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Moments in History compiled by Betty Slowe and Guy Hubbs


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Today’s town clock

The town clock that today stands at the northeast corner of Greensboro and University Boulevard was first put up in 1923 a block east in front of the First National Bank (where DePalma’s Restaurant is today). Architectural historian Robert Mellown notes that the bank directors put up the clock to remind Tuscaloosans that “every minute of every day the bank stands ready to serve the people of this city.” It was moved to its present location in the 1930s when the bank moved into the great building behind it.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: The first town clocks

Public clocks were important before watches became common. As architectural historian Robert Mellown relates, a town clock went into the new courthouse tower in 1846. This clock was replaced in 1886 and a bell added to toll the time and to use as a fire alarm. The clock was then moved to the tower of the new courthouse in 1908 and electric lights placed above each of the four faces of the clock. That clock was lost after city hall was torn down to make way for the new City Hall/Bama Theatre.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Alabama’s new state capital

On December 13, 1825 — exactly six years to the day after its incorporation — Tuscaloosa became the new state’s capital. Its location was considered ideal at the time. The only practical route between north and south Alabama in the 1820s was by steamboat along the Black Warrior River and by horse, wagon, or buggy along the Huntsville Road. The river and the road met in Tuscaloosa—as did the state’s politicians for over two decades.



The first public swimming pool in Tuscaloosa, the Queen City Park Swimming Pool, was dedicated on May 18, 1943. The pool and bath house were designed by Don Buel Schuyler, an apprentice to architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and were constructed as a WPA project during the Great Depression. The pool was filled in with dirt in 2002 and the bath house is used for the Mildred Westervelt Warner Transportation Museum.



The University of Alabama’s stadium opened in 1929, and was originally named Denny Stadium in honor of George H. Denny, the school’s president from 1912 to 1932. In 1975, the Alabama legislature added longtime football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s name to the stadium. Bryant would coach the remaining seven seasons of his career in the stadium, making him one of the few collegiate coaches to have coached in an arena or stadium that is (partially) named for him.



Lou C. Mims Jr. (1927-1998) coached football at Tuscaloosa Junior High and Druid High School — the only high school that blacks could attend during the 1960s before desegregation — from 1951 to 1986. Mims is viewed by many of the city’s West End residents as a legend as big as Paul W. Bryant, a former University of Alabama head football coach.



The Diamond Theater opened in 1946 at 621 23rd Avenue in Tuscaloosa and closed in 1967. The building accommodated 500 and was fitted with the most modern cinema equipment, attractively decorated and completely fireproof. The theater and Diamond Drugs next door were part of a group of businesses known as the Blue Front that catered to African-Americans. The building was razed in 2007 to make room for the city’s Intermodal facility.



The Bama Theatre was originally located on the north side of Broad Street (now University Boulevard) in Tuscaloosa, next to what was then the First National Bank Building. The theatre showed vaudeville acts as well as motion pictures. The theater was renamed the Druid Theater after the new Bama Theatre was completed on Greensboro Avenue at Sixth Street in 1938.



Stallworth Lake was a recreational lake that was located at the foot of River Hill. The lake, which was built in 1918, had sliding boards, spring boards, diving towers, floating rafts, boating, a merry-go-round, and a miniature zoo. It became a city landfill in 1948.



“Tuscaloosa Sam; or, Life in the Wilds” was an 1867 dime novel set in far west Texas. This thrilling tale involves a standard trio: dashing cowboy saving beautiful senorita from villainous Mexican bandito. Tuscaloosa Sam appears as some prospector or pioneer who dispenses wisdom and a chuckle. The word “Alabama” never appears. Published as part of Beadle’s Frontier series, such Wild West tales were aimed squarely at growing boys. W. J. Hamilton is given as the author, but that was a pen name for C. Dunning Clark, who wrote over 140 similar dime novels.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: The Marx Brothers come to town

In his autobiography, Harpo Marx related the early days when he and his brothers toured the vaudeville circuit as the Four Nightingales. He recalled an incident in Tuscaloosa when, in the middle of their act, the four boys stopped singing and began betting on whether the large insect crawling across the stage floor was a beetle, cockroach, or bedbug. Their horrified mother, who kept tabs on the finances, spit out the name of their banker and holder of their home’s mortgage, “Greenbaum, you crazy kids!” That’s all it took. The boys started singing again.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: 1902 Iron Bowl needed Nick Saban and Eli Gold

The Bama team was poorly coached when they played Auburn in 1902, and the game was poorly covered as well. The correspondent for the West Alabama Breeze reported in the October 22 issue that “Auburn defeated the University in a foot ball game in Birmingham Saturday by a score of 23 to 0. We do not know anything about foot ball, and that sounds like the University team doesn’t know much about it either.”


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: UA football older than thought

The accepted story is that William G. Little learned to play football as a student in Massachusetts and introduced the game to the University of Alabama in 1891. But ten years earlier, on November 9, 1881, the Tuscaloosa Times reported a “match game of foot-ball” in which the senior class beat the law class in “a heated and hard contested game. . . . Some of the ‘legal heads’ were severely bruised, we hear; but they propose to have it out again, fair and square.” The first recorded collegiate football game, Rutgers vs. Princeton, was in 1869.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Groucho goes hunting

In the Marx Brothers’ zany 1930 comedy “Animal Crackers,” Groucho gives his most memorable screen line, at least for Tuscaloosans: “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don’t know. Then we tried to remove the tusks. . . . But they were embedded so firmly we couldn’t budge them. Of course, in Alabama the tusks-are-loosa, but that is entirely ir-elephant to what I was talking about.”



