William Garrett.

Reminiscences of public men in Alabama : for thirty years, with an appendix online

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readers to too great an extent. The half has not been told; and when we come to
minutely examine the surroundings, there is no cause for surprise.

Atlanta, before the war, had no advantage of Birmingham in point of railroad
facilities. Upon the completion of the South and North Railroad, Birmingham
will be accessible to the great cities of the Northwest, having a direct communica
tion with Louisville, Nashville, Memphis, Cincinnati and Chicago. It now has
connection by the Alabama & Chattanooga Railroad, via Chattanooga, with Rich-

442 Reminiscences of Public Men in Alabama.

mond, Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York ; and via Meridian,
with Mobile and New Orleans ; and via Montgomery, with the Atlantic ports at
Savannah and Brunswick. This much Atlanta also had, and no more. In addition
to all these, Birmingham has rich and fertile agricultural lands around it, and the
first mineral country in the world. The beds of coal, iron and lime that surround
it are simply inexhaustible. Enterprising men from the North are being daily
attracted to Birmingham by the wonderful stories told of its great wealth, now
buried in the bowels of the earth. When once on the spot, they find themselves
spell-bound by the superior quality and quantity of the ores, and they at once
resolve to invest. Yet Atlanta, which twenty-five years ago was a mere wilder
ness, is now a growing city of thirty-five or forty thousand inhabitants. I remem
ber well, as you doubtless do, Messrs. Editors, the contemptuous remarks and
sneers made at the predictions about Atlanta, and even now there are those who
will not believe Atlanta anything more than a mushroom town for,

"Convince a fool against his will,
He ll be of the same opinion still."

So it is with Birmingham ; but let any one who doubts, come and see for him
self, and like the writer, though his expectations may run high, he will neverthe
less be surprised. A little more than seven months ago, the site of Birmingham
was a cotton-field. There was not a hut upon the place. When the founder, the
indefatigable and enterprising Col. Powell (the present Duke), with his surveyor,
Mr. Parker, and his clerk, Mr. Milner, landed at Birmingham to lay off the
streets, they were compelled to go into camps. On the 8th of August, 1871, the
foundation for the first house was laid, and on the 29th of August it was ready
for use. On the 19th of December thereafter, the city was incorporated by the
Alabama Legislature, (application having been made only three weeks before,) and
a Mayor and City Council were immediately elected. Col. R. H. Henly, a talented
young lawyer, and the editor of the "Sun," has the honor of being the first
Mayor of this promising young city.

There are now over 300 buildings, 80 framed storehouses, 20 brick stores and
houses two and three stories high, and 40 brick stores under contract, and to be
built this summer. There are also two planing mills, and sash and blind factories,
two grist mills, one cotton factory, (being built,) one foundry and machine shop,
two hotels, five restaurants, ten boarding-houses, one Episcopal Church, eight
brick-yards, two lime-kilns, three stone quarries, two butcher pens, six physcians,
six lawyers, two newspapers, two job printing offices, one livery stable, three
blacksmith and wagon shops, two paint stores, two news depots, five bar and bil
liard saloons, three hardware stores, two furniture stores, and last, but not least,
aperfeet Mohammed 1 s paradise of lovely women.

Here are representatives from all sections of Alabama. Having a tolerably
extensive acquaintance in the State, I found old friends and acquaintances from
every direction, and they are all men of enterprise and full of vim. To give you
an idea of how business is done, I will relate an incident that occurred some
weeks ago. Happening to be in Jacksonville I met on the train, as I was leaving,
an old and valued friend in the person of Jim Morris, from West Point, Ga. After
the usual salutations, said I, "Jim, where are you going? What are you doing
out here?" He replied, "I have heard so much of Birmingham, that I have con
cluded to go and see the place for myself." "Do you intend to settle there?"
said I. "Don t know, <may if I like it." We separated and I heard no more of
Jim until yesterday, when walking along in amazement at the rapid growth of the
town, some one called to me from the opposite side of the street, (Cor. 2d Avenue
and 20th street.) I went over and found the veritable Jim. He had built a fine
store room, and stocked it full of furniture that would not disgrace the magnifi
cent rooms of our respected and beloved old friend, Jno. Powell. Nor is this all ;
he has nearly completed another two-story store house, and looks as jovial and
happy as he used to look while doing such a thriving business in West Point.

