COLBERT COUNTY, ALABMA
When a newly-founded city bases its hopes on the advantages of its location, as is the case with most of the growing towns of Northern Alabama, one is apt to inquire, why these advantages were not sooner discovered; why the enterprises now under way were not sooner undertaken; why the riches now amassing were not sooner won? The failure to furnish a satisfactory explanation might even be held sufficient to generate a doubt as to the genuineness of the present growth.
In the case of Sheffield, it is peculiarly difficult to answer this pertinent question. Tuscumbia and Florence, both of which are among the oldest towns of the State, are situated within three and five miles, respectively, and yet their citizens have never discovered (or else have failed to act on their discovery to any practical result) the supreme attractions that belong to the site of their younger rival. Few regions in Alabama have been more thoroughly known for years than the Tennessee Valley; and yet it has only lately been declared, and a proof attempted, that in the very midst of it the future greatest iron city of the continent must be built.
And yet there has been no lack of prophecy and prediction in connection with Sheffield. The opinion of Commodore Maury, as to the part which this region is destined to play in the industrial life of the nation, has been frequently quoted. The impression made upon Andrew Jackson, when he visited the neighborhood three-quarters of a century ago (the place where he crossed the Tennessee, is still marked by the rough roadway made for the passage of his army), is also frequently alluded to; and it would be impossible to enumerate the private predictions that have only come into notice (if not into existence), since the last few years have given such striking indications of their truth.
It was not until the year 1883, however, that there was made an impression that bore fruit. It was in this year, that Capt. Alfred H. Moses, senior member of the firm of Moses Bros., of Montgomery, became interested in a railroad project which promised to result in substantial benefit to the town of Florence, and, on his return from the Louisville Exposition, visited that place with a view of investing in real estate. While there, he was persuaded to undertake an excursion to the mineral lands of Franklin County, on which journey he passed over the rolling plateau which lay across the river, almost directly opposite Florence. He was struck with the beauty and adaptability of the site, and, on his return, entered into negotiations with Col. Walter S. Gordon, one of his companions on the trip, by which they became joint owners of a property, then estimated at a few thousands of dollars, but which it would now require millions to purchase.
This was the beginning. The attention of various business men throughout the South, especially in the States of Georgia and Alabama, had already been thoroughly aroused by the wonderful history of Birmingham, and had been for some time directed to the Tennessee Valley. It was not a difficult task to make Sheffield the special object of their inquiries. This once accomplished, the natural attractions and advantages of the location did the rest. A body of these men, guided by Moses and Gordon, came together, organized, and made purchases. They secured 2,700 acres of land, to be used as a site for the projected city, at a cost of $50,000. At the same time, they acquired mineral rights on 30,000 acres of coal and iron lands in Franklin, Winston and Walker Counties, paying out, in all, about $100,000. A corporation was then formed, under the name of “The Sheffield Land, Iron and Coal Company,” with a capital stock of $500,000, afterward increased to $1,000,000. Of this company, the directors were Alfred H. Moses, David Clopton, O. O. Nelson, and W. S. Chambers, of Montgomery, Ala.; W. S. Gordon, F. M. Coker, J. F. Burk, H. B. Tompkins, D. M. Bain, C. A. Collier, and W. A. Hemphill, of Atlanta, Ga.; and E. C. Gordon, of Clarksville, Tenn. W. S. Gordon was made president, A. H. Moses vice-president and general manager, and F. M. Coker secretary and treasurer.
The first act of the new corporation was the extensive advertisement of what it had done, and the announcement of a sale of lots to take place in May, 1884. The crowd which gathered on the 9th of that month, in the desolate field of which such great things were hoped and prophesied, testified to the public interest in all that pertained to the material development, then so general throughout the South, to the Sheffield movement in particular.
There was remarkable enthusiasm from the beginning. The bidding never lagged, but increased in eagerness from first to last. The first lot offered brought $1,000. The highest price paid was $8,900, which was bid by an Atlanta man for a lot at the intersection of Montgomery and Alabama avenues. In all, there were five hundred sales, making a transfer of about seventy-five acres, and aggregated about $350,000.
