Bessemer Hall of History
"Bessemer's Historic Railroad Passenger Terminal Houses Hall of History Museum"
"The City of Bessemer, Alabama (sometimes called the Marvel City due to its rapid early growth) was founded by Henry F. DeBardeleben in 1887, one of the many such towns of the era which was built on the iron and steel industry. Bessemer was fortunate to have within a small radius the three raw materials required for such an undertaking -- iron ore, limestone, and coal. Men mined the ores and horses moved the loads to nearby blast furnaces; extreme heat and chemical reactions soon changed the iron ore to pig iron.
But there were other requirements for a successful town. Men and materials must be able to travel in and out of the area; a network of roads, rail lines, or a navigable waterway was an absolute necessity. Bessemer had the railroads to bring in the investors and ship out the products! By 1900, Bessemer had four major railroads which handled more cars than any other city in Alabama with the exception of Birmingham (reported in the Bessemer Weekly, February 3, 1900 issue).
Terminals, switching stations and freight buildings sprang up in the strategic locations along the lines. One such terminal stands today along the tracks on Alabama Avenue -- a stately reminder of past years when the trains stopped in Bessemer for passengers. Saved by individuals who valued the rich heritage of the area, the old terminal today is the home of the Bessemer Hall of History Museum and houses many artifacts which depict the story of a town that has survived economic disasters, natural disasters, and many changes since the first lots were sold on April 12, 1882.
The Alabama Great Southern Railroad Company completed construction of the Bessemer passenger terminal in March, 1916. According to records, railroad personnel constructed the depot thereby saving the costs of architects. Total cost of the building was $30,000. The structure located at 1905 Alabama Avenue is 170 feet long and 50 feet wide with exterior walls of pressed brown brick. The roof plan is stacked in three levels which gives the building's roof an interesting appearance. The heavy terra cotta tile covering the roof is lighter in tone than the walls.
Further details of the building include walls of plaster/ a wainscoting of terrazzo which is created by setting chips of marble randomly in cement and then polishing; woodwork of hand-finished heart of pine and walnut; and windows near the ceiling made of glue glass -- a process of putting glue on the pane of glass and then drying the glue to create a design.
The ticket office was located in the center of the building and today contains the original cabinets and desk. Since this building was constructed during a time of racial segregation, there was a waiting room on the left for colored passengers and a separate waiting room for white ladies. Each waiting room had its own restroom; a grand total of eleven toilets served the structure. The Bessemer depot also contained the first vapor heating system and the only one of its kind south of the Ohio River. The combination of hot water and steam offered great economy of operation since the entire building could be heated with only one pound pressure of steam.
The railroad depot has changed little since its completion on 1916. The depot was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in West Jefferson County in 1973. With the assistance of many people who recognized the value of preserving the rich history of the Bessemer area and the old terminal, the Bessemer Hall of History Museum moved to the old terminal in 1985. This museum was begun by the Bessemer Junior Service League and was housed in the basement of the old Post Office building, another historic building in Bessemer which today houses the City Public Library.
The Bessemer Hall of History is open Tuesday - Saturday from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. [except for lunch: closed noon to 1 p.m.] and offers something for everyone. Plan to visit the Hall soon to "relive" the history of the area through photographs, machinery, books, and many other artifacts. Special exhibits and events are planned throughout the year; call 205-426-1633 for up-to-date information.
Written and submitted by Merdith M. Byram, Ph. D. [copied by Birmingham Rails]
Board Member of Bessemer Main Street, Bessemer Hall of History, and Jefferson county Historical Society
(Information taken from The Bessemer Weekly, February 3, 1900 and handout sheet provided by the Hall.)"
[Information provided courtesy of the Bessemer Hall of History Museum, January, 2004; photos added by Birmingham Rails]