I merely mention this to illustrate how things are done in B- . The Meth
odists, Baptists and Presbyterians are all making arrangements to build Churches.
I had the pleasure of meeting and spending a few hours quite pleasantly with.

Reminiscences of Public Men in Alabama. 443

Father McDonough, of Tuskaloosa, who, by the way, is one of the most talented,
learned and pleasant gentlemen in the South. He informed me that it was his
intention to begin work at an early day upon the Catholic Church at this place,
and from all that I could learn, it will be an ornament to his Church as well as to
the city of Birmingham. It will have about 100 members to begin with.

Now, Messrs. Editors, these things being strictly true, as every citizen of the
place will testify, what may we not expect of Birmingham, should the other con
templated railroads be built ? And why should they not ?

If you will take your map and follow me, I think I can show you the practica-
bility/probability and vast importance of each and every one of these roads. The
S. & N. and the A. & C. Roads being already built, we will begin with the Georgia
Western Road. This Road, it is conceded, will surely be built. Atlanta is bound,
in self-defense to build it, in order to open up the vast fields of iron and coal in
N. W. Georgia and N. E. Alabama. The Road to West Point, known as the West
Point L. & B. (Narrow Gauge) Railroad, I am assured by the citizens of West
Point will soon be commenced. The Savannah & Memphis is being pushed forward
by capitalists at the North, and there is not a shadow of a doubt as to its early
completion. Selma, 1 leai n, is determined, at all hazards, to have a direct
communication with Birmingham, by means of an air line road from Ashby, a
point on the Selma, Rome & Dalton Railroad a few miles south of Montevallo.
Mobile will never allow the "Grand Trunk" to stop short of Birmingham. Now
comes the Road of Roads, the one most important to the cities of Birmingham,
Montgomery, St. Louis and Brunswick, viz: the Elyton, Corinth & Tennessee
River Railroad.

As you will readily perceive, this Road will form almost an air line from St.
Louis, via Birmingham and Montgomery, to Brunswick, Ga., on the Atlantic
Coast. It will begin at Pittsburg landing, on the Tennessee River, and run through
the counties of Walker, Winston, Marion and Franklin to Birmingham in Jeffer
son county. I have just had the pleasure of meeting Dr. A. M. Johnson, the Sec
retary, an intelligent and well-informed gentleman, who informs me that a survey
of this Road has been completed to Birmingham. It passes through the best coal
regions of Alabama, as yet untouched, and will place Montgomery in as direct com
munication with St. Louis as it will shortly be with Louisville. It will therefore
give us two outlets to the great North-west.

This Road, shortening the distance, as it does, from St. Louis to the Atlantic
Coast, at Brunswick, Ga., by 80 miles or more, will afford us the great desideratum
of our people, viz : direct communication with Europe. It will opon to us the
immense cribs and meat houses of the Queen City of the West, where we can deal
with friends and sympathizers. When this matter is properly viewed by our own
citizens, and the citizens of St. Louis, Brunswick and other places equally inter
ested, I am forced to believe that this important Road will be speedily built. It is
a matter in which Montgomery is or should be deeply interested, because this road
will afford two sources from which to draw her supplies, instead of one as now.

I have made this letter much longer than I intended when I started, but 1 can
not even yet find my consent to conclude it without paying a deserved tribute to
the noble, patriotic and energetic citizens of Jefferson county, and especially those
of Elyton and Birmingham. They are the men and women who truly "constitute
a State," who always have been and always will be its chief ornament and support.

The second letter is from Col. Powell himself, published in the
"Corinth (Miss.) Ledger," addressed to the Hon. J. F. Arnold,
President of the E. C. & Tenn. E. R. ? dated

BIRMINGHAM, ALA., April 4, 1872.

MY DEAR SIR: Your favor of 23d of March received, contents noted, and I
hasten to reply.