The enterprise was now fairly afoot, but, scarcely had the remarkable sale been finished, when the tide set the other way. Within a week the financial world was shocked and shaken by the failure of the Metropolitan and Grant & Ward banks. The depression that followed will be remembered. For nearly two years there existed a condition that was little short of a continued panic in every money center in the Union.
That Sheffield should escape the disaster that was so widespread was not to be expected, and her rapid rise was, in itself, a partial cause of a reactionary feeling that was equally as rapid. Even those who had been most eager to make investments became thoroughly frightened, and were not prudent enough to conceal their anxiety to escape the consequences of the mistake which they thought they had made. Immediately the entire property began to depreciate. The first transfer at a reduction was the alarm note that brought on a number of others; till the same lots, which a few weeks before had been knocked down at prices that appeared extravagantly high, were now disposed of at prices that were yet more extravagantly low. Some who had bought on time payments, preferred to forfeit their lots rather than pay another installment. Companies which had entered into agreements to build smelters and furnaces, refused to fulfill them until affairs brightened. The stock of the Sheffield Company could find no purchasers. On all sides the enterprise was held to be a failure; by many it was looked upon as a swindle. The fortunes of the infant city were at their lowest ebb. It was still, in reality, only a “city on paper,” and bade fair to be nothing more.
It now appears, however, that this early unsuccess [sic], as is so often the case, was in reality good for the scheme, for the reason that it served to reveal the character, faith and resolution of the men who had originated and were to execute it. Not once do they seem to have despaired, or even doubted, of ultimate success. Not once did they halt in the prosecution of the measures by which, if at all, success must be won. In these, Captain Moses, as General Manager, was called on to take the lead. He met the responsibility fully and well. He built houses, graded streets, laid off sites for manufacturing enterprises, used his influence and business knowledge and experience in every possible way for the advancement of the work. He also successfully negotiated with various railroads to the end that they should run their lines into the Sheffield that was to be. He and his associates simply ignored the prevailing distrust, suffering it in no degree to lessen their energy or shake their faith. The grounds of their confidence it is now time to consider.
Sheffield is in Colbert County, in the northwestern corner of the State, on the Southern bank of the Tennessee River, in latitude 34 degrees 45’ north and longitude 87 degrees 45’ west from Greenwich. It is in the central portion of the Tennessee River Valley, and is at the head of navigation on that stream, as the impassable Mussel [sic] Shoals lie only a few miles above. The importance of this fact we will again have occasion to refer to. At present, it is enough to say that Sheffield is thus 700 miles nearer by water to St. Louis than is Pittsburgh, that the Tennessee below Sheffield is considered a more navigable river than the Ohio, and that Sheffield is nearer by rail to all important places and regions in Alabama, Georgia, Eastern Mississippi, South Carolina, Florida, and a part of East Tennessee than is any other point connected with this river system. It lies on the edge of the mineral belt of the South, recently brought into prominence as the probable center of the iron industry in America, and next to the great West, which is to be the best market for this product.
The agricultural advantages of this section of the country, the adaptation to the successful growth of all sorts of fruits, and the breeding of all kinds of farm stock, and the wonderful advancement and development of those resources, are fully set forth in Parts I. And II. of this volume.
The southern counties of Alabama are usually spoken of as constituting the “timber belt,” as contrasted with the “agricultural belt” and the “mineral belt.” But in fact, there is hardly to be found a single district of any considerable area throughout the state that is not well supplied with forests. This is especially true of the region adjacent to Sheffield—north, east and south.
It is only relatively to its agricultural advantages, which have been somewhat neglected, even by those whose interest it has been to magnify them that the estimate of Sheffield’s facilities for manufacture is here lowered. Its chief hope and ambition, from the first, has been to become a great iron city, after the order of the English city from which it takes its name. Its present endeavors are all in that direction, and such a singleness of aim may be desirable. The future of the town may safely be staked upon its ability to make and manufacture iron cheaply—as cheaply as any other place in America. Its claims in this respect are based upon its possession of (A) the materials and (B) the transportation facilities. In both these essentials it is peculiarly and richly blessed by nature.
