Birmingham was a small town specializing in metal work during the Middle Ages. The area was rich in coal and iron but a poor transport system undermined the growth of this settlement in the very centre of England. For two hundred years craftsmen had been attracted to the the area. Small workshops produced a range of metal goods and with the development of the canal system in the late 18th century, Birmingham became one of the most important trade centres in Britain. The main industries included the making of guns, jewellery, pins, buttons, screws, buckles and toys and by 1790 the population had reached 90,000.

In the late 18th century three of the most important figures in the industrial revolution, James Watt, Matthew Boulton and Joseph Priestley, worked in the town. Together with other leading scientists and industrialists, they were members of the Lunar Society, which met regularly to discuss scientific and philosophical questions.

By 1830, Birmingham was sending over one thousand tons of goods every week by canal to London. In 1833 the London & Birmingham Railway Company appointed Robert Stephenson as chief engineer of the project that would dramatically reduce the cost of transporting these goods.

The London to Birmingham line took 20,000 men nearly five years to build. The total cost of building the railway was £5,500,000 (£50,000 a mile). The railway was opened in stages and finally completed on 17 September 1838. The line started at Birmingham's Curzon Street Station and finished at Euston Station in London. As the Grand Junction Railway had been finished in July 1837, the four major cities in England, London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool were now linked together by rail.

The development of the railway system stimulated economic growth and attracted more people to the area. In 1801 there were 71,000 inhabitants but this figure had doubled by 1841. Twenty years later, the population of Birmingham had reached 296,000.

Low standard working-class housing was built quickly to meet this increase in demand. A report published in 1836 by local doctors stated that the working population of Birmingham lived in 2,030 courts which contained 12,254 tenements. Each court had a wash house, an ash pit, a communal toilet and pig-sties. The report pointed out the health dangers of this type of housing but the tradition of court development was not ended until the passing of the Birmingham Improvement Act in 1876. After the election of the pioneering mayor, Joseph Chamberlian, Birmingham became the best run city in Britain.

On April 12, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and nearly 50 other protestors and civil rights leaders were arrested after leading a Good Friday demonstration as part of the Birmingham Campaign, designed to bring national attention to the brutal, racist treatment suffered by . read more

Born Freddie Lee Robinson in rural Mount Meigs, Alabama, Fred Shuttlesworth worked as a sharecropper, bootlegger and truck driver before entering the ministry and becoming pastor of Birmingham’s Bethel Baptist Church in 1953. Three years later, after the National Association for . read more