Opening night—April 12, 1938—at the Bama Theatre began with a parade that included Disney characters and the University’s Million Dollar Band. The marquee announced the feature movie: the classic 1938 screwball comedy, “Bringing Up Baby,” starring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. Once inside the theatre, Tuscaloosans were simply amazed. Lights twinkled and images of clouds panned across the deep blue ceiling. Spanish or Italian gardens and arched doorways were painted on the walls. But it was the air conditioning, Tuscaloosa’s first, that surely provoked the most comments.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Listening to the Crimson Tide

Tuscaloosans could easily hear Birmingham’s first radio station, WBRC, when it began broadcasting in 1925. But live broadcasts of games were another matter. The first broadcasts were by Morse Code. Tuscaloosans held “watch parties” as someone read out the tickertape of the play-by-play during the University of Alabama’s first championship game, the 1926 Rose Bowl. The next year, when Alabama tied in the Rose Bowl, was the first coast-to-coast radio broadcast of a football game. And a young Paul Bryant in Moro Bottom, Arkansas, was listening.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Picnicking at Lake Lorraine

The Castle Hill development company, chartered in 1887, planned a subdivision in east Tuscaloosa. But first came a six-acre park, built around a dammed creek, that would attract potential buyers. The skating rink, dance floor, croquet courts, and other features, were extremely popular. A rustic bridge over Lake Lorraine was designed “to furnish quiet retreats for spoony couples,” according to the newspaper, while elsewhere young ladies in “natty bathing suits” tested the water. The 30-foot dam was not rebuilt after it broke in the 1890s, and Lake Lorraine faded into memory.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Before Football, Horse Racing

The great spectator sport in the nineteenth century was horse racing. Tuscaloosans had their own Jockey Club in the 1830s. The mile-long track was likely where Fifteenth Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard intersect today. A large stage was built “for the accommodation of the Ladies,” who were particularly asked to attend. Members of the Jockey Club dined in a large room. The large stables supplied ample food for the horses. The winning $200 to $350 purses were large for the times. The Jockey Club likely ended with Tuscaloosa’s days as the state capital.



Dr. Alan W. Blair was a professor at the UA School of Medicine in 1933 when it was in Tuscaloosa. He heard reports of people getting sick after spider bites. After performing controlled lab experiments on rats and other animals, the exceptionally athletic Dr. Blair allowed himself to be bitten on his little finger by a black widow. For two days he lay in “excruciating agony,” unable even to eat, and then slowly began to recover. His survived, determined to develop a vaccine from recovered humans or animals that were seemingly immune.



Dr. Peter Bryce (1834-1892) was superintendent of the Alabama Insane Hospital at Tuscaloosa (later to be named Bryce Hospital) for 31 years, beginning in 1860. Bryce won national recognition by his humane methods of treating the mentally ill. He abolished the practice of using handcuffs and strait jackets to restrain patients.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: The circus comes to town

Circuses were common in 19th and 20th century America. Perhaps the first to reach Tuscaloosa was the Yeaman Circus, which arrived in November 1831. A half dozen years later, a wagon show led by a young P.T. Barnum came to town. Barnum would go on to become the greatest showman of his generation, promoting hoaxes. The Barnum & Bailey Circus, which he founded in 1871, became America’s greatest and toured until 2017. Barnum is credited with coining the phrase “There’s a sucker born every minute.”


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: “Alabama’s Most Important War-Time Establishment”

Doors opened in July 1943 on Northington General Hospital, a rambling facility hastily built on a 65-acre cotton patch off Hargrove Road. A reporter joked that he needed a full day and a road map to get through the maze of buildings. By the war’s end, some 12,000 patients had received care from hundreds of officers, Women’s Army Corps nurses and others, and another 3,900 patients were still being cared for in what one Congressman would label “Alabama’s most important war-time establishment.”


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Mothers and Babies Moved

On December 11, 1952, 14 new mothers with their babies were moved from Druid City Hospital’s temporary location at the former Northington General Hospital facility into the new Druid City Hospital building. After the U.S. Army had closed its hospital there, the Northington facility was used by the hospital from 1946 until its new building was complete. The new Druid City Hospital building had 202 beds and came at a price tag of $3,200,000.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Reforming mental health

The renowned Dorothea Dix pleaded with the Alabama legislature in 1849 to build a clean hospital for the mentally ill instead of locking them into unheated cells and walking away. The legislature responded by authorizing the construction of one of the most modern hospitals in the country, if not the world. Robert Jemison struggled to locate the Alabama Insane Hospital in Tuscaloosa. With the state capital now in Montgomery, Tuscaloosans needed jobs. And Jemison was looking to sell materials from his lumber mill and other enterprises. The hospital’s first patients were wounded Confederate soldiers.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Falls of the Black Warrior silenced

The constant and quiet roar of the Black Warrior Falls could be heard in every corner of Tuscaloosa. It prompted many a poem. The wild waters “in their mad rush to the deep, they are roaring, ever roaring,” wrote L. W. Reeves. “No dike nor dam can hold them; Ye men and gods behold them!” But even as he was writing in 1891, the locks and dams that would submerge and silence the Falls were already well under construction.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Hale Memorial Hospital

Hale Memorial Hospital, a tuberculosis treatment facility, opened October 19, 1958, serving 11 West Alabama counties. It was named after Dr. Robert Eugene Hale, a country doctor who strived to see the establishment of a new sanitarium to treat patients of West Alabama. Dr. Hale died in 1955 without seeing his dream come true. The hospital opened with 154 beds and was still not large enough for all the area’s tuberculosis patients who were being treated in other state sanitariums. Hale Memorial became the state’s eighth tuberculosis sanitarium.