The timber supply immediately accessible to Sheffield is only secondary in importance to the supply of minerals. Of these last coal and iron are the chief. Concerning these, however, it will not be necessary to here treat at any length. The account of them in Professor McCally’s articles in this volume will be found accurate, full and scientific. It is enough to say that the wealth of the northwestern part of Alabama in both these important minerals is something that, until very recent years, was not even suspected by the majority of her citizens, although to the scientific mind sufficient evidence had long been apparent to create the brightest expectations.
It should also be remembered that in Southern Tennessee there are ore deposits that rival those of Alabama in abundance and in excellence of quality. To these Sheffield, of all the manufacturing towns of Alabama, has easiest access.
The other essential to the manufacture of iron--limestone–is to be found in inexhaustible quantities in the corporate limits of the town itself, the face of the bluff on which it is situated being composed entirely of this formation in the condition best suited to the purpose for which it will be employed. Thus the three materials, iron, limestone and coal, whose combination at Birmingham constitutes the great advantage of that place, are equally convenient here.
The opinion of James C. Anderson, an expert who is nothing unless empirical, whose practical knowledge of the matter in hand has been gained by a life spent in various quarters of the globe and in the pursuit of wealth by numerous paths, and whose honesty and reliability as a prospector is beyond question, is here quoted:
“It beats anything along Lake Superior. You walk along and stumble against whole hills of coal and iron. It is the best ore I ever saw to work. The very lowest of it assays fifty per cent metallic ore, much of it is sixty-five per cent, and tons upon tons of it go up as high as seventy-four per cent. It is freer from phosphorus than any I ever saw elsewhere in the South, and is very free from silicate. Silicate injures the iron and makes articles in which much of it is retained, brittle. Of this objectionable quality, Sheffield iron is free. There are large bodies of fossiliferous ores with forty-two per cent metallic gravity. You see the singular combination here is that you can stand on a limestone rock and touch, so to speak, the iron mine with one hand and the colliery with the other. Sheffield is the only place in the world where the iron manufacturer can find all he wants right in a heap. The coal measures are four feet thick, whole acres over. Another thing here is the large quantity of hard woods to be found in proximity in all places. Along the north side of Bear River, are immense fields of iron, underlaid by thick cakes of limestone. On the south side the solid masses of coal stretch away out of sight.”
From quarries near the city, building stone of the highest grade, some of which has been in use for sixty years without any apparent deterioration, is obtained. Within a few miles, also, there are deposits of yellow ochre, from which the best grades of paint are made. Other mineral resources are constantly being discovered and will be developed and utilized.
Iron and coal in untold abundance are to be found both north and south of Sheffield. To reach these she must have railroads. Rivers alone can be spoken of as natural aids in transportation, and the fact that Sheffield is situated upon the largest and best of all the streams that make Alabama the best river State in the Union, taken in connection with her other natural endowments, is the strongest reason for confidence in her future. The importance of this fact justifies the following quotation from a current publication upon the Tennessee River in Alabama:
“The primitive tribes called this majestic stream, which scoops in the northern tier of counties, the Great Bend, which is said to be the meaning of Tennessee. Having its source in the southwestern part of Virginia, it flows toward the southwest 280 miles, to Knoxville, Tenn.; sixty miles, still, to the southwest, it reaches Loudon, Tenn. At this point it turns at right angles, and flows toward the northwest, making its way through several subordinate ridges, twenty-four miles, to Kingston, Tenn., where it forms a junction with the Chinch River, one of its largest tributaries. At the last named point the river resumes a southwest course for 110 miles, where it reaches the bustling city of Chattanooga, Tenn. Here it alternates again, swooping abruptly to the northwest, nineteen miles, and pushing its way through the eastern branch of the Cumberland range to what is known as the Boiling Pot, once a natural obstruction, which is now removed. Again alternating, the river turns sharply to the southwest, and flows in a tortuous course for forty-one miles to Bridgeport, Ala.; and on in the same direction it pursues its way seventy-four miles further to the promising town of Guntersville, Ala. Turning to the northwest again at this last named point, it gradually bends its way toward the north, for the distance of fifty-one miles, to Decatur, Ala. Just two miles below this point, at Brown’s Ferry, is met the head of the famous natural obstruction, Mussel Shoals. This obstruction embraces about thirty-eight miles of this splendid stream. It does not terminate until the stream comes within sight of Florence [and Sheffield], Ala. Just thirty-four miles from Florence is Waterloo, Ala., where the Tennessee bends northward, and, after traversing 296 miles, it empties into the Ohio at Paducah, Ky. Thus the total distance, from its fountain head to Paducah, is 1,037 miles. Nearly one-third of the river is embraced in Alabama. It flows through five great States, to each of which it is of immense benefit. It is almost equal to the Ohio in length, breadth, and volume, and ranks sixty in magnitude among the rivers of the North American continent. It is only necessary to complete the removal of the natural impediment at the Mussel Shoals to make it a channel of commerce, the value of which, to our own State as well as to others, can not be computed.” Riley’s Guide Book.