Birmingham Located in the north-central part of Alabama, Birmingham is the state's most populous city and the seat of Jefferson County. The youngest of the state's major cities, Birmingham was founded in 1871 at the crossing of two rail lines near one of the world's richest deposits of minerals. The city was named for Birmingham, England, the center of that country's iron industry. The new Alabama city boomed so quickly that it came to be known as the "Magic City." It later became known as the "Pittsburgh of the South" after the Pennsylvania center of iron and steel production. Birmingham has survived booms and busts, labor unrest, and civil rights tragedies and triumphs today it is home to one of the nation's largest banking centers as well as world-class medical facilities. Birmingham has a mayor-council form of government, with its mayor and nine council members being elected every four years. Robert H. Henley Recognizing the area's potential, a group of investors and promoters of the North and South Railroad (which later became the Louisville and Nashville Railroad) met with banker Josiah Morris in Montgomery on December 18, 1870, and organized the Elyton Land Company for the purpose of building a new city in Jefferson County. The company met again in January 1871, and chose as its president James R. Powell, who had recently returned from Birmingham, England's iron and steel center, and suggested that the new Alabama industrial center be given the same name. A flamboyant and colorful promoter for the proposed city, Powell became known as the "Duke of Birmingham." He advertised across the state and nation announcing lots for sale in the new city on June 1, 1871, and six months after the lots sold, the city was chartered by the state legislature on December 19, 1871. Gov. Robert Lindsay appointed Robert Henley to a two-year term as Birmingham's first mayor. In 1873, Powell was elected mayor and quickly had the legislature call for a vote to allow Jefferson County residents to choose between Elyton and Birmingham as the county seat. In a bitter contest, Powell courted newly enfranchised black residents, who voted overwhelmingly for Birmingham. Bessie Mine Laborers In 1878, Truman H. Aldrich, James W. Sloss, and Henry F. DeBardeleben, owners of the Pratt Coal and Coke Company, provided a major stimulus for Birmingham's recovery from the 1873 recession and for its future economic growth by opening the nearby Pratt mines. Henry Debardeleben then joined with Thomas T. Hillman to construct the Alice Furnaces, facilitating the large-scale production of pig iron. In June 1881, Sloss began constructing the area's second set of blast furnaces, known then as the City Furnaces, in eastern Birmingham. The Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company (TCI) opened facilities in Birmingham soon after and purchased many of the properties held by DeBardeleben and Aldrich. The Louisville and Nashville Railroad aided these flourishing enterprises by investing money and providing special freight rates. As a result of these events, Birmingham's production of pig iron increased more than tenfold between 1880 and 1890. Birmingham Coal Miners, 1937 The two most important economic developments in Birmingham between 1900 and the Great Depression were the purchase of TCI by U.S. Steel in 1907, which brought financial resources to the city, and the completion of the lock-and-dam system on the Tombigbee and Warrior Rivers in 1915, which provided Birmingham manufacturers with cheap water transportation for their goods all the way to Mobile. Birmingham quickly became the transportation hub of the mid-South. Just as the city's economy was beginning to take off again, the stock market crashed in October 1929, throwing thousands of residents out of work and prompting the Hoover administration to call Birmingham "the hardest hit city in the nation." U.S. Steel shut down its Birmingham mills and the city remained depressed for eight years. Birmingham recovered from the Depression with the outbreak of World War II as the city's steel mills became an important part of the nation's arsenal. After the war, Birmingham diversified its economy with 140 new industries that manufactured farm equipment, chemicals, byproducts used for road building, nails, wire, cement, cottonseed oil, and many other goods. With these new industries, along with Hayes International Aircraft and the launch of a modern medical complex, Birmingham in the 1950s had the potential to soar into the 1960s. Instead, city officials and residents were faced with a civil rights struggle of epic proportions that left the city's national reputation in shambles and greatly hampered its ability to attract investors. Sixteenth Street Church Bombing African Americans began moving into Birmingham to escape the white-owned farms where they had once toiled as slaves and later as sharecroppers. By 1880 African Americans comprised more than half of Birmingham's industrial workers. Working and living conditions were bad enough, but black citizens' lives were made more miserable by Birmingham's deeply entrenched system of segregation. Nicknamed "Bombingham" for the many racially motivated bombings of black homes, the city became a focal point for the national civil rights struggle after the brutal treatment of the Freedom Riders in 1961. Later, Fred Shuttlesworth and other leaders of the Birmingham movement invited Martin Luther King Jr. to participate in a protest of segregated downtown businesses in 1963 that came to be known as the "Birmingham Campaign." King was arrested during these demonstrations and wrote his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail" as a response to an opinion piece by white ministers to end the protests. Fred Lee Shuttlesworth The city was then publicly shamed in the media by Police Commissioner Eugene "Bull" Connor's use of fire hoses and police dogs to drive back thousands of youthful demonstrators in early May 1963. Following several weeks of demonstrations, civil rights and business leaders reached an agreement that ended some of the segregationist barriers. This spirit of good will was soon shattered by the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, which claimed the lives of four young girls. That horrific event, more than anything else, prompted the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed racial segregation in public accommodations in America. Also, with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, African Americans were increasingly able to participate in the city's civic and governmental affairs, culminating in the 1979 election of Richard Arrington Jr. as the city's first black mayor. UAB's Heritage Hall Birmingham today is a modern city of the New South boasting one of the finest medical and research centers in the country at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). In addition to the continued presence of several of the nation's largest steelmakers, including U.S. Steel, McWane, and Nucor, Birmingham is now a center of bioscience and technology development and the home to some of the nation's top construction and engineering firms. The Birmingham metropolitan area is Alabama's largest commercial center and has become one of the nation's largest banking centers. Beginning in the mid-1970s, commercial construction in the downtown area gave the city an impressive modern skyline. Alabama Power Building Detail UAB, which boasts one of the finest medical and research centers in the nation, is by far the city's largest employer, with 18,750 employees. Other leading employers include AT&T, Regions Bank, Birmingham Board of Education, City of Birmingham, Jefferson County Board of Education, Children's Health System, Wells Fargo (formerly Wachovia), Alabama Power Company, and Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Alabama.
  • Educational services, and health care and social assistance (26.9 percent)
  • Arts, entertainment, recreation, and accommodation and food services (11.5 percent)
  • Retail trade (10.8 percent)
  • Professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste management services (10.5 percent)
  • Manufacturing (8.3 percent)
  • Finance, insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (7.2 percent)
  • Other services, except public administration (5.6 percent)
  • Transportation and warehousing and utilities (5.5 percent)
  • Construction (4.2 percent)
  • Public administration (4.1 percent)
  • Wholesale trade (2.6 percent)
  • Information (2.5 percent) , forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (0.3 percent)
BBVA Compass Bank Birmingham remains home to several of the nation's largest steelmakers, including U.S. Steel, McWane, and Nucor and is also host to bioscience and technology development and some of the nation's top construction and engineering firms. Birmingham is also headquarters for the engineering and technical services divisions of several power companies, including Alabama Power Company, ENERGEN Corporation, and SONAT. The Birmingham metropolitan area is Alabama's largest commercial center and is currently one of the nation's largest banking centers, serving as headquarters for Regions Financial Corporation. The overall banking structure in the city recently has been altered. Compass Bancshares, which still has headquarters in Birmingham, is now part of Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA), a worldwide financial services group based in Bilbao, Spain. Wachovia, which had a regional office in Birmingham, is now part of Wells Fargo as a result of financial trouble during the banking crisis of 2008. Ruffner Mountain Park The Birmingham City School System oversees a large number of public schools throughout the city. In addition to UAB, the city has two other major institutions of higher learning, Samford University and Birmingham-Southern College. Historically black Miles College and Miles Law School, Birmingham School of Law, Jefferson State Community College, and Lawson State Community College provide other educational opportunities in the Birmingham area. Southeastern Bible College, a nondenominational four-year college, also is located in Birmingham. McWane Science Center Birmingham's hallmark attraction is the towering statue of Vulcan that overlooks the city from the top of Red Mountain. Italian sculptor Guiseppe Moretti constructed Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and metalworking, in 1904 to serve as a fitting symbol of the industrial city for the St. Louis World's Fair. In 2004, after a four-year renovation, Vulcan Park reopened to the public and welcomed more than 100,000 visitors its first year. The downtown Civil Rights District also draws many tourists to the Civil Rights Institute, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, and Kelly Ingram Park. Other nearby attractions include the McWane Science Center, Arlington Antebellum Home and Gardens, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, the Southern Museum of Flight, the Alabama Theatre, the Sloss Furnaces Historic Landmark, the Birmingham Zoo, Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, and the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Other outdoor recreation areas include Oak Mountain State Park, Railroad Park, and Red Mountain Park. The corner of 20th Street and 1st Avenue North in the city is popularly known as "The Heaviest Corner on Earth" after a 1911 magazine article on the construction of the last of four large buildings at the site.

Rickwood Field Boasting the third-longest golf course in the world, the Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa, located just a few miles southwest of downtown Birmingham, features an 8,194-yard Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail course, which hosts the Regions Charity Classic, a stop on the PGA Seniors golf tour. Birmingham is also home to the Birmingham Barons, a minor league affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. Rickwood Field, home of the Barons from 1910-1987, is the nation's oldest baseball park. Legion Field, built in 1926, has been the host to memorable sporting events over the years, including many of the annual Iron Bowl contests between the University of Alabama and Auburn University as well as games by the University of Alabama at Birmingham the Southeastern Conference and Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Football Games bowl games, pro football games, and soccer matches during the 1996 Summer Olympics.

Armes, Ethel. The Story of Coal and Iron in Alabama. 1910. Reprint, Leeds, Ala.: Beechwood Books, 1987.

The Ensley Works operated between 1888 and 1976 and became part of U.S. Steel in 1907. For years, it was the largest steel producer in the Southeast. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Photographic Archives

Editor's note: This is the first story in a series exploring the economic histories of the largest metropolitan areas in the Southeast.

Alabama's largest city is enjoying something of a renaissance. A couple blocks from Birmingham's Railroad Park, a seven-year-old downtown jewel, sleek condominiums rise alongside the new home of the Birmingham Barons minor league baseball team. Scattered throughout town, trendy restaurants and galleries have earned plaudits from the likes of the New York Times and Garden & Gun magazine.

But like most American cities, Birmingham's economic energy flows only so far. West of downtown lie sagging old mill villages. Most striking is the abandoned Ensley works: century-old brick buildings and a half-dozen smokestacks stand above the woods that in 33 years have all but swallowed a factory that once employed thousands.

Big urban-suburban differences

Birmingham is prosperous in many ways. It's home to the touted University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) medical research complex and a clutch of regional banks. It boasts some of the South's wealthiest suburbs. Mountain Brook's median household income, $126,500, is the highest of any city in the Southeast with more than 10,000 people, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics.

At the same time, Birmingham encompasses block after block of commercial and residential areas as desolate as the abandoned Ensley works. Although it might be an imperfect comparison, an economic gulf separates a couple of suburbs and the city of Birmingham. The city's median household income, for example, is a quarter of Mountain Brook's and roughly a third that of Vestavia Hills. Among city residents under 65, 18.5 percent lack health insurance&mdash50 percent more than the ratio statewide, and greater than nine times the ratio in Mountain Brook and four times the rate in Vestavia Hills, according to census data.

