Home ♃ Recent Stories ☄ A Timeline of Jefferson County in Pictures: 1819-2019

A Timeline of Jefferson County in Pictures: 1819-2019

Whatley Family--John T. "Fess" Whatley (back row, center) taught print shop and music at Industrial High School (later renamed A.H. Parker High School); he taught many well-known jazz musicians. (Birmingham Ala., Public Library Archives)

Founded with the state of Alabama in 1819, Jefferson County grew from a sparsely settled agricultural county to a powerhouse of industry fueled by entrepreneurial drive and rich deposits of iron ore, coal, and limestone. This community has fought for justice and equality, made medical breakthroughs, advanced technology, and founded award-winning restaurants. With an adverse population, extensive green space, vibrant communities, and ongoing innovation, the county this month celebrates 200 years.

1819 — Jefferson County founded; Carrollsville (near modern day Powderly) served as the first official county seat.

1848 — Geological Survey of Alabama; the area that would become the Birmingham District was identified as having the mineral resources necessary to make iron.

1871  –City of Birmingham founded; now the state’s most populous city, Birmingham was founded at the crossing of two rail lines near one of the world’s richest deposits of minerals.

1885 — Birmingham Barons baseball team originally established as Birmingham Coal Barons.

1887 — Alabama industrialist Henry DeBardeleben and his partners sell the first lots for the new city of Bessemer. Located twelve miles southwest of Birmingham and named after Henry Bessemer, the British inventor of the Bessemer steel process, the community was envisioned as a steelmaking center. Within a year Bessemer had a population of 3,500 and boasted a large industrial complex.

1898  — Miles College founded in Fairfield to be a leading liberal arts institution, later designated a Historically Black College and University (HBCU).

1902 — Woodward Building, construction completed on the first of four steel-frame skyscrapers that would make up Birmingham’s “Heaviest Corner on Earth.”

1904  — Vulcan Statue, the world’s largest cast-iron statue, created as Birmingham’s entry in the St. Louis World’s Fair, was sculpted by Giuseppe Moretti.

1914 —  Birmingham’s Lyric Theatre established as one of the first in the South where black and white audiences could see the same show for the same price, though blacks sat in an isolated section with inferior accommodations

1918 — Birmingham College and Southern University merged to establish Birmingham-Southern College.

1925 —   The Pittsburgh of the South, Birmingham is the largest cast iron and steel producer in the Southern U.S.

  1941 — World War II.  The demand for steel during the war brought Birmingham out of the Great Depression.

1951  — Birmingham Museum of Art, Currently home to one of the finest collections in the Southeast, with extensive holdings from around the globe dating from ancient to modern times.

 1954 — A.G. Gaston Motel, founded by entrepreneur and activist A.G. Gaston to provide higher class service to black visitors.

1956 — The home of Birmingham minister and civil rights leader Fred Shuttlesworth is bombed. Although the structure is severely damaged, Shuttlesworth emerges uninjured.

  • During a mass meeting at Birmingham’s Sardis Baptist Church, Shuttlesworth and other local black ministers establish the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR). Founded in response to the State of Alabama’s recent ban on the NAACP, which lasted eight years, ACMHR was central to the civil rights movement in Birmingham.

1957 — Howard College relocated to Homewood; re-established as Samford University

  • The Freedom Riders arrive at the Greyhound bus terminal in Montgomery where they are attacked by an angry mob. The Freedom Ride, an integrated bus trip from Washington D.C., through the Deep South, was formed to test the 1960 Supreme Court decision prohibiting segregation in bus and train terminal facilities.

1963  — After previously establishing the ACMHR and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Shuttlesworth invites Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Birmingham to lead what becomes the Birmingham Campaign for Desegregation. King writes Letter From Birmingham Jail.

  • Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombed killing four young girls in an attack against the Civil Rights Movement and humanity.

1966 — The University of Alabama at Birmingham, the University of Alabama extension center and the School of Medicine merged to create a four-year university. Now a public research university and medical center that is the state’s largest employer.

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1979  — Richard Arrington Jr. elected as the first African-American mayor of Birmingham, Alabama’s largest city. Arrington serves in that post for nearly 20 years, until his resignation in July 1999.

  • Willie Mays, Fairfield native inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame

1985 — Bo Jackson, Bessemer native wins the Heisman Trophy while playing at Auburn University

1986 — Reuben Davis and Chris McNair elected to the County Commission, the first district by district election, and are the first African-Americans to service on the commission.