The character and extent of the waterway on which Sheffield is situated, is sufficiently exhibited in this extract, and the advantages of such a situation are at once apparent. Outside the central fact that the cheapest of all means of transporting her products to the Western markets is thus afforded, it would be a great natural blessing to have such a line of communication with the various points of note, above and below, that are to be found on the banks of the stream.
The completion of the Mussel Shoals Canal, which must soon take place, will make the Tennessee a thoroughly available means of transportation between these and Sheffield. St. Louis, as has been said, is the best pig-iron market in all the world, and from Sheffield to St. Louis, and to all points on the Mississippi below St. Louis, there is an uninterrupted waterway that has no superior in the Union. Steam boats will carry iron from Sheffield to St. Louis for one dollar per ton, and when tugs or barges are used the cost will not be much above half that amount. The cost of transportation to the same point from any other city in Alabama where iron is made is not less than $3.50 per ton. Iron can be made at Sheffield at least as cheaply as anywhere else in the State. Admit these two facts—and there is no reason for controverting them—and the basis on which her hopes are built is obvious and plain.
When Senator John Sherman was in Nashville, on his return from a tour through the recently developed region of Alabama, he was asked whether he was prepared to concede to the South all that she is claiming in the way of present and prospective material prosperity. He replied: “Yes, and more. But I am not prepared to concede to Birmingham, or the Birmingham District proper, all or any reasonable proportion of what she and it are claiming; because it is manifest that the Tennessee River is to be the base of operations in the upbuilding of the great New South.”
James Bowron and Lowthian Bell, Englishmen, who have applied the knowledge gained in their own country to a criticism of the iron industry in America, speaking before the founding of Sheffield, both declared their faith in North Alabama, as the best adapted to this industry of all the regions of the Union that have attempted it, giving, as reasons, the abundance and proximity of the several materials and the means of transportation afforded by the Tennessee River, in both of which respects their argument applies most fully to Sheffield.
Of a like general nature, but equally capable of special application to Sheffield, are the remarks of Hon. Abram S. Hewitt, of New York, who said in 1871, speaking of this section:
“It is, in fact, the only place upon the American continent where it is profitable to make iron in competition with the cheap iron of England, measured, not by the wages paid, but the number of days’ labor which enter into its production. In Alabama the coal and the ore are in many places within a half a mile of each other, and the cost of the iron is only about ten days’ labor to the ton, or not far from the labor cost in Cleveland. Throwing aside, then, all questions of tariffs for protection, here is a possibility upon the American Continent of producing iron at as low a cost in labor as in the most favored region of the world, and allowing for the expense of transportation to compete with them, paying a higher average rate of wages than is paid in Great Britain."
Mr. James P. Withrow, of Pittsburgh, Pa., who controls the Clapp-Griffiths process of making steel, pronounces Sheffield the best point in the United States for the manufacture of iron and steel; allowing liberally for every item, he estimates the cost of manufacturing pig iron here at $9 per ton, including the labor, material, expense, interest, repairs and contingencies.