Dr. Johnson is here doing good work for your enterprise, which I consider the
greatest work now in contemplation in the South, in connecting this country, by a
short line railroad, to St. Louis and the Northwest. In a political aspect, it is

444 Reminiscences of Public Men in Alabama.

admirable to contemplate the advantages of identifying the Queen City of thd
West with the heart of the South by the shortest practicable railroad line con
necting with deep water navigation at Pittsburg Landing, on the Tennessee River
It is interesting to see a down-trodden people, as we are, so much excited in en
couraging the rivalry of St. Louis in her contest with New York for financial an<
commercial supremacy, which, in time, she must obtain, when the great Missis
sippi Valley is populated by her unborn millions. We crave to cement ourselve
with the Queen City of the West, and help her to become the political metropoli
of the United States, as well as the financial and commercial metropolis of this
continent ; and she has only to sti etch forth her arms with her mighty power, and
take us into her embraces and relieve us from that fostering protection which has
well nigh destroyed us. We want free intercommunication with a people who
sympathize with with us in our political afflictions, which have been more oppres
sive since the war than the war itself.

Before St. Louis can build this great railroad from Pittsburg Landing (160
miles) to Birmington, there will be completed railroads from this place to Atlanta,
Georgia, to Opelika and Savannah, to Mobile and Pennsacola, (the roads to Mont
gomery, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Meridian being already finished).

The Savannah and Memphis being in fact a part of your line, you will have
free and direct communication with Savannah and Brunswick, from one or both of
which should be established mail, passenger and freight steamers to Europe, as
are now enjoyed by New York. Thus St. Louis will be placed in quick communi
cation with the South, and direct communication with Europe, by which she will
be able to supply the whole South and West on as good terms as New York can do.

Our city is progressing well, and all we need now to give additional impetus to
investments in foundries and machine shops, is the construction of competing
lines of transportation to authorize large investments. We, at Birmingham, rely
with great confidence upon your route to supply us with cheap food, to feed the
millions who, in the course of years, will be required to work on the minerals of
this favored locality. To say nothing of other minerals, such as marble, slate,
etc., the inexhaustible abundance of coal and iron, limestone and sandstone all
indispensible elements in making iron and all n close proximity and in greater
abundance here than in any other locality in the world, makes it peculiarly appro-
paiate that we should be closely identified with the granaries and meat-houses of
the great Northwest, by which we can exchange our commodities with such recip
rocal advantages; when, with iron and coal in such abundance, and all the ele
ments at hand to make cheap iron, and enough to supply the workshops and
laborers of the world through two or three centuries, how can we limit the popu
lation of this country, when we will be able to get food from the Northwest as
cheaply as at St. Louis prices, adding transportation, four hundred miles by water
and one hundred and sixty miles by land, which small additional cost to the la
borer in the item of food is more than compensated by the use of less fuel and
cheaper and less expensive clothing and winter goods, to say nothing of the greater
number of days in which labor can be performed in this genial and healthful cli
mate than in latitudes frozen four or five months in the year.

You will be surprised to know that in three months and twenty days after our
first house was built, Birmingham was incorporated a city, on the lUth of Decem
ber last, with twelve hundred inhabitants, and forty-eight large stores, eighteen
of which are two story brick. Now we have four hundred houses, among which
are one hundred and fifty dwellings, many of these first class, eighteen brick and
two stone stores, two and three stories high ; eighty framed stores, one large hotel
and livery stable, ten boarding houses, five restaurants, one foundry and machine
shop, three blacksmith shops, two planing mills and sash and blind factories, two
grist mills, one cotton factory commenced and parties at the North engaged in buy
ing the machinery, besides about two hundred good class houses, many of them
brick, now under contract to be built this year. All the buildings and enterprises
mentioned above are finished and in successful operation, except the foundry and
machine shop, which is not yet commenced the lots are engaged for that pur
pose. Nine brick-yards are now employed actively in making brick, under a con
tract to make each a million of brick, to be sold at not more than seven dollars

Reminiscences of Public Men in Alabmna. 445

jper thousand, and will probably make each two millions the Elyton Land Com
pany agreeing to furnish the land and wood free of charge for that purpose, to
Insure cheap brick to builders. Lime-kilns are in successful operation, affording
abundance of excellent lime on the premises, and several quarries of rock are
opened, which give choice to builders to use that material instead of brick.