The role of fish in the diet and economy of nineteenth-century Tuscaloosans was huge, as historian James N. Ezell’s research reveals. Fish were not caught by hook and lure but by traps. A dozen different fish species were sold locally and shipped by rail beginning in the 1870s. Tuscaloosa fish were so prized that they commanded higher prices than local fish in Selma, for example, even though Selma was on the Alabama River. The importance of fish declined when the dams and locks installed in the 1890s.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Longleaf Pine forest due to lightning

The first pioneers to reach the Falls of the Black Warrior, where the town of Tuscaloosa would be built, saw a nearly unbroken landscape of longleaf pines. Unlike most mature forests, which are hardwood, the South’s frequent lightning strikes ignited the underbrush and hardwood seedlings but left the fire-resistant longleaf pines. The resulting longleaf pine forest had little underbrush, and early settlers reported not needing roads to drive their wagons among the enormous pines.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: A Tuscaloosan describes the Falls of the Black Warrior

The beauty and sound of the Falls prompted many Tuscaloosans to put pen to paper. The “ceaseless monotone” of the Falls, wrote a Tuscaloosan in 1874, is “not unlike the moan of pines shaken in the wind.” Its beautiful sound “mingles with the busy hum of life on our streets by day, and floats through them by night like an echo from the past, and a voice of the ever ongoing present, blended in one stream of sound.”


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Falls of the Black Warrior

Americans first began to settle at the site of what is now Tuscaloosa about 1816. It was the end of a series of rocky shoals that stretched for almost 20 miles upriver. During the dry summer months, the river dropped so low that people could walk across and barely get their feet wet. The actual Falls of the Black Warrior was a shelf several feet high about two miles upriver from the town. The Falls were destroyed in the 1890s by the construction of the locks and dams.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Tuscaloosa Fire Department established

On October 22, 1915, the Tuscaloosa Fire Department was officially established. Since 1905, the fire department had consisted of volunteers with one paid fireman, who had two horses and hose wagon. A motor fire truck was brought to Tuscaloosa for the new fire department, but skeptical citizens refused to believe that it was capable of fighting fires. To assure them, firemen shot a stream of water over a ‘Try Tuscaloosa’ sign that was then on top of the Alston Building at the corner of Greensboro Avenue and Sixth Street.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: F.A.P. Barnard sets the mark at the University

Frederick Augustus Porter Barnard had an immediate impact on the University of Alabama when he arrived to teach the sciences in 1838. He successfully pushed to build the first astronomical observatory in the Southeast. Partnering with a Tuscaloosa physician, in 1840 he took the first photographic portrait in Alabama. Barnard demonstrated the Earth’s rotation by swinging a huge pendulum from the capitol’s rotunda (the pendulum seemed to move throughout the day when it was actually the Earth). He left Tuscaloosa in 1854 and eventually became president of Columbia University. Barnard College is named for him.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: University of Alabama founded in 1831

Easily the most important event of Tuscaloosa’s capital days was the founding of the University of Alabama in 1831. The dedication ceremonies were held in the newly built Christ Episcopal Church, then looking quite different than it does today, because the artisans had not yet finished their work on the campus. The legislators had chosen the site, a large plot along the Huntsville Road a mile east of the Tuscaloosa townsite, for this “Seminary of Learning,” so that the students could apply their minds without distraction from “immoral persons.”


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: The state’s military academy

In an effort to stop sinking enrollment and instill needed discipline, President Landon Garland lobbied legislators to turn the University of Alabama into a military academy modeled on West Point. They quickly agreed after John Brown’s October 1859 raid. Those who arrived on campus in the fall of 1860 were wearing uniforms and adhering to strict military procedures. Little did they know that this transformation would lead directly to the University’s destruction in 1865.



Clara Louise Verner, 1882–1967, dedicated her life to teaching and community work in Tuscaloosa. Beginning in 1901, she taught in the Tuscaloosa public schools for 51 years. She was principal of Tuscaloosa High School for 27 of those years and spent seven years as director of guidance.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Verner Military Institute

Verner Military Institute was founded in October, 1877, as University High School by Professor William H. Verner. It was a preparatory school for youths for the State University. Verner bought property to house the school that was formerly a convent on South University Street, now Paul W. Bryant Drive. The military institute was a great success until Verner died in 1900.



Tuscaloosa educator, Benjamin H. Barnes was educated under Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee Institute. He took a job as a teacher in the Tuscaloosa City School System and worked with the First African Baptist Church. He helped design a new church building as a replica of the chapel at Tuskegee Institute. The church was built in 1907. In recognition of his religious service and of his exemplary scholarship, Selma University conferred upon him the honorary degree of Master of Arts and a branch of the Tuscaloosa YMCA bears his name.