Because of its rapid growth in the early 20th century, Birmingham became known as "the Magic City." Courtesy of the Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark

Populous, affluent suburbs are hardly unique to Birmingham, of course. Most metros&mdashespecially those in the Sun Belt that have grown dramatically in recent decades&mdashhave heavily suburban populations. The city of Atlanta, in fact, accounts for a smaller share of its (albeit far larger) metro population than does the city of Birmingham. However, the city of Atlanta's population is growing&mdashby over 10 percent between 2010 and 2015, compared to 0.1 percent for the city of Birmingham. City populations in New Orleans, Jacksonville, Nashville, and Memphis have all grown more than Birmingham's in that five-year period.

Birmingham in many ways is typical in a country of widening economic disparities. In other ways, the town whose rapid growth earned it the nickname Magic City has an economic and cultural heritage that distinguishes it from other urban areas. Even though it's a youngster&mdashMobile and New Orleans were over 150 years old when Birmingham was founded in 1871&mdashBirmingham and its economy nonetheless have been molded by an eventful, and sometimes tragic, past.

Birmingham sits astride a rare mineral bounty

Start at the city's beginnings. Birmingham sits in the Jones Valley, one of few places in the world harboring all three ingredients needed to make iron and steel: coal, limestone, and iron ore.

Birmingham began life as "workshop town" devoted to extracting and refining minerals. The town's first building, according to an early chronicler, Ethel Armes, was a blacksmith shop. It was born as essentially a colony of mine and mill owners, their workers, and workers' families. The companies built villages, with houses, schools, mail service, hospitals and town baseball teams. Pioneering entrepreneurs with names including DeBardeleben, Sloss, Ensley, and Powell made early 20th century Birmingham the South's foremost industrial hub.

Early promoters predicted it would rise to the top rank of the world's factory towns. In the 1880s and '90s, speculators bid up land prices from $10 an acre to $500 to $1,000 an acre, according to Armes's 1910 book, The Story of Coal and Iron in Alabama.

The area indeed flourished. Sharecroppers from the countryside and European immigrants flocked to the area to mine coal and do dangerous and taxing work in the furnaces. In the early decades of the 20th century, the Birmingham area's population grew much faster than those of other southern cities (see the chart). The city's population expanded from 3,000 in 1880 to 260,000 by 1930, which is larger than the city's&mdashthough not the metro area's&mdashcurrent population. In 1930, Birmingham's metropolitan area population nearly equaled that of Atlanta, its rival 145 miles to the east.

Yet labor relations were notoriously difficult. Industrialists suppressed organizing efforts, at times violently, throughout the early to mid-20th century. Widespread crime and several well-documented episodes of violence contributed to a Wild West reputation.

The iron and steel companies gave birth to Birmingham, creating tens of thousands of jobs and an aristocracy of owners and managers. But the power brokers behind the iron and steel firms largely kept Birmingham a one-industry town.

Dependence on the city's founding industry left the city vulnerable to economic swings. (As recently as the 1960s, U.S. Steel alone employed more than 40,000 people in the Birmingham area.) Indeed, the Hoover administration labeled Birmingham the nation's hardest-hit city during the Great Depression.

Built in 1927 by Paramount Studios as a showcase for that studio&rsquos films, the Alabama Theatre was renovated in 1998. One of three historic theaters in downtown Birmingham, the Alabama today hosts live events and films. Photo by Kendrick Disch

Birmingham today. The George F. Landegger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

An iron mine on Red Mountain in Birmingham, ca. 1906. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Photographic Archives

A U.S. Steel furnace in Birmingham, 1968. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Photographic Archives

Company housing outside of a Birmingham steel mill, 1937. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Photographic Archives

Local news reports said more buildings were torn down than built in Birmingham in the 1950s. Downtown today is experiencing a resurgence powered in part by the restoration of historic buildings. Photo by Kendrick Disch

From 1885, a composite of bird's-eye views of Birmingham, Alabama. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Photographic Archives

A 1906 photo of Sloss City Furnaces in Birmingham. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Photographic Archives

An interior photo of pig iron being cast in Sloss furnaces in 1906. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Photographic Archives

Downtown Birmingham today as seen from Sloss. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Photographic Archives

A photo taken in Birmingham during the Great Depression. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Photographic Archives

Designed by Italian artist Giuseppe Moretti and cast from local iron in 1904, the statue of Vulcan&mdashthe ancient Roman god of fire and metalworking&mdashhas overlooked Birmingham since the 1930s. Image courtesy of the George F. Landegger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Amid the darkest hours, more positive forces gathered

The foundries and mills sparked back to life during World War II's military buildup. After the war, Birmingham's fortunes skidded anew as the steel industry slumped in the 1950s. At the same time, the darkest chapter in the city's history began to unfold. Even before the tragic church bombing that killed four girls in 1963, "Birmingham's race relations were widely considered the worst in the nation," Stanford economic historian Gavin Wright writes in his 2013 book, Sharing the Prize, The Economics of the Civil Rights Revolution in the American South.

Through the 1950s and '60s, a tug-of-war over racial policies played out between two camps of business elites. On one side were the industrialists, and on the other were more moderate factions of retailers, real estate developers, leaders of the burgeoning medical complex, and other professionals. This splintering of business interests would weaken industry recruitment efforts and warp the business community's response to civil rights upheaval, history shows.

Yet Birmingham became an international symbol of resistance to civil rights in part because boycotts and protests did not damage the city's iron and steel interests.

Birmingham's Civil Rights Institute and the new Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument commemorate the bloody struggles in the city led mainly by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (statue pictured) and the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. Photo by Kendrick Disch

Because the iron and steel interests&mdashdirected not just by locals but also by more distant executives and investors in northern cities&mdashwere mostly unconcerned about attracting new industry to Birmingham, they had little reason to fear the negative publicity that would subsequently scare away investment, concluded scholars such as Joseph Luders of Yeshiva University and Numan Bartley, an emeritus professor of history at the University of Georgia. However, downtown merchants were quite concerned. Protests and police repression of protestors, Luders writes, cost downtown Birmingham retailers estimated weekly losses equivalent to $6 million in today's money.

Yet even as Birmingham's grimmest chapter unfolded in the early 1960s, a more positive economic force was gathering strength. UAB was established in the 1940s as a medical school for the University of Alabama's main campus in Tuscaloosa. The Birmingham campus struggled for funding from the start and ultimately relied heavily on federal dollars. During the 1970s, no other medical school in the country received a larger portion of its funding from federal sources.

It paid off. By 1992, according to historian Charles Scribner and his 2002 book Renewing Birmingham: Federal Funding and the Power of Change 1929-1979, UAB was responsible, directly or indirectly, for every seventh job in the Birmingham metro area. The medical complex's influence, he writes, was "powerful testament to the transformative power of the health sciences complex&mdashlargely shaped by federal aid&mdashand the ascendancy of the postindustrial service economy in the erstwhile iron and steel town."