In short, we are a live people in Birmingham, without any connection with the
Northwest, which we soon hope to have, by the South North Alabama Ilailroa d,
to Louisville, Cincinnati and Chicago ; and live in hope to have direct connection
with the Queen City of the West, that she may exchange her breadstuffs and other
supplies with the prospective and natural Queen City of the South for her iron
and coal.

You observe that this subject swells into such proportions that it is difficult to
conclude a letter when you attempt to handle it.

You will, however, excuse me for trespassing upon your time, and hoping to
see you soon, I am truly your friend, J. 11. POWELL.

The third letter is also from Col. Powell, as President of the
Elyton Land Company, addressed to John M. Caldwell, Indian
apolis, Indiana, and published in the "Indianapolis Sentinel/ 7 as
follows :

BIRMINGHAM, ALA., April L 8, 1872. j

MY DKAR SIR: Yours of the 17th instant received, asking me to "give you my
views on this section of Alabama in reference to its mineral advantages." I shall
be very glad to see you located in this favorable locality Jones Valley favored
because of its wonderful developments of minerals coal, iron slate, marble, and
lead. Those minerals, the sources of great wealth to a country, including sand
stone and limestone, are in inexhaustible quantities in this valley.

Here, according to the united testimony of every iron master from the principal
works of Europe and America, (and we have had their representatives here) iron
can be made more cheaply than in any other locality, because all the elements
which make iron arc in such close proximity, and in exhaustless abundance.

This locality must surely be the Birmingham of America. Railroads permeat
ing the cotton belt of Georgia, Alabama, Florida and Mississippi are being built,
and in rapid progress of construction to this point, while, during this year, our
direct railroad connections will be complete, via Decatur, Alabama, with Louis
ville, Kentucky, and the markets of the Northwest.

The new and young city of Birmingham, named for its renowned predecessor
in England, is situate ! at the intersection of all these railroads, and in the heart
of the coal and iron region of the State, in a high and healthy latitude, with soil
and climate suitable for all the grasses and cereals grown in the most favored
localities of Tennessee and Kentucky.

All articles made of iron, and used in the Southern, Southwestern, Northern,
and Northwestern States, ought to be more cheaply made here than any point
in the Union. It is here that the raw material required can be most cheaply ob
tained. Here can the fuel be bought to be used in the manufacture of iron at a
less cost than at any other point where ore and labor needed can mingle in the
production. The labor, too, can be had at less r;ttes than in any other locality.
When it is domiciled here, and provision for its support can be got into cheap and
expeditious channels, we presume no one will dispute this. With direct railroad
communication with Louisville during the present year, and direct rail communi
cation with St. Louis, which is in contemplation, the difference in cost of living at
Birmingham and at Louisville or St. Louis, will only be the difference in the cost
of transportation of breadstuffs by competing lines of transportation, which will
be more than compensated by cheap rents, cheaper and less heavy clothing,
cheaper and less fuel, with the advantage of having every day in the year utilized
in work, while in frozen regions three or four months of every year are compar
atively lost by the rigidity of the climate.

446 . Reminiscences of Public Men in Alabama.

The intelligent and well-informed will need no array of facts as to the cost of
ore, coal, labor, etc., at this point, as compared with others that may become our
rivals in manufacturing. Nor will it be necessary to call attention to facilities for
distribution by rail to a larger extent of country than can be reached in a few
years from any other locality on equal terms. A glance at the maps will be
needed only to show the extensive region we ought to supply.

To become the Birmingham of the United States, we have only to harmonize
these advantages, and develop into practiced utility the resources at our disposal.
Then what? What factories ought we to have? Every variety requisite for the
making of every article of a metalic character. There should be, and doubtless
will be, extensive manufactories here of every article, from the largest steam en
gines, hydraulic presses, or crystal palaces, down to the smallest toy, pin or

With a rapidly increasing population estimated at four hundred tliousand,
being double the number of inhabitants when I visited it in 1866, Birmingham,
England, produces annually nearly 5,000,000 worth of manufactured articles.
This amount, in our money, would be equal to $25,000,000, a colossal sum to be
distributed to four hundred thousand inhabitants, or to allowing one man for
every five of population each man over $3,000 a year. If one-fifth of this be
the profit, or production* from labor, it will be giving every man in that city six
hundred dollars per annum as the net proceeds or return from the manufacturing
alone. It would be an interesting subject for investigation to estimate the amount
that this city, the American Birmingham, would receive per annum, when her
railroad system shall be further advanced, in supplying the country tributary to
her commerce and trade, and legitimately within the scope of her transportations,
at less rates than it can be supplied for from any other point.