The fact that the Alabama & Tennessee Coal and Iron Company (now consolidated with several other companies into a corporation with $8,000,000 capital) is at present erecting three large blast furnaces at Sheffield is a sufficient indication of the views of the President, Col. E. W. Cole, the well-known Nashville financier, who built the East Tennessee Railroad system. But his verbal expression of them is equally empathic:
“I have looked into the advantages of Sheffield, and of every other business point in Alabama, and the result is that I have planted myself right here, and made this city the headquarters of my company, as well as the center of my expenditure. Here is the river upon which the pig-iron of the world can be sent to market, and reaching, through its tributaries, every city in the valleys of the Mississippi, the Missouri, the Ohio, and away down to the Gulf, and thence to the ocean. I have already planted here myself over $200,000, with more following. I have absolute faith in Sheffield’s future. In two years from now you will see 300 carloads of coke being delivered daily at my furnaces here. You will see 100 carloads daily of pig-iron being exported from the same furnaces. You will see the Tennessee River alive with Sheffield’s shipping, and there will not be a river in the great Mississippi valleys which will not be coursed by Sheffield’s pilots.”
A glance at the attractions of the site of this city must conclude this inadequate summary of the facts and reasonings that justify the confidence of Captain Moses and his associates. These are, in general, beauty, healthfulness and remarkable adaptability to varied activities of a commercial and manufacturing center such as is sought to be established.
From a precipitous bluff of limestone that rises abruptly from the river to a height of several hundred feet, and whose rounded shape conforms to the slight bend of the stream, a rolling plain, which might almost be called a plateau, extends southward to Tuscumbia, two miles distant, and on several miles further to a range of hills which divides that portion of the Tennessee Valley from east to West, and which is locally known as the Little Mountain. The bluff-wall, which is densely wooded at the top, with trees and bushes, in every available crack, where soil has accumulated to a sufficient extent, is imposing and belongs to a sort of natural scenery that is by no means common in Alabama. Springs of clear water, moss-covered ledges, native vines, foliage of tropical luxuriance, and cavernous recesses (among the latter Hinda’s Cave, which, to tell the truth, is somewhat disappointing in view of the extensive legend connected with it) abound along its face. The river at its base is usually somewhat muddy, but is sufficiently broad and tranquil. The whole is to be reserved as a park, and if the hand of the “improver” is not allowed too great license, will constitute a point of superiority over most towns of the State. The plain is not wooded beyond the band of a few hundred yards in width that extends along the edge of the cliff.
The elevation, the absence of marshes that might cause malaria, contiguity of the mountains, the openness to breezes, which, as a matter of fact, do blow almost continuously, insure the healthfulness of the locality, and the records bear out the expectations in this regard that are naturally formed from the character of the environment. The rolling nature of the soil also is exceptionally favorable, and the thorough system of drainage which, it may as well be stated here, is to be applied.
There is no respect apparent, so far, in which the site will fail to meet the requirements of the busy community that will eventually occupy it. It is level, and will therefore present no obstacle to the grading for streets and houses. The soil is firm, and affords good foundations for the loftiest edifices. The water supply is abundant, and “Reservoir Hill,” an elevation near the river, already chosen for the future water tower, is high enough to supply the tallest buildings and give them protection from fire. Once freed of its mud, the water from the Tennessee is pure and wholesome. The natural landing, extending for three-fourths of a mile along the base of the bluff, is admirably fitted for the construction of a wharf that shall be adequate to all the demands that will be made upon it by a growing commerce. The rock and lime and lumber with which to make the needed improvements are just at hand. The river, as has been shown, could and will be employed for the transporting of the manufactured product to its Western market, and will, moreover, constitute a perpetual protection against railway monopoly, but it was never for a moment supposed that railroads could be dispensed with. Accordingly, as has been said, Captain Moses and his associates bent their energies, from the first, to the securing of these most effective promoters of material development.