Laura B. Murphy (1889-1956) was born August 17, 1889, in Scottsboro, Alabama. She completed her early educational training at Alabama A&M College. She moved to Tuscaloosa and was employed as a teacher at Central School. After marrying Will T. Murphy, the first black licensed funeral director of Tuscaloosa, she organized a private school in her home. Mrs. Murphy was later employed as assistant principal of St. Paul Lutheran School and served there until appointed principal of the Twentieth Street Elementary School, where she worked until her death in 1956.



Pug’s Restaurant on University Boulevard near the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa sold meal tickets to students and served 800 to 900 meals a day during the 1940s and 1950s. Many students earned money for tuition by working at Pug’s. The restaurant was a popular breakfast place on homecoming and sometimes used 60 dozen eggs preparing breakfast that day.



The Gorgas Oak, a centuries-old oak tree that graced the lawn of the Gorgas House, was one of the oldest landmarks on the University of Alabama campus until a windstorm took it down in the summer of 1982. The tree was named for Confederate General Josiah Gorgas who served as president of the university 1878-1879.



Liston Hall was the first building erected on the site of the present campus of Stillman College. It was built shortly after the land was purchased by the school in 1898 and served as the first dormitory and chapel for students. The building was torn down some years ago.



The Cochrane House and 20 acres of land on 15th Street in west Tuscaloosa were purchased in 1898 for the Stillman Institute that became Stillman College. The Cochrane House was the center of activities on campus, until it was demolished in the 1950s. Its marble columns now grace the front of Stillman’s Sheppard Library.



The Alabama State Capitol was located in Tuscaloosa from 1826 until 1847. The stone foundation of the capitol building was laid in 1827 and work was completed in the late fall of 1829. After the capitol was moved to Montgomery in 1847, the building was used by the Alabama Central Female College until April 22, 1923, when a construction worker accidentally set it ablaze while soldering a piece of flashing to repair the dome; the building was totally destroyed. The ruins of the building can still be seen in Capitol Park.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Stillman College beginning

Stillman College had its beginning as Tuscaloosa Theological Institute founded by Dr. Charles Allen Stillman, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Tuscaloosa. After Stillman’s death in 1895, the Institute was renamed Stillman Institute in his honor. Dr. Charles Allen purchased the house at 1008 21st Avenue to house the Institute in 1881 and it remained at this location until 1897, serving as a training site for African-American Presbyterian ministers from all over the south. The name was changed to Stillman College in 1948.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: WWII British and French cadets come to Tuscaloosa

Britain began sending its aviation cadets to Tuscaloosa and five other facilities for flight training in March 1941. Thirteen classes of British cadets went through the ten-week course. Free French cadets began training in Tuscaloosa in July 1943. Eight interpreters, most of them women, would translate as the American instructors slowly gave out directions. Textbooks were eventually issued in French until the program ended in June 1944. In all, some 2,305 American, 1,273 British, and 938 Free French air cadets trained in Tuscaloosa.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Auburn has a Tuscaloosan to thank

After completing what is now Woods Hall, the University of Alabama was ready to reopen in 1868. But the Republicans, who had political control, insisted on a Republican faculty and administration. The Democrats, led by Tuscaloosa’s Klansman/editor Ryland Randolph, did all they could to stop it. The Democrats eventually won that fight, but the Republicans got even. When the time came to select the land-grant school, the University was deliberately passed over. Instead, a small college in Auburn was selected, which just happened to be near the Republican superintendent of education’s home.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: University of Alabama during Civil War

Those enrolled in the state’s military were members of the Alabama Corps of Cadets, which was a unique unit. The cadets were not subject to conscription but were nonetheless a military unit under the governor’s direct control. He quickly ordered them to drill 12,000 of the state’s volunteer troops. Fifty-four cadets were sent to join forces opposing Union General Rousseau’s July 1864 cavalry raid into central Alabama. And the entire corps was ordered to north Alabama that fall to oppose Union soldiers.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Defending against the invasion

News of Tuscaloosa’s invasion took an hour to reach University President Garland. He immediately called out for all cadets, half being under 16 years of age. After a brief skirmish, Captain Carpenter, whose wedding had been interrupted, came forward to explain that those 300 young cadets with muzzleloaders faced 1,500 veteran cavalrymen armed with the most advanced rifles of the Civil War, along with the cadets’ own cannon. The president wisely ordered the cadets to return to campus, pack their personal items, and march off. They would disband in Marion and head for home.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: FDR made big decisions aboard USS Tuscaloosa

The heavy cruiser Tuscaloosa often served as the presidential flagship. In December 1940, President Roosevelt embarked on an inspection tour of base sites recently obtained from Britain. It was while on this cruise, relaxing and entertaining British officials—including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor—that he devised the Lend-Lease program to aid an embattled Britain that still maintained American neutrality. In August 1941, FDR met Prime Minister Winston Churchill aboard the Tuscaloosa to work out the Atlantic Charter. The Tuscaloosa’s mast and one of its 5-inch guns stands at the Tuscaloosa Veterans Memorial Park.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: USS Tuscaloosa engaged in WWII two years before Pearl Harbor

