Birmingham, The Magic City, is a unique blend of the
old and new, of the south and north, of manufacturing and service based
business. A product of the post Civil War, New South, Birmingham did not
exist prior to 1871.
Birmingham began as a land development venture, but a
venture tied to grand hopes for an industrial center in the New South.
Driven by interests that began before the Civil War, the City was to be founded
at the crossing of two new railroads, in order that some of the South's best
entrepreneurial spirits might develop the mineral wealth that had been
recognized, but untapped, for a number of years.
The opportunity that led to the development of the
Magic City was a completely unique geological phenomenon that was unmatched in
the new world. The proximity, literally within 5 miles, of the three main
ingredients needed to make iron: iron ore, coal, and limestone. This
unique natural condition was unable to be tapped until the transportation and
capital came together in the deep south, a region of the new United States that
was generally tied to an agricultural economy.
By the time of the Civil War, there was a fledgling
iron industry in the north central Alabama region. These early efforts
were more of an art form than an industry. However, the Civil War pointed
out two things. The lack of industrial development in the South, and the
need for transportation, rail transportation, as the emerging, modern way to
move raw material, finished goods, and people. During the War, the South
struggled to make enough of the weapons and armor needed to fight. The
natural resources, in the area that became Birmingham, could not be easily moved
to the manufacturing center at Selma, the arsenal of the Confederacy. As
the War dragged on, both sides fought for, destroyed, rebuilt and fought again
for the railroad system that controlled the ability to make war, and to support
the war effort.
So, the City of Birmingham, although different from the
Birmingham of today, was based upon the dream to develop one of the most unique
geological conditions in the country, and upon the understanding that the
economy of the New South would be tied to the railroad. Thus it was that
in 1871, a land development company was working to lay out a plan for a new City
to be built at the junction of the South and North Railroad, with the East and
West Railroad. That City, known originally as Elyton, became the City of
Birmingham, the Magic City. This unique City, in the deep South, but
driven in many ways by fortunes from outside the South provides a fascinating
story about industrial development, politics, and salesmanship that has led
today to a City that may be one of the best kept secrets in the Country.
map of the original City Limits indicating the Railroad Reservation:
Reserved for Mechanical Enterprises (UA Map Archives)
first railroad station (Alabama Dept of Archives and History)
Relay House Hotel (Alabama Dept of Archives and History)