History Matters. A Lot.

The Federal Reserve concerns itself mainly with the current and future state of the economy. Yet no clear understanding of the present is possible without an appreciation of the past.

With that principle in mind, William Roberds, a research economist and senior adviser at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, is organizing the Atlanta Fed's May 15&ndash17 workshop on monetary and financial history.

The workshop will feature a keynote address by 2011 Nobel Prize winner Thomas J. Sargent. An economics professor at New York University, Sargent is scheduled to discuss the history of U.S. fiscal policy and how this relates to today's fiscal policy challenges.

A century of transition

In the Southeast and beyond, a vital function of historical knowledge is to place present circumstances into broader perspective. "The number one thing you learn from looking at economic history," Roberds says, "is how much better off we are today than 99 percent of people were in the distant past."

Will Roberds

Indeed, the history of the southeastern economy centers on an inexorable transformation to higher standards of living, Roberds says. Since the Atlanta Fed's founding in 1914, the overarching story concerns the regional economy's gradual evolution from an agrarian system based on a single commodity&mdashcotton&mdashto a more prosperous, diverse economy.

Historically, the Southeast was woefully poor compared with the rest of the nation. In 1930, only three states in the Atlanta Fed's district recorded per capita personal income of even half the national level, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. (The Sixth Federal Reserve District includes all or parts of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee.) Regional incomes have since improved dramatically (see the chart).

Likewise, the region is far healthier. From the early 1800s until the mid-20th century, diseases such as hookworm, malaria, pellagra, and yellow fever plagued the South. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was established in Atlanta because the South, with its warm climate, was the area of the country with the most malaria transmission. Today all four of these diseases are all but eradicated in the United States.

Today's Birmingham a different place

Birmingham today is a different place from the national pariah of the 1960s. Much of the civil rights battleground is a 36-acre national monument established by President Barack Obama in January 2017. The Civil Rights Institute, near the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, is among the nation's foremost attractions devoted to African Americans' struggle for equality. Stanford's Wright also points out that in recent years Birmingham has generated more middle-class and professional employment among African Americans than Charlotte, relative to city size.

The Birmingham-Hoover metro area's employment base today boasts a bigger concentration of jobs in financial activities than New York, Charlotte, or Atlanta, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Birmingham's 43,000 financial jobs pay more than the national average. A downtown incubator affiliated with UAB houses 102 startup companies employing nearly 900 people.

Opened in 2010, the 19-acre Railroad Park includes a lake, restaurant, and other amenities and has become a major downtown destination. Photo by Kendrick Disch

UAB and its renowned medical complex, of course, are the economy's linchpin, employing 23,000 people and attracting the 10th highest research funding among public universities from the National Institutes of Health in 2015. Nearly twice as many jobs are in education and health services as manufacturing.

In fact, Birmingham's metro area employment is less concentrated in manufacturing than Alabama's or the nation's. Manufacturing is not dead, to be sure. Birmingham sits between automotive assembly plants in Talladega (Honda) and Tuscaloosa (Mercedes) counties. Neither plant is in the Birmingham metro area, but many of the plants' several thousand workers live in the Birmingham area. And parts suppliers in the Birmingham metro area employ some 3,000 people, according to BLS data. Metal makers also still employ more than 6,000 in Jefferson County.

For all its progress, Birmingham has never rivaled the spectacular economic growth of the Sun Belt's supernovas (see the chart). While it is impossible to apportion blame to Birmingham's history, the unsavory chapters of the city's past clearly have played a role.

An old motto laments that "hard times come to Birmingham first and stay longest." Many of Birmingham's founding families have also stayed. Lesley McClure, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta's Birmingham-based regional executive, says she frequently interacts with descendants of the city's founding business leaders. In fact, many of those descendants have contributed to bettering their hometown's economy and culture.

Today's Birmingham appears to have largely, yet perhaps not completely, escaped its historical shadow.

16th Street Baptist Church

Many of the civil rights protest marches that took place in Birmingham during the 1960s began at the steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church, which had long been a significant religious center for the city’s Black population and a routine meeting place for civil rights organizers like King.

KKK members had routinely called in bomb threats intended to disrupt civil rights meetings as well as services at the church.

At 10:22 a.m. on the morning of September 15, 1963, some 200 church members were in the building—many attending Sunday school classes before the start of the 11 am service—when the bomb detonated on the church’s east side, spraying mortar and bricks from the front of the church and caving in its interior walls.

Most parishioners were able to evacuate the building as it filled with smoke, but the bodies of four young girls (14-year-old Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson and 11-year-old Denise McNair) were found beneath the rubble in a basement restroom.

Ten-year-old Sarah Collins, who was also in the restroom at the time of the explosion, lost her right eye, and more than 20 other people were injured in the blast.

The bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church on September 15 was the third bombing in 11 days, after a federal court order had come down mandating the integration of Alabama’s school system.


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25 Things You Should Know About Birmingham, Alabama

Birmingham packs a lot of history into its relatively short 140 years. Below, a few things you might not know about the Magic City.

1. Although Hernando De Soto journeyed through Alabama in 1540, the area around Birmingham wasn’t settled until about 1813. For almost 60 years, only farm towns populated the area around the railroad crossroads. In 1871, the Elyton Land Company merged several of these to create Birmingham. In the early 20th century, other surrounding towns were annexed by the city, leading to the substantial growth that inspired its nickname, “The Magic City.”

2. Birmingham was named after Birmingham, UK. Last year, the BBC published a roundup titled "10 British Things About Birmingham, Alabama," calling out, among other things, the city's Doctor Who fan club, The Jane Austen Society, the Etiquette School of Birmingham, and the Birmingham Museum of Art's collection of Wedgwood pottery—the largest in the world outside Britain.

3. Birmingham is the only place in the world where all three raw ingredients for steel (coal, limestone, and iron ore) occur naturally within a ten-mile radius.

4. Sloss Furnaces produced pig-iron for almost 90 years. Although nothing remains of the original furnace complex, it’s the only facility of its kind preserved anywhere in the world. It’s a National Historic Landmark and is run as a city-operated museum. But if you’re catching a show there or wandering the grounds, watch out for ghosts: It’s been listed as one of the top 100 places in the world for paranormal activity.

5. Vulcan , the Roman god of the forge, watches over the city—and moons one of its suburbs. The statue was originally commissioned to advertise Birmingham’s industry at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.

The Divinity of Light (although most people just call her Electra) stands atop the Alabama Power Building. In 1926, a writer for the Birmingham Post began publishing installments of the love story of Electra and Vulcan, attributing the potholes downtown to their footsteps from their trips to see one another.