The German luxury liner Columbus was on a Caribbean cruise when WWII broke out in September 1939. After depositing her mostly American passengers in Cuba, she sailed to Veracruz, Mexico. She slipped out in an unsuccessful attempt in December to run the British-French blockade. The crew spotted a British warship 450 miles east of Delaware and scuttled the Columbus to avoid its capture. The closest ship, the American cruiser Tuscaloosa (CA-37), rescued some 579 survivors in lifeboats and took them to Ellis Island in what became front-page news in America and Europe.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Tuscaloosans in the Great War

America entered WWI in April 1917, and turned the tide for the Allies. Upon returning, University of Alabama alumnus William March, wrote the acclaimed novel “Company K” based upon his experiences in the Marine Corps in France. He is buried in Tuscaloosa’s Evergreen Cemetery. Marvin Gay of Northport, one of many African-Americans who served in uniform, did not survive the war. Tuscaloosa honored its war dead by planting a corridor of 45 oak trees on the campus along University Boulevard.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Another famous refugee

After Memphis fell to Union forces in June 1862, Elizabeth Avery Meriwether got in her buggy and set out for Tuscaloosa with her two sons. A third son was born en route. They reached the now crowded City of Oaks after a six-month journey. Rooms to rent were now scarce, as was food. After fearlessly confronting Dr. John Drish for hoarding his corn, Tuscaloosans made sure that her family was fed. Mrs. Meriwether won a newspaper’s writing contest with her first story, “The Refugee.” She went on to become a prominent national author, lecturer, and outspoken suffragist.



Easily the most famous refugee in Tuscaloosa was Joseph Davis, older brother of the Confederate president. Davis was an extremely wealthy lawyer and planter. Davis took his family to Tuscaloosa following the fall of Vicksburg in July 1863. His stay in the City of Oaks marked his decline. Robert Jemison gave him and his family rooms before finding their own house to rent. But then his wife died, his lands were confiscated, and his wealth evaporated. After the war he was able to regain his lands but died not long afterwards.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: A home for refugees

Just as the several thousand Union prisoners were leaving Tuscaloosa in the spring of 1862, Confederate military reverses swelled the roads with fleeing civilians. They found the City of Oaks ideal: one of the more isolated towns in the South without railroads or major east-west roads, 350 miles up a river navigable only half the year, and shielded from the north by a mountain range. Further, the shade of the oaks was welcome, and many houses were still vacant from its days as the state capital. Those houses would soon be overflowing with refugees.



The ironclad that bore the name CSS Tuscaloosa was built at the Selma Naval Works with four-inch iron armor plating. Woefully underpowered, she was still outfitted with four formidable smoothbore 32-pounders and a single Brooke rifle, which fired Read shells (developed by Tuscaloosa John B. Read). Launched in February 1863, the CSS Tuscaloosa served as a floating artillery battery protecting upper Mobile Bay. Her crew scuttled the ironclad during the last days of the war. The wreck, which was discovered in 1985, remains at the bottom of the Spanish River.



The high-seas Confederate commerce raider that bore the name Tuscaloosa began as an American cargo ship, the Conrad, which in June 1863 was captured in the south Atlantic by the CSS Alabama. Captain Raphael Semmes transferred a pair of rifled 12-pounders, ammunition, and personal firearms to the ship he renamed the Tuscaloosa. After capturing an American ship, the Tuscaloosa headed for South Africa, then to Brazil, and back to South Africa. British authorities seized the Tuscaloosa at the end of 1863, ending her career after only six months.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: “Butcher of Andersonville” in Tuscaloosa

In command of the Union prisoners in Tuscaloosa was Henry Wirz. The Swiss native had a mercurial temperament. Several prisoners were shot for merely looking out the window. Others were put in chains for talking with prisoners in other rooms. Then the “quite gentlemanly” Wirz would turn around and treat the POWs with unexpected kindness. He ultimately was promoted and given command of the prison at Andersonville, Georgia. The appalling conditions there resulted in the “Butcher of Andersonville” becoming one of the few to be hanged for war crimes.



The Confederates captured so many Union soldiers during the first battles that the Secretary of War told Alabama’s governor to send them to Tuscaloosa. The first to arrive, at the end of 1861, were not soldiers but political prisoners from east Tennessee, including future president Andrew Johnson’s son-in-law. Soon 500 soldiers from First Manassas arrived, and more followed. They were held mainly in three buildings: the abandoned paper mill partway down River Hill, a large empty building up the hill, and the grand Washington Hall hotel at the corner of Greensboro and Broad Street (now University Boulevard).


