Days Gone By - stories from the past

Did you know that Birmingham, Alabama was born from a tip about a railroad crossing? See who was involved & historic film


The city of Birmingham was conceived in the mind of engineer, John T. Milner who had surveyed the route of the South and North Alabama Railroad from Montgomery to Decatur. At the same time, the Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad was being constructed from Chattanooga to Meridian.

John T. Milner 1951 Newspaper clipping, Birmingham Public Library

John T. Milner

Milner realized that the location of the crossing of the two rail lines would be a valuable site for a great city. He talked it over with J. C. Stanton who was superintendent of the Alabama and Chattanooga. Stanton agreed with Milner’s idea and actually bought up options on the very location of the crossing.

Meanwhile, Milner notified a group of men in Montgomery about the junction point and they set out to organize the Elyton Land Company.

A Declaration of Incorporation of the Elyton Land Company was dated December 20, 1870 and the following men signed it:

  1. Josiah Morris
  2. James R. Powell
  3. Sam Tate
  4. Campbell Wallace
  5. Henry M. Caldwell
  6. Bolling Hall, Jr.
  7. James Nicholas Gilmer
  8. Benjamin Pinckney Worthington
  9. William Franklin Nabers/Nabors
  10. William S. Mudd

Josiah Morris for whom Morris Avenue and the Morris Hotel were named, advanced $100,000 for the initial purchase of 4,150 acres of land. (Note: video below says the depot was destroyed in 1929 – should be 1969)


Before Stanton’s options matured, he sent Alburto Martin, an Elyton lawyer, to Montgomery with the deeds ready for delivery when the options should mature. “At the maturity of Stanton’s options no one offered to exercise Stanton’s rights and Josiah Morris, the Montgomery banker at whose place the options were to be delivered and the deeds transferred, bought the deeds one by one, in his own name. At the close of the Stanton deal, Morris owned all the land that was to be Birmingham and part of Elyton.”

See best-selling books by Donna R Causey

The Elyton Land Company was incorporated on January 26, 1871, in order to purchase land for, establish and promote the new city of Birmingham. An additional $100,000 was raised by the other founders. Mr Morris sold to the company all the deeds and received 2,000 shares of the new company’s stock.

Morris sold all his shares to the company except approximately 500 and in less than twenty years, his remaining “shares paid him more than his dreams for he received nearly a million dollars.”

Colonel James R. Powell was elected president of the Elyton Land Company on January 27, 1871. “He selected William P. Barker as engineer of the proposed city. Major Barker was a Confederate soldier and he used the same rod in laying out Birmingham he used in building military fortifications in the war. The original city limits of Birmingham were Seventh Avenue, North, Seventh Avenue South, 26th Street on the east and the limits of Elyton on the west.”

Colonel James R. Powell

1951 Newspaper clipping, Birmingham Public Library

James R. Powell

Birmingham was almost doomed at the start and could have became a ghost town. At the time of its founding, neither railroad line was completed and both were having financial difficulty. There was no industry in Birmingham and the Elyton Land Company had insufficient capital to support the new town. The founders were already supporting the town of Elyton which was the county seat at the time.

However, Colonel Powell was a “genius at advertising and salesmanship. He wrote letters to all parts of the country, published glowing accounts of the new city in newspapers and periodicals and brought editors, industrialists, and financiers to the staked-off city and showed them the abundance of coal, iron and limestone. He gave lots to churches, set aside land for parks, erected a hotel, (The Relay House) constructed waterworks and reserved a section of land for mechanical enterprises. In 1873 he was successful in moving the county courthouse to Birmingham.”

“By 1873, 4,000 people in hastily erected cabins called the new city of Birmingham home.”


Note: Calera in Shelby County, Alabama south of Birmingham was a popular railroad station and now houses many old trains at the Heart of Dixie railroad museum.  The museum moved many old train cars from Birmingham and has restored them. Steam engine rides and special events take place throughout the year. Check their website here for times and events.



  1. R. B. Henckell, Birmingham Historical Society, City will celebrate 80 magic years of progress, 1951 Newspaper clipping, Birmingham Public Library
  3. Cruikshank, George M. A History of Birmingham and Its Environs: A Narrative Account of Their Historical Progress, Their People, and Their Principal Interests, Volume 1 Lewis Publishing Company 1920

As a family historian, do you have friends and family ask you how to get started in family research? This is a hard question to answer in a few minutes. Refer them to the book below to help them get started in this fun hobby. Purchase several – Books make great gifts!

WHERE DO I START? Hints and Tips for Beginning Genealogists with On-line resources

Click here to see all historic books by Donna R. Causey

WHERE DO I START? Hints and Tips for Beginning Genealogists with On-line resources (Kindle Edition)

By (author):  Causey, Donna R

List Price: $7.97
New From: $7.97 In Stock
buy now

About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and All her books can be purchased at and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

Liked it? Take a second to support Alabama Pioneers on Patreon!