Days Gone By - stories from the past

UPDATED WITH POD CAST – Brierfield State Park in Alabama was once a Boom Town [old photographs]

This is a beautiful State Park south of Birmingham and a wonderful place for a picnic or outing. They have saved and restored many old homes that can now be rented for lodges and camping. 

The Boom Town of Brierfield

(Brierfield is now a Historic State Park)

Brierfield, Alabama was once a booming mining town, on the Southern Railway in the eastern part of Bibb County. It is located on the Little Cahaba River, near the Chilton County line and is in the richest part of the coal and iron ore deposits of Bibb County. It is also near valuable outcrops of marble and limestone. The population in 1880 was 800 and by 1910, 1000.

Brierfield Baptist Church, Hwy 139, Brierfield, Bibb County, Alabama

 Brierfield Baptist Church, Hwy 139, Brierfield, Bibb County, Alabama

This point was settled by a group of General Jackson’s soldiers under the leadership of J. Mahan, returning from the victory of New Orleans, to their homes in Tennessee. The Mahans, Fanchers, Massingales, Linzeys, Ragans and Smiths returned from Tennessee with their families and made their homes in the vicinity. Major Mahan’s grave is in the old cemetery, on Joseph R. Smith’s farm, today, and it bears date 1820.

Brierfield Grist Mill on Mahan Creek, photo taken ca. 1890

Brierfield Grist Mill on Mahan Creek, photo taken ca. 1890

The group of pioneer settlers lived first in tents, and then in log houses. The old Mahan home is still standing on the site of the Indian town, which formerly occupied the present site. The Mahans, father and sons, evidently were the first to discover the presence of coal at Brierfield. In 1851, Edward Mahan and Jonathan Ware sent an exhibit of iron, from their Bibb County forges to an exposition at Sydenham, England. This iron took first prize over all charcoal iron “blooms,” from many quarters of the world.

Brierfield, old furnace, photo at State of Alabama Archives

Brierfield, old furnace, photo at State of Alabama Archives

 Mahan Creek is in the foreground of the picture below. Herman Pfaff, president of Southern Mineral Land Company, lived in the house with his family ca. 1900 – photo at Alabama State Archives

Mahan Creek is in the foreground. Herman Pfaff, president of Southern Mineral Land Company, lived in the house with his family ca. 1900 - photo at Alabama State Archives

“Documentary research and physical evidence indicates that the subject house was constructed circa 1882 as the Superintendent’s House for the Brierfield Coal and Iron Company. The first occupant is thought to have been Thomas Jefferson Peter, part owner and president of the company. It is one of the only two surviving frame buildings from what at one time was an industrial complex encompassing an ironworks, a rolling mill, a nail mill, a coal washer, and as many as 140 workers’ dwellings. The house was later expanded, possibly circa 1897, during its occupancy by Herman Pfaff, president of the Southern Mineral Land Company.” The house was still standing in 2009. (see pictures of it at: Brierfield Coal and Iron Company Superintendant’s House)

Bibb Furnace at Brierfield, Alabama ca. 1900

Brierfield, Bibb Furnace at Brierfield, Alabama ca. 1900

Brierfield-Iron-Furnace-in-Bibb-county 1900

Brierfield-Iron-Furnace-in-Bibb-county 1900

Annie Pfaff and others, seated on a rock beside Mahan Creek at Brierfield, Alabama ca. 1900, photo at Alabama State Archieves

Annie Pfaff and others, seated on a rock beside Mahan Creek at Brierfield, Alabama ca. 1900, photo at Alabama State Archieves

 An unknown young woman, Annie Pfaff, and Adelaide Mahan at Brierfield, Alabama, ca. 1900

Unknown young woman, Annie Pfaff, and Adelaide Mahan at Brierfield, Alabama, ca. 1900

Herman Pfaff, president of Southern Mineral and Land Company lying in Hammock outside his home in Brierfield, ca. 1900 

Herman Pfaff, president of Southern MIneral and Land Company lying in Hammock outside his home in Brierfiled, ca. 1900

See Historical Books by Donna R Causey

In 1863, Jesse Mahan, son of Edward, donated his mines, furnace and rolling mill at Brierfield to the Confederate cause. The product of the Brierfield Furnace “astonished the world,” and was used in making the great guns, both for land and naval use. It was pronounced “the best for strength, malleability, fluxibility and fine texture of fibre.” The Brierfield plant was destroyed in 1865, by Federal cavalry under Wilson. In Armes’ “Story of Coal and Iron in Alabama” is a beautiful picture of the ruins of Brierfield, as left by the enemy.

Brierfield, Broken dam on the Little Cahaba River, where iron was made before the Civil War

Brierfield, Broken dam on the Little Cahaba River, where iron was made before the Civil War

Brierfield-Railroad-Depot-ca.-1900 from Alabama State Archives

Brierfield-Railroad-Depot-ca.-1900 from Alabama State Archives

 Edna Bayne Pfaff and her son, Ross, at the railroad depot in Brierfield, Alabama ca. 1900

Edna Bayne Pfaff and her son, Ross, at the railroad depot in Brierfield, Alabama ca. 1900

In 1866, Brierfield was seized as contraband of war and sold at auction. Frances Strother Lyon purchased the property and formed a company to reconstruct it, with Gen. Josiah Gorgas, Messrs. Crawford, Browder, Glover, Prout and Collins as associates. The company placed Giles Edwards in charge of the work. By 1868 the plant was in full blast, and known as The Strother Furnace, named in honor of the mother of Mr. Lyon. In 1873, the financial panic caused the furnace to close down until 1880.

This property passed into the possession of T. J. Peters, who remodeled the furnace and rolling mill, built a large nail factory, coke ovens and a washer.

Brierfield-Iron-Furnace-in-Bibb-county-1990

 Brierfield-Iron-Furnace-in-Bibb-county-1990

SOURCES:

  1. Armes, Story of coal and iron in Alabama (1910), pp. 24, 25, 71, 144, 171, 194, 204, 207, 326, 328, 499, 500.
  2. Alabama State Archives
  3. Brierfield Coal and Iron Company Superintendent’s House

Additional books on the Mahan family can be found in A Collection of Perry County Alabama Pioneers Biographies, Genealogy Reports Volume I

A Collection of PERRY COUNTY ALABAMA PIONEERS VOLUME I: BIOGRAPHIES & GENEALOGIES (Kindle Edition)

By (author):  Causey, Donna R.

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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 www.daysgoneby.me All her books can be purchased at Amazon.com 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

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