7. Downtown's Kirklin Clinic was designed by noted architect I.M. Pei, the man behind the National Gallery of Art's East Building and Paris' Grand Louvre.

8. Frank Fleming’s The Storyteller was created to celebrate Southern storytelling traditions. Colloquially, the installation of the ram-headed man and his friends is referred to as the Satanic Fountain.

With a population of approximately 212,000, Birmingham is Alabama's largest city—for now. According to census projections, Huntsville is expected to take the top spot within 10 years.

10. No need to head all the way to New York City to feel like you're in the Big Apple: there's a replica of the Statue of Liberty on the city's outskirts. It was originally commissioned by the founder of Liberty National Life Insurance Company in 1956, and stood proud over the company's downtown headquarters until 1989.

11. Barber Motorsports Park, located just outside city limits, boasts the world's largest motorcycle museum. Guinness World Records made it official last year.

12. It's home to Rickwood Field, the nation’s oldest baseball stadium. In its heyday, Rickwood hosted greats of the game such as Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Dizzy Dean, and Willie Mays (who just so happened to be a native Birminghamian).

Baseball isn’t the only game in town. The greater Birmingham area was the birthplace of a number of other athletes too, including Charles Barkley and nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis.

14. Other famous folks from Birmingham include Emmylou Harris, Courteney Cox, rapper Gucci Mane, authors Fannie Flagg and John Green, who lived there as a kid, and Condoleezza Rice.

15. The city of Birmingham underwent two separate prohibitions. Jefferson County banned the sale of alcohol from 1908 to 1911, and a 1915 statewide law rendered the state totally dry up until 1937—four years after the Twenty-first Amendment ended nationwide prohibition.

16. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of bootlegging happening in 'Bama. (As the Associated Press reported in 1937, "' Bone dry' Alabama led all states in the number of illicit distilleries yielded into federal agents during the month of November, according to Joe Rollins, state head of the federal alcohol unit.") One popular watering hole: Bangor Cave in Blount Springs, which served as a glamorous casino and speakeasy for Birminghamians looking to let loose, just as the formal ban on booze was coming to an end.

17. The oldest and largest Veterans Day celebration is in Birmingham, which is also known as the holiday’s founding city.

Birmingham transplant Mary Anderson invented and patented the windshield wiper in 1903.

19. One of early Birmingham's unsung heroes: a prostitute by the name of Louise Wooster, who helped convert the town's brothels into clinics and nurse citizens back to health during the deadly 1873 cholera epidemic. A few years later, she opened her own brothel and amassed considerable wealth—large amounts of which she donated to charity.

20. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute—both, as its website notes, "a time capsule and a modern-day think tank"—is the permanent home of some of the Civil Rights movement's most powerful images, including photojournalist Spider Martin's pictures of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

21. Even some native Birminghamians don't know that the Birmingham Jail—where Martin Luther King Jr. first drafted his now-legendary missive in the margins of The Birmingham News—still occupies the same spot it did in 1963, on 6th Avenue South. But you'd be forgiven for driving past without giving the unassuming structure a second look: The sign outside identifies it as simply the Birmingham Police Department Detention Division.

Birmingham is said to be home to the "Heaviest Corner on Earth." That nickname came courtesy of an admiring early 20th century magazine article about the corner of 20th Street and First Avenue, where four massive skyscrapers—then the South's biggest buildings—had recently been constructed.

23. The multi-colored dance floor at The Club in Birmingham was director John Badham’s inspiration for the flashy set-up in Saturday Night Fever.

24. The annual Miss Apollo Pageant, held in November, is the second-oldest continuously running drag queen pageant in the country.

25. The city's Red Mountain Park, a 1200-acre public space, is one of the biggest urban parks in the country and a full 40 percent bigger than New York City's Central Park.

A History of Birmingham

Birmingham is the second-largest city in England. It began as a Saxon village. In the early 12th century it grew into a town. In 1166 the King gave the Lord of the Manor, Peter De Birmingham, the right to hold a weekly market at Birmingham. Once a market was up and running merchants and craftsmen came to live in Birmingham and it soon developed into a busy little town.

In 1250 the people of Birmingham were given the right to hold a fair each Summer. In the Middle Ages, a fair was like a market but it was held only once a year. Birmingham’s fair attracted buyers and sellers from all over the Midlands.

Medieval Birmingham became known for its wool industry. Wool was woven and dyed in the town. By the late 14th century Birmingham was also known for its metalworking industry. By then it was also known for leatherworking. Leather was tanned then used to make gloves, saddles, bottles, shoes, and many other things.

In the Middle Ages, the church ran the only hospitals. In them, monks would care for the sick and poor as best they could. In the early 13th century a ‘hospital’ dedicated to St Thomas was built in Birmingham.

In 1500 Birmingham was still a small market town with a population of about 1,500. It would seem tiny to us and even by the standards of the time, it was a little town. The Old Crown House was built in the 14th century.


In the 16th century, Birmingham grew rapidly. In 1547 the population was around 1,800 people. By 1560 it had probably passed 2,000. In the 17th century, Birmingham continued to grow rapidly. In 1650 it had a population of around 5,000. By then it was a fairly large and important place.

In 1570 a writer said Birmingham was ‘full of inhabitants and echoing with forges. The lower part of it is very wet, the upper adorned with handsome buildings’. Aston Hall was built in 1635.

In the Middle Ages there was only one fair in Birmingham but by the early 16th century there were two. Furthermore, in the Middle Ages, there was also just one general market but by the middle of the 16th century, there were three specialized markets, the Cornmarket, the Welsh market, and the English market.

Wool was still woven and dyed in Tudor Birmingham. Leather was also tanned and made into goods in the town. There was, in the 16th century, a leather hall in Birmingham where it could be bought and sold.

However, the newer industry of metalworking was fast taking over. Tudor Birmingham gained a reputation as a place where cutlers made knives, nailers made nails and many blacksmiths worked at their forges. Birmingham had 3 natural advantages. Firstly it was near to a source of iron ore. Secondly, it was by a coal seam, which provided fuel for forges. Lastly, it was surrounded by streams so that watermills could power the bellows for forges.

Meanwhile, in the middle of the 16th century, a grammar school was founded in Birmingham.

The civil war between king and parliament began in 1642. In October 1642 the king came to Birmingham with his army. His soldiers looted the houses of civilians. After the king left the townspeople attacked his baggage train and looted it.

In April 1643 a royalist army was sent to capture Birmingham. The townspeople erected earth defenses across the roads but the royalists simply marched across the open country into the town. They then set about plundering Birmingham again.

The first mention of a fire engine in Birmingham was in 1695.


St Phillips Church was built in 1715. By 1720 Birmingham had a population between 11,000 and 12,000. By 1750 the population had risen to around 24,000. By the end of the century, the population of Birmingham had risen to 73,000.

