shortly afterwards at an explosive rate.

The turn of the century brought the substantial growth that gave Birmingham the nickname "The Song of The South" as the downtown area developed from a low-rise commercial and residential district into a busy grid of neoclassical mid-rise and high-rise buildings and busy streetcar lines. Between 1902 and 1912 four large office buildings were constructed at the intersection of 20th Street, the central north–south spine of the city, and 1st Avenue North, which connected the warehouses and industrial facilities stretching along the east–west railroad corridor. This impressive group of early skyscrapers was nicknamed "The Heaviest Corner on Earth". Optimistic that the rapidly growing city could be further improved, a group of local businessmen led by Courtney Shropshire formed an independent service club in 1917. The group would later incorporate and become the first chapter of Civitan International, now a worldwide organization.

Robert Jemison Plantation, Byler Road, Northport, Tuscaloosa County, AL

The Great Depression hit Birmingham especially hard as sources of capital that were fueling the city's growth rapidly dried up at the same time that farm laborers, driven off the land, made their way to the city in search of work. New Deal programs made important contributions to the city's infrastructure and artistic legacy, including such key improvements as Vulcan's tower and Oak Mountain State Park.

16th Street Baptist Church

The wartime demand for steel and the post-war building boom gave Birmingham a rapid return to prosperity. Manufacturing diversified beyond the production of raw materials and several major cultural institutions, such as the Birmingham Museum of Art, were able to expand their scope.

Birmingham Civil Rights Movement

Main article: Birmingham campaign

In the 1950s and '60s Birmingham received national and international attention as a center of the civil rights struggle for African-Americans. Locally the movement's activists were led by Fred Shuttlesworth, a fiery preacher who became legendary for his fearlessness in the face of violence, notably a string of racially motivated bombings that earned Birmingham the derisive nickname Bombingham.

A watershed in the civil rights movement occurred in 1963 when Shuttlesworth requested that Martin Luther King, Jr., and the SouthernChristian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which Shuttlesworth had co-founded, come to Birmingham, where King had once been a pastor, to help end segregation. Together they launched "Project C" (for "Confrontation"), a massive assault on the Jim Crow system. During April and May daily sit-ins and mass marches organized and led by movement leader James Bevel were met with police repression, tear gas, attack dogs, fire hoses, and arrests. More than 3,000 people were arrested during these protests, almost all of them high-school age children. These protests were ultimately successful, leading not only to desegregation of public accommodations in Birmingham but also the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

William S. Cook House, Walker County Road 11, Nauvoo, Walker County, AL

While imprisoned for having taken part in a nonviolent protest, Dr. King wrote the now famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, a defining treatise in his cause against segregation. Birmingham is also known for a bombing which occurred later that year, in which four black girls were killed by a bomb planted at the 16th Street Baptist Church. The event would inspire the African-American poet Dudley Randall's opus, "The Ballad of Birmingham," as well as jazz musician John Coltrane's song, "Alabama."

Recent history

Central Business District Skyline

In the 1970s urban renewal efforts focused around the development of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which developed into a major medical and research center. In 1971 Birmingham celebrated its centennial with a round of public works improvements, including the upgrading of Vulcan Park. Birmingham's banking institutions enjoyed considerable growth as well and new skyscrapers started to appear in the city center for the first time since the 1920s. These projects helped the city's economy to diversify, but did not prevent the exodus of many of the city's residents to independent suburbs. In 1979 Birmingham elected Dr. Richard Arrington Jr. as its first African-American mayor.

The population inside Birmingham's city limits has fallen over the past few decades. From 340,887 in 1960, the population was down to 242,820 in 2000, a loss of about 29 percent. Recently Center Point incorporated its self as a new city in 2002, which caused the population to drop to 227,690 but since has increased to 242,000 as of 2008. Also, the growth of Birmingham's suburbs over that same period has kept the metropolitan population growing.

Today, Birmingham has begun to experience a bit of a rebirth. Currently there are around a billion dollars being invested in reconstructing the downtown area into a 24-hour mixed-use district. The market for downtown lofts and condominiums has mushroomed while restaurant, retail and cultural options are beginning to sprout up. In 2006 the visitors bureau selected "the diverse city" as a new tag line for the city.

Edmund King House, Highland & Bloch Streets, Montevallo, Shelby County, AL

Geography and climate


Cahaba River National Wildlife RefugeBirmingham occupies Jones Valley, flanked by long parallel mountain ridges (the tailing ends of the Appalachian foothills) running from north-east to south-west. The valley is drained by small creeks (Village Creek, Valley Creek) which flow into the Black Warrior River. The valley was bisected by the principal railroad corridor, along which most of the early manufacturing operations began.

Red Mountain lies immediately south of downtown. Many of Birmingham's television and radio broadcast towers are lined up along this prominent ridge. The "Over the Mountain" area, including Shades Valley, Shades Mountain and beyond, was largely shielded from the industrial smoke and rough streets of the industrial city. This is the setting for Birmingham's more affluent suburbs of Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills, Homewood, and Hoover. South of Shades Valley is the Cahaba River basin, one of the most diverse river ecosystems in America.

Sand Mountain, a smaller ridge, flanks the city to the north and divides Jones Valley from much more rugged land to the north. The Louisville and Nashville Railroad (now CSX Transportation) enters the valley through Boyles Gap, a prominent gap in the long low ridge.