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Plowshares into Swords

Leach & Avery foundry and machine shop began in 1848 by catering to farmers’ needs and was recognized for making the state’s best plows in 1859. Leach & Avery immediately turned to making cannon and other war materials with the outbreak of war. W.H. Fowler ordered six-pounders (designated by the weight of the projectile) for his artillery battery and the University ordered the same. The Union cavalrymen confiscated these latter cannons during the 1865 Yankee invasion and hurled them off the bridge. The only known surviving Leach & Avery cannon is in Marion on the courthouse square.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: John B. Read, Surgeon and Inventor

John Read wore many hats: physician, pharmacist, and most notably surgeon for the University of Alabama Corps of Cadets. But his real interest was tinkering. Dr. Read obtained a patent in 1856 for a shell that allowed cannon barrels to be rifled, thereby significantly increasing their range and accuracy. The Read shell was used by the Federals in their Parrot rifles, the most common artillery weapon of the war, and by the Confederates in their advanced Brooke rifles.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: The Warrior Guards to Virginia

The Warrior Guards arrived at the front just in time for the first battle, Manassas or Bull Run, on July 21, 1861. But they saw little action. And that was the end of the war for the Warrior Guards. The company dissolved in April 1862 after most of them left to join Captain Fowler’s artillery brigade, and the remaining 21 were merged into the Greensboro Guards. That company, as part of the storied Fifth Alabama Infantry, would fight in the middle of every remaining major battle in which Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia entered.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Warrior Guards Aboard the Cherokee

When the Warrior Guards cast off from the Tuscaloosa wharf in 1861, they left aboard the Cherokee. The 200-foot steamer was less than two years old and had been built just upriver by Tuscaloosa craftsmen. Designed to haul up to 2,000 bales of cotton, she also carried 75 passengers in luxury with stained glass windows and oil paintings of local landscapes. The “social hall” was lit by eight chandeliers. The Cherokee was named for the daughter of Robert Jemison, who presented the boat with a Chickering piano.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Warrior guards say their goodbyes

On May 4, 1861, crowds gathered at the Tuscaloosa wharf to see their beloved Warrior Guards off. The Guards had been to Mexico during that war and had spent time guarding Fort Morgan at the entrance to Mobile Bay after the governor ordered it snatched from Federal hands even before secession. This time the Guards were bound for Montgomery. After that, no one knew. It was not a happy occasion. “A more melancholy affair was never witnessed by any one,” reported one Tuscaloosan, “every body was in tears, and we imagined that we were at a funeral.”



Taverns, inns, and hotels—the terms were used interchangeably—sprang up like weeds as soon as Tuscaloosa became the state capital in 1825. After all, those legislators had to stay somewhere. But those same legislators could not have been the best or cleanest guests. The owner of the Indian Queen Hotel announced one year “that since the adjournment of the Legislature our rooms have been thoroughly cleaned with lime, throughout, and are now in complete order for the reception of those who desire pleasant apartments.”



The most famous Tuscaloosan of the Civil War was Robert Rodes. The VMI alumnus was chief engineer of the NE & SW Railroad (connecting Meridian to Chattanooga) when he married Tuscaloosan Virginia Woodruff. He was elected captain of the Warrior Guards until being made colonel of the Fifth Alabama. Rodes rose rapidly in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia as his stellar battlefield skills became apparent, even briefly commanded Stonewall Jackson’s corps. His death came suddenly in September 1864 when he was hit by a shell fragment at the Third Battle of Winchester.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Tuscaloosa businesses in 1845

The Independent Monitor newspaper listed the town’s businesses in operation in 1845. Easily the two most common businesses were the 14 dry goods stores and the 12 grocers. These were followed by 5 merchant tailors and clothing stores, 3 pharmacists, 2 book sellers, 2 carriage makers, 2 saddle and harness makers, 3 livery stables, 2 tinners and sheet iron workers, 1 portrait painter, 5 hotels, and 4 private boarding houses. Tuscaloosans were certainly well represented in law and medicine: 14 attorneys and 10 physicians.



Brown & Maxwell had too much in their Tuscaloosa and Northport groceries. So they announced a sale in January of 1843. Their extensive list reveals what Tuscaloosans purchased and consumed, including: 2,000 large sacks of salt, 550 bags of coffee, 25,000 pounds of sugar, 50,000 pounds of bacon, and 100 barrels of flour. Even more revealing: Brown & Maxwell also offered for sale: 210 barrels of whisky, 30 barrels of brandy, 25 barrels of rum, 10 barrels of wine, and numerous casks and cases of beer and other “refreshments.”



The land west of the original Tuscaloosa townsite was purchased by investors, who surveyed and sold lots with clear titles before those were available in Tuscaloosa proper. Several businesses, a dozen or so storehouses, and a hotel were soon open. Lawyers moved to the “New Town” after a jail and handsome brick courthouse were built. Substantial houses went up. All the excitement did not last long, however. Newtown merged with Tuscaloosa within a few years, and in 1842 a tornado wiped clean much of the once thriving west end of Tuscaloosa.



Unlike Scarlett O’Hara in the opening scenes of Gone with the Wind, antebellum Tuscaloosans were busy and focused. Some, such as the businessman Robert Jemison, Jr., were deeply engaged in luring industry. Politicians came and went during Tuscaloosa’s years as the state’s capital, 1825-1847, and hotel owners did a roaring business. Skilled artisans flooded into the City of Oaks to build the statehouse, University of Alabama, and the many other structures that a capital city needed. And Tuscaloosans were joiners: of the Masonic lodge, of churches, of literary societies, and most importantly, of organizations dedicated to moral reform.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Papermaking in Tuscaloosa

The Tuskaloosa Paper Company began in 1849 as one of only two nineteenth-century Alabama papermills. The plant, located down River Hill, took three years to build and used tradition cotton rags to make fine quality paper. The company stayed in business only a few years before folding, most likely from difficulty transporting the paper. The brick (perhaps including stone) building was used to house Union prisoners during the Civil War. In 1929, the Gulf States Paper Corporation would again produce paper in Tuscaloosa, this time from wood pulp.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Tuscaloosan dies defending the City of Oaks