Industry in Birmingham continued to boom during the 18th century. Metalworking of all kinds flourished in the town. Artifacts made in Birmingham included buckles for shoes, blades, pins, nails, screws, bolts, and buttons. Some craftsmen made brass fittings such as handles for coffins. There were also many gunsmiths and some locksmiths. In the late 18th-century glass making boomed in Birmingham. Meanwhile, Sarehole Mill was built in 1765.

In 1724 charity school called the Blue Coat school was founded. It was so-called because the children wore blue uniforms. In 1769 an act of Parliament formed a body of men called the Street Commissioners who had powers to clean and light the streets of Birmingham. They appointed a ‘scavenger’ who collected all the rubbish (which included large amounts of animal dung) from the streets and sold it as fertilizer. They also widened the streets by demolishing houses. Furthermore, they lit the streets of Birmingham with oil lamps.

Also in 1769, a canal was built from Wednesbury to Birmingham. The General Hospital was built in 1779. Two new wings were added in 1790. In 1792 a dispensary was opened where the poor could obtain free medicine.


In 1801, at the time of the first census Birmingham had a population of 73,670, which meant it was one of Britain’s largest and most important towns.

In 1818 the Street Commissioners began to provide gas street lighting. But in 1852 their powers were transferred to the Town Council.

In the 19th-century industry in Birmingham was still dominated by metalworking. The workers of the town still made nails, brass goods (such as bedsteads), nuts and bolts, screws, and buttons. They also made pen nibs and toys. There were also jewelers and gunsmiths in Birmingham. In the late 19th-century railway carriages were made in Birmingham. So were bicycles. Glass making was also an important industry. From the end of the 19th century, there was also a cocoa and chocolate industry at Bournville.

A new Town Hall was built in Birmingham in 1834. It was built to imitate the temple of Castor and Pollux in Rome. St Chad’s Roman Catholic Cathedral was built in 1841.

Like most towns in the early 19th century, Birmingham was dirty and unsanitary. But in the second half of the century conditions improved. In the 1850s a network of sewers was dug under the streets of Birmingham. A by-law passed in 1861 stated that all new houses must be connected to a sewer. Unfortunately, it did not apply to houses already built some of whom had to wait decades before they were connected).

Birmingham Water Company was formed in 1826 to provide piped water to part of the town but citizens had to pay for this service and even where it was available many people could not afford it. They relied on wells or water carriers who sold water from carts in the streets. In 1875 Birmingham council took over the water company and after that sanitary inspectors closed many private wells. But it was not until a reservoir was built at Elan Valley in 1904 that Birmingham’s water supply problems were solved.

Although conditions improved in Birmingham during the 19th century there were epidemics of smallpox 1871-72, 1874, and 1883. There were also epidemics of scarlet fever in Birmingham in 1878 and 1882-3.

However, amenities in Birmingham gradually improved. Winson Green asylum opened in 1850. Rubery Hill asylum opened in 1881. Queens hospital opened in 1847. (It closed in 1993). A general hospital opened in 1897 but it later became a children’s hospital.

The Botanical Gardens opened in 1832 and the first public baths opened in 1852. The first public park in Birmingham opened in 1856. In 1873-75 Joseph Chamberlain was mayor of Birmingham. He was a great believer in local authorities taking responsibility for services like water and parks and set an example for many other local politicians.

The Council House was built in 1879 and the Museum and Art Gallery opened in 1885. Then in 1889, Birmingham was made a city.

A railway from Birmingham to Manchester and Liverpool was opened in 1837. Then from 1838, Birmingham was connected to London by rail. From 1873 horse-drawn trams ran in Birmingham. The town gained its first electricity supply in 1882. The first electric trams ran in Birmingham in 1890.

The first modern fire brigade in Birmingham was formed in 1874 and the first telephone exchange opened in 1879. The first public library in Birmingham opened in 1861. A Municipal School of Art opened in 1885. It was followed by a Municipal Technical School in 1891.

In 1891 the boundaries of Birmingham were extended to include Balsall Heath, Harborne, Saltley, and Ward End.


Birmingham University was founded in 1909. Birmingham Repertory Theatre was built in 1913.

In the early 20th century the traditional metalworking industries continued in Birmingham. So did more modern ones like bicycle making and tire making. Electrical engineering became an important industry in Birmingham at that time. However in the late 20th century manufacturing industry in Birmingham went into a steep decline. They were eventually replaced by service industries.

In 1909 the boundaries of Birmingham were extended again to include Quinton. In 1911 they were extended yet again. This time Handsworth, Aston Manor, Erdington, Yardley, Northfield and Kings Norton were included. Between 1919 and 1939 nearly 50,000 council houses were built in Birmingham. About 65,000 private houses were also built.

The boundaries of Birmingham were extended in 1928 to include Perry Barr. In 1931 they were extended to include Castle Bromwich and Sheldon. By then Birmingham had a population of about 1 million. The South African War n Memorial in Cannon Hill Park was built in 1905. A Hall of Memory was built in 1925.

Fox Hollies Park opened in 1929. The Barber Institute of Fine Arts opened in 1932. A School of Speech and Drama opened in 1936. Meanwhile, Queen Elizabeth Hospital was opened in 1938.

During the Second World War Birmingham was, as a major manufacturing center, an obvious target for German bombing. More than 2,000 people died as a result of the bombing.

In the years 1945-54 more than 37,000 council houses were built in Birmingham. By 1970 the number had risen to over 80,000. They were sorely needed. A survey in 1954 showed that 20% of the houses in Birmingham were unfit for human habitation.

In 1956 a statue of 3 famous men, Bolton, Watt, and Murdoch was erected in Broad Street. Birmingham Rotunda opened in 1965. In 1966 a statue named Hebe was erected in Holloway Circus.

An inner ring road was built in Birmingham between 1960 and 1971. Aston University was founded in 1966. In 1971 New Street Station was rebuilt. A Nature Centre opened in Birmingham in 1975.

The Bull Ring shopping centre was built in 1964. In 1973 a shopping centre was built over Birmingham station. In the 1980s it was refurbished and renamed the Pallasades. The Pavilions Shopping Centre opened in 1987. City Plaza followed in 1989. Mailbox Shopping Centre opened in 2000.

In 1987 the City Council unveiled a new City Centre Strategy. Birmingham city centre was to be rebuilt and refurbished. The International Conference Centre and Indoor Arena opened in 1991.

Also in 1991 the sculpture named ‘forward’ was unveiled. Other public sculptures in Birmingham include a statue of Thomas Attwood in Chamberlain Square and Iron Man unveiled in 1993. Also in 1993 fountains and sculptures including the one called The River were erected in Victoria Square, which was pedestrianised. A statue of Tony Hancock was erected in 1996. Ikon Gallery opened in 1998. Furthermore, the Midland Metro System opened in Birmingham in 1999.


In 2001 Millennium Point opened at Digbeth. It includes Thinktank the Museum of Science and Discovery, Imax Cinema, the Technology Innovation Centre, University of the First Age, and the Hub, which is made up of shops and cafes.