As might have been expected, the Memphis & Charleston was the first of already existing lines to attract their attention, and it was not difficult to persuade the directors of this road to extend their track to Sheffield. It was decided that here should be located the main shops of the entire road; and the workmen and their families will make an increase of at least 2,000 in the population of the town. The Memphis & Charleston is a part of the Richmond & Danville system, and through it Sheffield has direct connection with Memphis, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Lynchburg, Danville, Richmond and other points of importance in Tennessee and Virginia, and with Rome, Atlanta, Macon and Brunswick, Ga.
The immediate and particular need of the young community, however, will be principally supplied by a road which owes its existence entirely to the need itself. This is the Sheffield & Birmingham, which was organized for the purpose of furnishing raw material to the furnaces. By it immediate and direct connection is obtained with nearly every trunk line operating in the South. A large portion of the mineral region through which it passes has hitherto been totally neglected on account of the absence of any means of transportation. Now that such means have been supplied, not Sheffield alone, but every community interested in the development of these resources must reap the benefit.
Along the line of the road are inexhaustible brown hematite iron-ore beds, which will assay over fifty per cent of metallic iron, inexhaustible quantities of limestone lying along the line of the road for many miles, which will be useful for building purposes, for flux in the furnaces and for ballasting the line of railroad so as to make it one of the safest and best in the South. The road runs through immense depths of sand and sandstone, the sandstone being fine for building purposes and the sand being of rare qualities and fit to be used in the furnaces for making glass. Also, the road runs through great quantities of cement-gravel, which is the very finest material for ballasting railroads and making streets. Lower down in Walker County it strikes the inexhaustible coal measures and runs through them for many miles. Thus we have iron, coal, limestone, sand, sandstone and cement-gravel—six different raw products, besides quantities of red ochre—all being immediately along the line and all in inexhaustible quantities. This railroad is designed to be run and managed as much as possible to advance the interests of Sheffield.
The Nashville, Florence & Sheffield came next. It is a branch of the Louisville & Nashville system. It passes through some of the finest ore and timber lands of Southern Tennessee, affording a second means of obtaining a supply of the materials necessary to manufacturing iron, and giving connection directly with Nashville, Louisville, Evansville, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile, Pensacola, Chattahoochee, New Orleans and other places of prominence.
These three lines give Sheffield the benefit of competition in nearly every direction. With them alone, added to her river transportation, she would be well equipped. Concerning those which have been organized or projected at various times since the founding of the city: some of them are already building, and the probability is that the majority, at least, of them will be carried through to completion.
The Sheffield & Seaboard, which is under contract to locate its principal shops at Sheffield, has two lines surveyed to Aberdeen, Miss., where it will connect with the Illinois Central and the Mobile & Ohio, giving communication with Mobile, New Orleans, Jackson, etc., and crossing the Kansas City, Memphis & Birmingham this side of Aberdeen, with the latter making a competing line to Memphis and Kansas City. The Ohio Valley Railroad is in operation from Hendersonville, Ky., to Marion, Ky., and has been surveyed to the bank of the river opposite Sheffield. The Tennessee Central & Alabama is graded from Trenton to Milan, Tenn., and surveyed thence to the opposite bank of the river. These will give additional competition to St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago, and other points west and north. The Gulf & Chicago is projected as an air-line [sic] from Mobile to Chicago, via Sheffield. The Chicago, Montgomery & Florida, another road that is only projected so far, will extend from Sheffield, via Montgomery, to Chattahoochee. The Sheffield & Atlantic, now in process of organization, will extend from Sheffield, via Cullman and Anniston or Gadsden, to the Georgia State line. The people of Atlanta have recently successfully applied to the Alabama Legislature for certain rights to be granted to the Atlanta, Mississippi & Atlantic Railroad, which, if completed, would extend from Sheffield to Atlanta, and thence to some seaport in South Carolina or Georgia. Steps are now being taken for the construction of a railroad to Paducah, and of one from Sheffield, in a northeasterly direction, to Somerset, Ky. a road to Gallatin, Tenn., via Pulaski, has been projected. The Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railroad Company think of extending their line in the direction of Sheffield.