With proper effort, the time is not far distant when all metalic articles, as well
as those into which wood and iron mingle, will be made here, whether of gold,
silver, brass, steel, or of the hard lumber so easily obtained at this point.

In maturer years, we will make engines, presses, fire-arms, swords, jewelry,
Japanned articles, ornaments, hardware and cutlery of all kinds. The population
this would bring here, in addition to that which other pursuits command, which,
by the concentration of many railways permeating the cotton belt, and making
this a great distributing point for Western products and manufactured materials,
would cause this city to acquire, in due time, a population, the estimation of
which at this time, would be incredible. Indeed, with an inexhaustible supply of
iron ore, and coal, sandstone for furnaces, and limestone for fluxing, and all sur
rounding the city of Birmingham, Jefferson county, Alabama, with the advantages
of cheap living in a healthy region, there can be no limit to the capital to be in
vested, and the laboring population which must in time congregate to this favored
locality, where the making of iron, on account of its increasing value and demand,
affords, and will ever continue to afford, such remunerative compensation for labor.
I am, very truly, your friend, J. R. POWELL.

JOSEPH "W. TAYLOR, of Greene, was born in Cumberland
county, Kentucky, about the year 1820. His parents were Vir
ginians. He graduated at Princeton College, Kentucky, and
came to Alabama in 1838, where he studied law in the office and
under the direction of Judge H. I. Thornton, in Greene county.
After his admission to the bar, he practiced law several years. In
the Presidential canvass of 1840, Mr. Taylor, young as he was,
entered warmly into the support of Gen. Harrison, by making
speeches in the Tippacanoe Clubs common at that day. His
strength of character was then, for the first time, made known to
the public. He also wrote a number of articles which were pub
lished in the Whig papers, defending the policy and measures of

Reminiscences of Public Men in Alabama. 447

that party. In 1844, he was appointed a District Elector on
the Clay ticket for President, and made a number of speeches
during the canvass to promote the success of the great Western

In 1845, Mr. Taylor was elected a member of the House of
Representatives, at the age of twenty-five years. His speech
against the removal of the Seat of Government was considered a
masterly effort.

On the 9th of August, 1847, Mr. Taylor made "A PLEA FOR
THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA/ being "An address delivered
before the Erosophic and Philomathic Societies of the University
of Alabama, on the Anniversary occasion," which was published
in a pamphlet of 57 pages, and is a performance of great ability.
In it is a correspondence between a Committee consisting of
Messrs. John A. Foster, Alexander C. Davidson, and James T.
Killough, on the part of the Philomathic Society; and Messrs.
Elmore J. Fitzpatrick, Thaddeus H. Perry, and A. A. Archibald,
on the part of the Erosophic Society, and Mr. Taylor, -requesting
a copy of the address for publication. The note of the Committee
on the part of the Trustees, and the reply of Mr. Taylor are here
inserted :


Dear Sir: The Trustees of the University, at a meeting on the 10th instant,
Resolved unanimously, that they, as a body, felt very great pleasure and high grat-
incation in listening to your able and interesting Address before the Literary Soci-
ties of the University, on Monday last; and that you be respectfully requested to
let a copy be taken for publication.

The undersigned were appointed a committee to convey to you the sentiments
and wishes of the Board of Trustees.

In discharging that pleasant duty, you will permit us to add our individual
congratulations at the successful accomplishment of the object of your address in
making an aide and powerful Plea for the Institution; and our sincere desire that
you will comply with the wishes of the Board of Trustees.

Very respectfully, your obedient servants,


TrsKALOOSA, Aug. 12, 1847.

Gentlemen: I take great pleasure in complying with the request of the Trustees
of the University, contained in your note of the llth instant.

Online LibraryWilliam GarrettReminiscences of public men in Alabama : for thirty years, with an appendix → online text (page 48 of 91)