Today finance and tourism are important industries in Birmingham.

The Bull Ring

A Brief History of Birmingham Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania

Long before Europeans set foot in the New World, people referred to as Indians, Native Americans, or First Americans roamed across the North and South American continents. These people likely migrated from the Old World across the 50-mile Bering Sea between the USSR and Alaska approximately 14,000 years ago (when sea level was considerably lower than it is today, exposing a “land bridge” between the two continents). Archeologists refer to these early immigrants as Paleo Indians, who lived in small, nomadic groups and hunted big game such as the wooly mammoth, musk ox, and bison with stone-tipped spears. About 9,000 years ago, “Archaic” Indians based their subsistence strategies on seasonal hunting and food-gathering rounds, and learned to make fire and cook foodstuffs in bowls and pots they carved out of soapstone. By about 1,000 BC, “Woodland” Indians began living in small villages or hamlets, and had invented ceramics they made from clay along the riverbanks. Gradually the bow and arrow took the place of the spear, making the procurement of smaller game such as the white-tailed deer and antelope possible. When the first European colonists set foot on North American shores, they met dozens of Indian tribal groups living in large villages scattered across the landscape, growing their own crops in agricultural fields and processing the grain with stone hoes, mortars, pestles, and milling stones. While fishing, hunting, and foraging supplemented their agricultural activities, corn, beans, and squash formed the major part of their diet.

Artist’s rendition of Lenape longhouses.

In southeastern Pennsylvania, the people who greeted the colonists were the Lenape (also known as the Delaware, a name given to them by the Europeans). The Lenape lived primarily in large, oval-shaped long houses on wide floodplains of major streams and tributaries over a vast region including parts of Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, and New Jersey. In Chester County, there were at least two such hamlets—the Northbrook Site at Northbrook, and Queonemysing, located on the Brandywine just above the Delaware state line. By the 1750s, the Lenape had been forcibly removed to reservations in Oklahoma and Ohio. At least 70 Indian sites are recorded in the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission filing system for Birmingham Township, most of which are small campsites or hunting stations of the Archaic time period that have been discovered and reported by collectors. No Indian site of any time period in the township has been subjected to professional archeological study.

Early European Settlement: 1684 to 1730

Birmingham Township is the oldest township in Chester County, dating to 1684 when William Brinton secured two patents for 840 acres from William Penn near the village of Dilworth (Dilworthtown). Brinton was the first of many Quakers to escape persecution in England by taking advantage of the opportunities presented by William Penn’s “Holy Experiment,” and Quaker influence is still prevalent among township residents today. Birmingham Township received its name because Brinton hailed from Birmingham, England. The early settlers quickly began building houses from timber and stone, and they established a meeting house (first built of logs but later torn down and built more substantially of stone), school, and burying ground along Birmingham Road near Street Road. Each of these is still extant. In 1686, the settlement organized into a municipal district of 6.4 square miles with town meetings one of the central features of this representative form of government.

Clearing the Land: 1730 to 1777

Samuel Painter Jr. house ca.1749

Although appearing to be a relatively flat landscape, with gently rolling open fields and broad vistas, Birmingham Township was anything but that at the time of the first settlements. Clearing agricultural lands was backbreaking work, involving felling trees either with whipsaw and axe or by controlled fires. Except where the Lenape had cleared small plots to grow subsistence crops, the land was densely forested and in some places deeply incised by tributaries of the Brandywine and the Brandywine itself, making overland travel difficult. The few roads that provided transportation corridors were mere rutted trails traversing the countryside where Indians had previously worn paths. The Brandywine River also presented obstacles, and fords were established at several points in the township along the stream, including two at Chadd’s Ford and one each at Brinton’s Ford (near Wylie Road), Painter’s Ford at Pocopson, and Wistar’s Ford at Lenape. With the Brandywine River forming the western boundary of Birmingham Township, mills for processing grain, grist, and logs sprang up almost overnight. This also entailed the construction of dams and head and tail races so that enough “head” could be generated to turn the water wheels. By the end of the 18th century, Birmingham Township boasted some of the largest and most profitable mills in Chester County. The village of Dilworth(town) became a thriving center of commerce during this period, boasting a blacksmith shop, wheelwright shop, harness and saddlery shop, cheese factory, barrel and keg factory, and a general store all located at this crossroads.

The Battle of the Brandywine: September 11, 1777

Birmingham Township is perhaps best noted for its association with the Battle of the Brandywine of September 11, 1777, the most significant land battle of the American Revolution. The township is entirely subsumed within the Brandywine Battlefield National Historic Landmark boundary, the only municipality so positioned. On that fateful day in 1777, some 13,000 British and Hessian soldiers outmaneuvered a similar number of George Washington’s Continentals as they tried to defend against Sir William Howe’s advance on Philadelphia. The most significant fighting took place along Birmingham and Wylie roads in the vicinity of the Birmingham Meeting. Many of the dead on both sides were buried in the Birmingham burying ground. It was at this battle that the Marquis de Lafayette joined the Continental cause and suffered a bullet wound to the leg. While the battle was a significant loss for Washington’s army, it was a turning point in the war because of the strong resolve it fostered among the Continentals to carry on the fight for freedom and ultimately prevail at Yorktown four years later.

Inscription on Lafayette’s monument

Municipal Development: 1777 to 1815

Following the war the residents of Birmingham Township turned their attention to municipal affairs, with a unique geographic anomaly one of the major results. Because the documents creating nearby Delaware County specified that the Brandywine River formed its western boundary, a small tract of land bounded by a bend in the river and the Delaware state line was technically in Chester County. Thus, Birmingham Township was divided into two discontiguous geographic entities, a situation that remains to this day. By 1856, the township had expanded to take in 1,200 acres of East Bradford Township, thus resulting in the present day configuration. In 1795, the Birmingham Library was established, the first subscription library in Chester County. In the Quaker tradition, it specialized in books on religion and philosophy.

Religious Discord: 1815 to 1840

By 1820, the population of Birmingham Township was some 323 persons, most of them of the Quaker faith. As the township grew and secular affairs consumed more time and energy of many of the residents, a rift developed in 1827 over just how involved Quakers should be in the affairs of government. Those espousing more traditional views left Birmingham Meeting and established the Orthodox Friends Meeting further south on Birmingham Road. It would be more than a century (1955) before this rift was ended.

Birmingham Meetinghouse

Agricultural Prosperity: 1840 to 1865

The development of new farming technologies such as mechanized planters and reaping machines fostered considerable agricultural growth and prosperity in the middle of the 19th century. The US census data for 1850 reveals that 18
Birmingham farms were producing 3,000 bushels of wheat, 7,500 bushels of corn, and 5,800 bushels of oats on an annual basis. This period also saw the construction of most of the high-style serpentine houses in the township that are still standing today.