Benjamin Eddins was in charge of those defending the bridge. He had earlier raised and led a company of volunteers, but bad health forced him to retire. Back in Tuscaloosa, he led the Home Guards, a militia unit made up of old men and young boys. Captain Eddins and 15-year old John Carson were wounded by Croxton’s Raiders while taking up the bridge floor planks. Carson was disabled for life. And a week later, on April 10, 1865, Eddins became the only local Tuscaloosan to die defending the city. He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Steamboat resurrected

Salt was desperately needed during the Civil War. Recalling that the steamer Cotton Plant had sunk at the Tuscaloosa wharf in 1824, workmen from the Leach & Avery foundry pull out the iron boiler, measuring 6 feet in diameter by 17 feet in length and split it lengthwise. Cypress timbers were clamped to the sides, and three men paddled the two halves 260 miles downstream to the Clark County salt works. A brick furnace was constructed, and these evaporators were used to make “thousands of bushels” of salt. The Cotton Plant boiler was discovered about 2010.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Let there be water

Often overlooked are the transforming effects of modern municipal waterworks. Piped water ended the backbreaking chore of getting water from wells, often 60 feet deep. But that paled beside improvements to health. Americans had known since 1849 that the London cholera epidemic had come from a single contaminated well. And physicians knew that more Civil War soldiers died due to drinking unsanitary water than from gunshots. After Tuscaloosa’s waterworks got going in the late nineteenth century, physicians noted an immediate improvement in health. Clean piped water would reduce infant mortality by three-quarters between 1900 and 1936.



Read the headline of February 13, 1890, edition of the Tuskaloosa Gazette. The first electric streetlights had been turned on the previous evening when Miss Clara Clements started the generator and Miss Lizzie Cade turned on the electric switch. With the ten brilliant arc lights ending darkness, the Gazette continued, the City of Oaks has “taken another important step in the line of progress.” Many citizens will now “avail themselves of the superior advantages of the incandescent lights and employ them in their business houses.”


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: The telephone comes to Tuscaloosa

In 1883, only seven years after Alexander Graham Bell spoke his famous words, “Mr. Watson—Come here—I want to see you” through the first telephone, Tuscaloosans were speaking through their own telephones. According to the Tuskaloosa Gazette, businessmen organized the first exchange “to facilitate commercial transactions.” A list of the twenty telephones serving Tuscaloosa and Northport appeared a few weeks later. Nearly all were businesses except those for very few installed as a “social convenience.”



Tuscaloosans sat up and paid attention the evening of August, 31, 1886. They were feeling one of the largest earthquakes to hit the Southeast. Collapsing buildings in and around its center in Charleston, South Carolina, killed scores. The only evidence in Tuscaloosa was fallen plaster, cracked walls, collapsed chimneys, and frayed nerves. The Tuskaloosa Gazette mentioned several amusing reactions, including someone deciding it was the bottom falling out of the Birmingham real estate market and a “certain lady we could mention, thinking the house was being burglarized, proceeded to practice target shooting at the door knob.”


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Merchants’ Bank & Trust Building towers above Tuscaloosa

The Alston Building dominated Tuscaloosa’s skyline for just 16 years. In 1925, the Merchants’ Bank & Trust Building became what is still Tuscaloosa’s tallest building. Designed by D.O. Whilldin, Alabama’s leading architect, its exterior was divided into the three components of a classical column — the base, shaft, and capital — to break up its great height and to give it a certain familiarity. Its ultramodern interior was a stark contrast. The marble walls, sharp edges, and lack of decoration seemed to come straight out of the German Bauhaus.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Alston Building Made a Statement

Property in Tuscaloosa was not-so-dear that the 1909 Alston Building needed to go up seven stories to save space. Its height was instead intended to catch the eye. Town boosters immediately saw their chance and set up a large electric sign on the roof that beamed “Try Tuscaloosa.”



Motorists in the Model T Fords driving along U.S. Highways 11, 43 and 82 needed places to stay when they got to Tuscaloosa. The earliest to cater to motorists were auto camps, clusters of tiny single-room cottages like the one in the movie “It Happened One Night.” Along Highway 11 were Lyn-Oaks Motor Court and the Moon Winx in Alberta City. Motorists later began staying in motels, a term coined about 1925 by joining “motor” with “hotel.” Some of those along Highway 11 included Dill’s Motor Court, Colonial Court, Spanish Court and the Harry Gilmer Campus Motel.



Just as Tuscaloosa’s first suburbs depended on the streetcar, the second generation of suburbs depended on the automobile — and city water. When in 1915 W.E. Bowers subdivided his land east of Castle Hill to create Alberta City, he did not expect the streetcar line to be extended. He was expecting residents to drive in their Model T Fords, which by then had been in production seven years and were revolutionizing American transportation. But Bowers sold few lots until 1924, when the roads were paved and a city water line was run. Alberta City then mushroomed.