The historian has purposely abandoned the order of time in speaking of the various assured and probable railroad enterprises connected with Sheffield, in order that the entire view of this phase of the city’s growth might be presented at once. He has also endeavored to be thoroughly candid, admitting that there is doubt and uncertainty in regard to the majority of the projects mentioned. However, he must not be understood as conveying the idea that the weight of probability is not in favor of the opinion that they will be undertaken (where not already begun) and successfully carried out. Again, it must not be forgotten that those already secured are enough to establish Sheffield as a railway center, and that the river will always serve as a protection against their possible abuse of the power they unquestionably possess.
But the making of iron was always the chief end of Sheffield. Accordingly the securing of furnaces, equally with the securing of railroads, was the object of its leading spirits, and when consummated, has served to mark the successive steps in its growth.
The beginning of recovery from the financial depression of the spring of 1884 was signalized by the organization of the first furnace company. It was in the summer of 1886, and the style of the corporation is The Sheffield Furnace Company. It began with a capital of $150,000, and closed a contract for a 125-ton blast furnace. The work began in September.
In the following February (1887), a more imposing triumph was scored. The Alabama and Tennessee Iron and Coal Company, with a capital of $2,200,000, besides 70,000 acres of increasingly valuable coal and iron lands, during that month decided to make Sheffield the center of its operations. A contract was let for the erection of three furnaces, each of a capacity of 150 tons daily, to be completed, one in thirteen, one in fifteen and one in seventeen months, for the sum of $564,000. Fifty teams and 100 men were put to work leveling the ground, and making excavations for the foundations.
Soon after, the Lady Ensley Furnace Company let a contract for a 125-ton furnace, to be ready early in the year 1888. This completed the securing of the five furnaces so often spoken of in the enumeration of the city’s enterprises. These, when completed, will have an aggregate daily capacity of 700 tons of pig-iron.
The railroads and furnaces brought in their train a number of lesser industries, which will be noticed further on. A general brightening up, a firmer feeling that soon became an enthusiastic hopefulness, was the immediate result. The stock of the Sheffield Land, Iron and Coal Company, which by grants of land and other inducements had been very active in bringing in these enterprises, ran up from $30 to $200 a share, the par value being $100. The prices of real estate rose in proportion. Investors flocked in from all directions. The prosperous state of things throughout the recently developed South, in general, affected favorably the public attitude toward the youngest product of the new order of things in Alabama. Throughout the winter greatest activity and excitement prevailed. Fortunes were rapidly acquired; population greatly increased; houses were built and companies organized for the purpose of building more; stores were set up; two banks—The First National, C. D. Woodson, president; and Bank of Sheffield, Alfred H. Moses, president; each with a capital of $100,000—were organized; real estate agents came in swarms; tents were necessary for the temporary accommodation of the workmen, prospectors and settlers. There could be no doubt that, for success or failure, wisely or unwisely, a vast amount of energy had been called into play.
The fluctuations that so constantly and so strangely prevail in the business world have not failed to show themselves throughout the history of the Sheffield undertaking. Stocks in the Sheffield Land, Iron and Coal Company and in the various furnace and railroad companies have risen and fallen, and so have the prices of real estate. But the work on which all these things ultimately depend has gone steadily on. Population has steadily grown, and the only way in which the story could be told would be to chronicle the successive arrivals of enterprises and men.
PARTIAL LIST OF ENTERPRISES NOT ALREADY MENTIONED.
The Sheffield Pipe and Nail works, capital $100,000; the Electric Light and Gas Fuel Works, $25,000; the Sheffield Ice Company, $25,000; the Sheffield Manufacturing Company, $30,000; the Sheffield Contracting Company, $60,000; the Alabama & Tennessee Construction Company, a branch of the St. Louis Planing Mill Company, $500,000; the Eureka Brick and Lumber Company, $30,000; the Sheffield Furniture Manufactory; the Doud Brick Company; the Richmond Brick Company; the Sheffield Bakery and Bottling Works; the Sheffield Mineral Paint Company, capital $50,000; the Sheffield Agricultural Works, $40,000; the Sandstone Quarry Company; the Coleman Cotton Cleaner and Gin Company, capital $100,000; the Sheffield Cotton Compress Company, $60,000; Morris Brothers & Co., Steam Laundry and Dyeing Works; Flouring Mills; Enterprise Publishing Company; Water-Works ($30,000 already expended); Sheffield Street Railway Company, capital $50,000; Sheffield Hotel Company, $120,000; East Sheffield Land Company, $500,000; East Sheffield Brick Company; East Sheffield Water-Works Company; Hull & Keller’s Fern Quarries; Voorhees’ Galvanized Iron Cornice Factory; Sheffield Marble and Phosphate Company, capital $100,000; the Sheffield Quarries; Mobile Real Estate Company, capital $50,000; Sheffield Real Estate Company, $50,000; Sheffield & Mobile Improvement Company, $100,000; and the Sheffield Stone-Works. Reasonably certain to be secured in the near future are, a charcoal iron furnace and chemical plant; a rolling-mill and a large machine shop.
