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The Founding of Birmingham

In 1892, Henry M. Caldwell published History of the Elyton Land Company and Birmingham, Ala., a pamphlet-length history of the founding of the city. In 1972 Southern University Press reprinted this very important document. An excerpt from pages 2-6 follows below.

In the year 1870 several gentlemen, most of them connected in one way or another with the South and North Alabama Railroad, which was then in course of construction from Montgomery to Decatur, Ala., knowing the fact that there were immense deposits of coal and iron ore in Jefferson county, and knowing also that the above mentioned railroad must cross the Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad (then completed from Chattanooga to a point near Tuscaloosa), at some point in Jones valley, in the vicinity of Elyton, conceived the idea of purchasing the land at, and around the intersection of the two roads and forming a corporation for the purpose of building a town thereon. Negotiations were subsequently entered into with the owners of the farms east of Elyton, for the purchase of the property, which resulted in the transfer of the titles of 4,150 acres of land to Mr. Josiah Morris, of Montgomery, Ala., he agreeing to pay for the same $25 per acre, three-fourths cash, and one-fourth in stock of the company proposed to be formed. . . .

The city to be built by the Elyton Land Company near Elyton, in the County of Jefferson, State of Alabama shall be called `Birmingham'.

Immediately after his election to the Presidency [of the company] Colonel [J.R.] Powell commences preparation for carrying out the purposes of the Company. He without delay proceeded to the scene of operations, and opened an office in a small two-room house, which had been built by the Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad for a section house, which was situated on the south side of the railroad, immediately opposite where the lower end of the union passenger depot now stands. [Neither of the two original railroad stations in Birmingham survived into the 1960s.] Engineers were put to work surveying the property and laying it off into streets and avenues. The railroads having determined their location through the property, agreeing for the convenience of the proposed town to run their lines parallel to each other for a considerable distance through the property, the avenues were run parallel to the lines of the railroad tracks. This fact explains why the streets and avenues of Birmingham were not laid off corresponding to the points of the compass. . . .

Finding it impossible to build a city without building material, and in order that all parties desiring to build houses should not be delayed for want of it, Colonel Powell made an arrangement with a contractor in Montgomery to make a large quantity of brick upon the land of the Company, agreeing to pay for them as fast as they will burn, and to supply them at cost to builders as they were needed. . . . The 1st day of June, 1871, the office was opened for the sale of lots. The first lot sold in Birmingham was the corner of First avenue and Nineteenth street, opposite where the Morris building stands [It was torn down in 1958]. This lot, 50 by 100 feet, was sold to Maj. A. Marre for $100, and is still owned by him, and is probably worth now not less than $50,000.