Dr. John H. Drish House, 2300 Seventeenth Street, Tuscaloosa, Tuscaloosa County, AL

Ruffner Mountain, located due east of the heart of the city, is home to Ruffner Mountain Nature Center, one of the largest urban nature reserves in the United States.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 151.9 square miles (393.5 km²), of which, 149.9 square miles (388.3 km²) of it is land and 2.0 square miles (5.3 km²) of it (1.34%) is water.


From Birmingham's early days onward, the steel industry has always played a crucial role in the local economy. Though the steel industry no longer has the same prominence it once held in Birmingham, steel production and processing continue to play a key role in the economy. Several of the nation's largest steelmakers, including U.S. Steel, McWane, and Nucor, all have a major presence in Birmingham. In recent years, local steel companies have announced about $100 million worth of investment in expansions and new plants in and around Birmingham.


rlington Place, 331 Cotton Avenue, Southwest, Birmingham, Jefferson County, AL

In the 1970s and 1980s, Birmingham's economy was transformed by investments in bio-technology and medical research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and its adjacent hospital. The UAB Hospital is a Level I trauma center providing health care and breakthrough medical research. UAB is now the area's largest employer and the largest in Alabama with a workforce of about 20,000. Health care services provider HealthSouth is also headquartered in the city.

Birmingham is also a leading banking center, serving as home to two major banks: Regions Financial Corporation and Compass Bancshares. SouthTrust, another large bank headquartered in Birmingham, was acquired by Wachovia in 2004. The city still has major operations as one of the regional headquarters of Wachovia. In November 2006, Regions Financial merged with AmSouth Bancorporation, which was also headquartered in Birmingham. They formed the 8th Largest U. S. Bank (by total assets). Nearly a dozen smaller banks are also headquartered in the Magic City, such as Superior Bank and New South Federal Savings Bank.

Telecommunications provider AT&T, formerly BellSouth, has a major presence with several large offices in the metropolitan area. Major insurance providers: Protective Life, Infinity Property & Casualty and ProAssurance among others, are headquartered in Birmingham and employ a large number of people in Greater Birmingham.

The city is also a powerhouse of construction and engineering companies, including BE&K and B. L. Harbert International which routinely are included in the Engineering News-Record lists of top design and international construction firms.

Birmingham also has a dairy industry. Mayfield Dairy Farms has a production facility in Birmingham.

Control Room, Alabama Theatre, 1811 Third Avenue North, Birmingham, Jefferson County, AL

Buffalo Rock, one of the major bottlers for Pepsi sodas, is based in Birmingham. Coca-Cola also has a bottling plant near the airport.

Metropolitan Birmingham has consistently been rated as one of America's best places to work and earn a living based on the area's competitive salary rates and relatively low living expenses. One 2006 study published at determined that Birmingham was second in the nation for building personal net worth, based on local salary rates, living expenses, and unemployment rates.

A 2006 study by calculated Birmingham's "combined personal income" (the sum of all money earned by all residents of an area in a year) at $48.1 billion.



Institutions of higher education

University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB)

Samford University (includes the Cumberland School of Law)

Birmingham-Southern College

University of Montevallo

Birmingham School of Law

Miles College

Miles Law School

Lawson State Community College

Jacksonville State University

Jefferson State Community College

Bessemer State Technical College

Bevill State Community College (Sumiton)

Central Alabama Community College

Herzing College

Southeastern Bible College

ITT Technical Institute

Virginia College of Birmingham (includes Culinard)

Andrew Jackson University

American Sentinel University (online university)

Daniel Payne College (defunct)

Strayer University


Before the first structure was built in Birmingham, the plan of the city was laid out over a total of 1,160 acres (4.7 km²) by the directors of the Elyton Land Co. The streets were numbered from west to east, leaving Twentieth Street to form the central spine of downtown, anchored on the north by Capital Park and stretching into the slopes of Red Mountain to the south. A "railroad reservation" was granted through the center of the city, running east to west and zoned solely for industrial uses. As the city grew, bridges and underpasses separated the streets from the railroad bed, lending this central reservation some of the impact of a river (without the pleasant associations of a waterfront). From the start, Birmingham's streets and avenues were unusually wide at 80 to 100 feet (24 to 30 m), purportedly to help evacuate unhealthy smoke.

In the early 20th century professional planners helped lay out many of the new industrial settlements and company towns in the Birmingham District, including Corey (now Fairfield) which was developed for the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company (subsequently purchased by U. S. Steel). At the same time, a movement to consolidate several neighboring cities gained momentum. Although local referendums indicated mixed feelings about annexation, the Alabama legislature enacted an expansion of Birmingham's corporate limits that became effective on January 1, 1910.

The Robert Jemison company developed many residential neighborhoods to the south and west of Birmingham which are still renowned for their aesthetic quality.

A 1924 plan for a system of parks, commissioned from the Olmsted Brothers is seeing renewed interest with several significant new parks and greenways under development. Birmingham officials have approved a City Center Master Plan developed by Urban Design Associates of Pittsburgh, which advocates strongly for more residential development in the downtown area and includes a major park over several blocks of the central railroad reservation to be called the Railroad Reservation Park. Along with Ruffner Mountain Park, and the proposed Red Mountain Park, Birmingham would rank first in the United States for public green space per resident.

Notable buildings

Tallest buildings Name Stories Height

Wachovia Tower 34 454 ft (138 m)

Regions-Harbert Plaza 32 437 ft (133 m)

AT&T City Center 30 390 ft (119 m)

Regions Center 30 390 ft (119 m)

City Federal Building 27 325 ft (99 m)

Leer Tower 20 287 ft (87 m)

John Hand Building 20 284 ft (87 m)

Daniel Building 20 283 ft (86 m)