1988 — Jefferson County imposes a one-half percent occupational tax using a 1967 license tax law; that law gives an exemption to professionals who buy state or county business licenses.

1990 — Mary Buckelew elected first female Jefferson County Commissioner.

1992  — Birmingham Civil Rights Institute opens its doors at Kelly Ingram Park in the Civil Rights District

1993 — Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame opens.

2002 — Shelia Smoot elected first black female Jefferson County Commissioner

2003 — Helen Shores Lee becomes the first African-American woman to serve as judge on the Jefferson County Circuit Court.

2003 — The Barber Motorsports Park, an 880 acre, multi-purpose racing facility located on the eastern fringes of Birmingham opens. It is built by George Barber and includes the Barber Vintage Motorsport Museum, which has been named “World’s Largest Motorcycle Museum” by the Guinness World Records.

2004-05 — Jefferson County borrows $1.05 billion for school construction. This is funded by an additional one cent sales tax.

2005 — Condoleezza Rice, Birmingham native named U.S. Secretary of State

2008 — The national subprime mortgage crisis and Great Recession plunges the county’s debt to junk bond status because of failure of the derivative markets. This triggers penalties and higher interest rates for Jefferson County sewer debt. The county begins technical default. Bond insurers sue.

2008-11: Jefferson County and creditors attempt to reach a settlement of the $3.14 billion sewer debt, but any deal would need to erase $1 billion or more of that debt.

2009 — Circuit Judge David Rains rules the 1999 repeal is valid and the occupational tax is no longer legal. He declines to order a refund of taxes collected in the past.

  • May-June:The state House of Representatives and Senate pass different versions of an occupational tax. Lawmakers can’t agree on whether an exemption for professionals should be removed, and the regular session ends without a new tax.
  • June: The Alabama Supreme Court denies the county’s request for an emergency order allowing it to spend occupational tax money while the case is on appeal. The county orders budget cuts of 33 percent, requiring hundreds of layoffs as well as furloughs and 32-hour workweeks. This leads to closing of satellite courthouses and long waits at the main courthouse.

2010  — Railroad Park,  19-acre park opened, becoming a catalyst for revitalization in downtown Birmingham

2011 — After the Alabama Supreme Court upholds Price’s ruling on the occupational tax, the county again puts hourly workers on a 32-hour workweek and shuts down four satellite courthouses to save $21 million annually.

  • Jefferson County puts 547 workers on administrative leave without pay, but restores the 40-hour workweek for those who remain. Officials announce that roadside mowing and most paving will stop. Sheriff Mike Hale says deputies no longer will respond to traffic accidents.
  • A massive storm in April, causing numerous powerful tornadoes rips through the southeastern United States with 250 people killed in Alabama, including 20 people in Jefferson County communities of Pleasant Grove (10), Concord (6), Cahaba Heights (1), Pratt City (1), Forestdale (1), and McDonald Chapel (1).
  • The County Commission in November votes 4-1 to file the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

2012 — Cooper Green Mercy Hospital downsized. The Jefferson County Commission votes 3-2 to close the inpatient care unit and emergency room at Cooper Green following weeks of debate and protests from community leaders who have begged the county to continue operating the facility for the sick poor.

2013 — The County Commission unanimously approves the sale of the county’s nursing home.

2014 — Jefferson County emerges from bankruptcy in December after closing on about $1.8 billion in new sewer warrants used to pay creditors.

2016 — Lynneice Washington elected District Attorney for the Bessemer Cutoff, the first African-American DA in the state of Alabama.

2016 — Theo Lawson named first African American Jefferson County attorney.

2016 — Representative Terri Sewell introduces legislation leading to Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument designation by presidential proclamation one year later.

2017 – Danny Carr and Mark Pettway elected the county’s first black district attorney and first black sheriff, respectively

2018 — Highlands Bar & Grill wins prestigious James Beard Award for Most Outstanding Restaurant under the direction of Chef Frank Stitt

2019 — Walter Gonsoulin named the first permanent African American superintendent of the Jefferson County School System

Click one of the links to read more stories about celebrating Jefferson County’s Bicentennial: Gardendale Resident; Broad Street Missionary.  

Updated at 11:18 a.m. on 12/13/19 to include additional information