Diversified Economy: 1865 to 1900

By 1879, many Birmingham Township farms had shifted their focus to dairy production. Wheat, corn, and oats were still being produced on some farms, but the average agricultural yield per farm declined during this period, even though the development of fertilizers made the land more productive than before. Township residents were prospering, but prosperity came only with hard work. Accordingly, recreation became important at the turn of the century. Birmingham Park and Lenape Park were developed in this period, the latter including a dance pavilion, restaurant, baseball fields, swimming, cricket, fishing, picnicking, and tennis facilities. So popular were these recreational parks that the Wilmington and Northern Railroad established a stop to accommodate travel to Birmingham Park.

Leaving for the Hunt

View of Mather farm from bridge.

The Rise of Suburbanism: 1900 to 1960

With the development of dramatic new technologies in the early 20th century, including the “horseless carriage” and the airplane, people became less dependent on the homestead to make a living. These new technologies afforded unprecedented mobility and opportunities arose that simply weren’t there before. Heretofore thriving farms either reduced their production dramatically or went out of business altogether. The once thriving mills along the Brandywine and its tributaries became silent and abandoned. One of the largest farms in Birmingham Township, the Painter Farm on Country Club Road, was converted into a country “hunting box” by Charles Mather, a real estate magnate from Philadelphia who loved to “ride with the hounds”. This period saw the beginnings of land speculation and an architectural revival, with many styles coming back in vogue, most prominently the Colonial Revival style. Later in the period, the GI Bill made it easier to own a home, and new residential developments further from the city sprang up, many following the model set by Levittown, in Bucks County. The first such development in Birmingham Township was Radley Run, begun in 1965.

Rural Suburban Enclave and the Rise of Civic Awareness: 1960 to present

With the construction of Radley Run, land use patterns in Birmingham Township would never be the same again. The “suburban model” of multiple houses built on “tracts” over what was once farmland became the pattern of choice. Previously, a house was at the center of a wide array of farm buildings, surrounded by open agricultural fields that generated subsistence and wealth. With the “suburban model”, wealth and subsistence were acquired elsewhere, and the land became a scenic vista for the house. Many such residential developments have been built in Birmingham Township since the development of Radley Run in spite of this, much of the township still retains essentially a rural character. The presence of the Brandywine Battlefield in the township has largely been responsible for the retention of this rural character.

On January 20, 1961, the Brandywine Battlefield was formally designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service. Such designation is granted only to historic properties that possess exceptional national significance. This federal initiative, together with the growing encroachment of suburban development in and around the battlefield, compelled Birmingham Township to adopt planning strategies of its own to promote orderly growth. The result has been a plethora of plans, policies, ordinances, and acts all designed to strike a balance between preservation and development. These efforts include a Development Policy Plan (1964) historic district designation for the village of Dilworthtown (1969) Recommended Plan:2000 (1972) expansion of the Dilworthtown Historic District (1978) and several zoning ordinances and comprehensive plans in 1978 and 1979. Each of these documents, particularly the ordinances, contains provisions to set aside open space areas, yet suburban encroachment continued apace throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

In response, several new planning documents were produced in the late 80s and into the 90s, including aCultural Resources Management Study for the Brandywine Battlefield (1989) an Open Space, Recreation, and Environmental Resources Plan (1994) and Birmingham Township Comprehensive Plan (2001). All of these documents contain recommendations for the township to consider in its planning and preservation efforts some have been implemented, others have not. Perhaps the most important planning document produced to date is a major GIS-based study completed in 2010 and participated in by all municipalities with lands within the National Historic Landmark boundaries. Among other things, this study created a series of layered maps showing features such as historic roads, buildings and structures standing at the time of the Battle of the Brandywine, as well as troop movements superimposed on modern features such as streams, contemporary roads, and the Landmark boundary. The digital data and reports of this study are on file at the Chester County Department of Parks and Recreation.

For Further Reading.

Futhey, J. Smith, and Gilbert Cope, History of Chester County, Pennsylvania. Louis H. Evarts, Philadelphia 1882 (1986 reprint edition published by the Caster County Historical Society)

Kent, Barry C., Janet Rice, and Kakuko Ota, A Map of 18th Century Indian Towns in

Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Archaeologist, vol. 54 no. 1, 1981

McGuire, Thomas J., The Philadelphia Campaign: Brandywine and the Fall of Philadelphia.

Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, Pa. 2001

Norman Day Associates and John Milner Associates, Birmingham Township Comprehensive Plan.

Report on file with Birmingham Township 2001

Riley, Lyman, et. al., Three Hundred Years of Quakerism at Birmingham, 1690-1900.

Birmingham Friends, West Chester, Pa. 1990

Roy F. Weston Inc., Birmingham Township Open Space, Recreation, and Environmental

Resources Plan. Report on file with Birmingham Township 1994

Webster, Nancy V., Martha L. Wolf, Betty Cosans-Zebooker, Ken Joire, Susan W. Hauser, and John E. Shenkel, Brandywine Battlefield, The National Historic Landmark Revisited. Report on file at the Delaware County Planning Department 1992

The Best Things to Do in Historic Birmingham

Here’s what to do in Birmingham, with a few food and drink suggestions thrown in as well. I’ve mainly stuck to the best sites in historic Birmingham, but there are a few other must-sees and fun items on here as well.

Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument

First, no trip to Birmingham is complete without visiting the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument (BCRNM). I’ve listed many of the site’s components below, but I suggest you plan your visit so that you understand the history as much as possible.

A few suggestions would be to either hire a private guide to show you the area and explain the significance of each spot as you go, or to start with the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (next) and then see the surrounding sites individually.

I have traveled to many historic sites, and it’s almost impossible to take in what you need to on your own without a guide or without at least getting the story first.

I had the privilege of seeing the site with Barry McNealy, education and programming consultant of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. You can listen to my interview with him about the history of Birmingham and the work that went into creating the site here:

While you should listen to the interview, I really can’t express enough how much my visit was enhanced by having an expert explaining the site to us.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Whether you go on a tour of the site or you choose to go on your own, a visit to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is a must for understanding the history of Birmingham. There’s nothing quite as powerful as being confronted with the instruments of white supremacy as the collection of artifacts that are on display here.

Plan to spend a few hours digging into the exhibits here. The most famous artifact on display is the jail cell that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was held in where he wrote the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in 1963.

However, don’t just explore the fight for good. It’s here where you really can learn about how white supremacy works and see it’s legacy through today. If you’re white, it’s your responsibility to learn not just about how things were but to see what that means about the world we live in today.

16th Street Baptist Church

Across the street from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is the most famous historic site in Birmingham, the 16th Street Baptist Church. In 1963, the church was bombed by the KKK and four young girls were lost.

The church was targeted by the KKK for its role in the Civil Rights Movement, and the history of the church is much larger than the events of a single day.

Watch the video: Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Warwickshire, UK Vacation Travel Guide. Expedia (November 2021).