Many of these enterprises have been inaugurated since the writers last and only visit to Sheffield—in July and August, 1887—and of those which were already resolved on many had not been started. The consolidation of the several corporations which now form the Sheffield and Birmingham Coal, Iron and Railroad Company, with a capital stock of $7,225,000, took place at that time. None of the furnaces mentioned was then in blast; they now all approach completion. The population was between two and three thousand, although there were scarcely houses sufficient to accommodate one thousand comfortably. Everything indicated incompleteness. Even the attractions were such as pertain to change and growth. Some of the streets were graded, while a few were only staked off, though all were named. Montgomery avenue, the central business street, running north and south, was well lined with buildings—business blocks toward the south and dwellings, some of them quite handsome, toward the north and near the river. The other streets and avenues presented a somewhat curious appearance. On nearly every one of them there were buildings of some sort, but the distances between them, and the varied characters of the buildings themselves—here a block of stores standing alone in a grassy field; there a finely-constructed residence touching a hut or tent, intended for temporary use—showed plainly that the difference between a town that has taken years to form itself, such as the Old South abounds in, and a town which is springing up in fulfillment of a plan that was matured before the first corner-stone was laid. The one is a growth, the other is more properly a conscious creation. The one is a result of the unprompted, sometimes undiscerned, action of natural causes and possibilities, and the other is a result of the discovery, and bringing into play, of such causes and possibilities by the intelligence and power of men who seek their own ends in a broad and liberal way. It would be unfair as yet to express a preference for the one or the other of these two methods of city building, for the conscious evolution of such a town as Sheffield is a new phenomenon to which there is no parallel.
As yet, we have only the beginning of the process, and the beginning can scarcely be taken as a fair basis of opinion concerning the appearance of the end—or rather of a later stage in the development, to which, let us hope, there will be no end. The first stages of this development do not present many features of beauty, but there are indications of a coming attractiveness.
Industrialism is not altogether unlovely. Repellant as are many of its characteristics, selfish as are its aims. Doubtful as are the means it frequently uses, it does yet sometimes, perhaps always, conduce to the accomplishment of worthier objects in better ways than those that fill the minds of its moving spirits. Great cities are built that money may be made, but great cities, when built, are the nurses of art and letters, the centers of enlightenment, the fields of charity. Sheffield has come into existence because certain capitalists thought that through the establishment of certain industries at this particular site their wealth might be increased, and because in the interests of those few who are rich are bound up the interests of many who are poor. For the same reasons it will continue to grow. But the lower aims are united with higher purposes; and the iron city on the Tennessee, that will give wealth to hundreds and bread and homes to thousands, may and shall contribute somewhat to the better riches that are the property of all men. Here, perhaps, lessons of civilization will be learned; the power of intellect, through machinery and contrivance, will be augmented; institutions of learning will be built; art will be cherished; philanthropy will be exercised; applied Christianity will show its inestimable value and receive its fitting honor. Let us hope, at least, that from the co-operation of so many energies something better and fairer than furnaces or mills can fashion may be contributed to the life of our country and of the world.
[From Northern Alabama Historical and Biographical Illustrated 1888 Smith & DeLand, Birmingham, Ala.,VII. Sheffield, by William Garrett Brown.]
Typed for use on this site by Linda Ledlow.
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