Tuscaloosa’s first suburbs began in 1887. The Tuskaloosa Coal, Iron & Land Co. was formed by combing properties from 25 owners and then subdividing the land east of Queen City Avenue in anticipation of an influx of industrial workers. Castle Hill, farther east, was a similar development scheme of the Fitts family. Recognizing that their proposed suburbs were too far from town to walk, both companies began streetcar systems. They would ultimately be combined into the Belt Railway.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Central Foundry reopens before Pearl Harbor

After closing during the Great Depression, Central Foundry in Holt reopened as the United States prepared for a possible war and needed cast-iron pipe and fittings for its many new Army posts. When demand dropped, a University of Alabama professor suggested that Central Foundry turn to making ordnance, including land mines, artillery shells and hand grenades. The demand soared, and the workforce, which included many women, doubled to 1,200. Their efforts won them the Army-Navy “E” Award for efficiency. The women wore the pins on their lapels with the same pride as the men.



Keeping cool has always been a problem for Tuscaloosans. Steamboats brought New England ice beginning in the 1830s. A machine for creating ice was in town by the late 1860s, but it made only 100 pounds a day and commanded a high price. Trains transported ice more quickly and dependably than steamboats. But it was not until the introduction of electricity and subsequent invention of the electric fan in the 1880s that the first dent in the heat was finally made. Tuscaloosa would not see its first air-conditioned building until 1937.



The McLester Hotel was built in 1887 on the northwest corner of Greensboro Avenue and Sixth Street. It was a “bowl and pitcher” hotel (no indoor plumbing) with 33 rooms, each with a fireplace. The hotel was used for temporary quarters for the county courthouse while a new building was under construction. When the courthouse was completed in 1964, the McLester was razed to make space for modern commercial space.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Stores in Tuscaloosa

Bernard Friedman and Emanuel Loveman owned the Atlanta Store that stood at the corner of Broad Street (now University Boulevard) and Market Street (now Greensboro Avenue) where the 10-story bank building stands now as a Tuscaloosa landmark. The men owned the store until 1885 when they sold it to Herman Rosenau and Victor Friedman. The store burned in 1914, and the site stayed empty until the bank building was erected in 1925.



The Sam Jackson Store was founded in 1914, when Sam F. Jackson Sr. bought the general store where he had worked as a boy in the 2300 block of Sixth Street. In the 1960s, the store moved to its longtime location in the “V” of Queen City Avenue and 21st Street. Jackson Sr. died in 1978, after operating the store for 60 years. Sam Jackson Jr. had worked in the store with his father from boyhood and continued to operate the store, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the store before he died in 2014. The store closed on May 31, 2016.



In 1856, a site was purchased for a Tuscaloosa County jail to be built by William B. Robertson on Lot 168 in the city at a cost of $8,029.40. This building, now known as the Old Jail, still stands just south of Capitol Park.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Brown Brother’s Dollar Store

Abe Brown established Brown Brother’s Dollar store in May 1898 and moved the store to the southeast corner of Broad Street (now University Boulevard) and Greensboro Avenue in 1906. He built the current building now known as Brown’s Corner in 1926. Brown’s Department Store went out of business in 1978.



Washington Moody was the founder and first president of the First National Bank of Tuscaloosa. Moody moved with his family to Tuscaloosa when he was 13. Soon after, his father died, leaving a large family of orphans. Moody studied law, clerked in the Post Office, and wrote for Judge Henry Minor and Judge George Whitfield Crabbe. Moody prospered as an attorney and, believing in the Confederacy, he invested heavily in the Civil War and lost his savings. Later in his life he founded the First National Bank and, when he died in 1879, left a son, Frank S. Moody, to succeed him as president of the bank.



Herbert David Warner (1882-1975) moved to Tuscaloosa in 1928 from Decatur, Illinois, where he was the secretary-treasurer of the E-Z Opener Bag Co. E-Z Opener was Gulf States Paper Corp.’s parent company. He served as treasurer and chairman of the board until his retirement in 1957, and then chairman emeritus of the Gulf States Paper Corp. He was active in civic institutions in Tuscaloosa, and in 2013, he and his wife, Mildred, were named “Pillars of the Community” by the Community Foundation of West Alabama.



Griggsby Bert Wright (1866-1932) founded the first dime store in Tuscaloosa. The Wright Dime Store was described in The Tuscaloosa Times in 1899 as “one of the largest and best equipped institutions of the kind in the South. There, it may be said, that one can find anything under the sun.” Wright’s stock at that time was estimated to be at least $10,000. He bought with cash and sold for cash. Wright was described as one of the most successful men who ever opened a business in Tuscaloosa.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Last drugstore to close

H&W Drug Store was the last drugstore to close in downtown Tuscaloosa. At one time there were six within a three-block area. H&W was opened in 1916 in the Alston Building at the southeast corner of Greensboro Avenue and Sixth Street. Its soda fountain was where many University of Alabama students gathered after going to the movies at the Bama Theatre, the Druid or the Ritz. The soda fountain closed in 1972; the store moved down the street in 1984 and was sold to Rite Aid in 2008. The company immediately closed the store.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Worst tragedy in history of Tuscaloosa

The boat “Mary Frances” sank on the Warrior River in what The Tuscaloosa News called the “worst tragedy in the history of Tuscaloosa” on June 15, 1919. The owner of the boat, Samuel Fitts Alston, loved children and often gave them free rides on the Mary Frances. It was on one of these rides that the boat overturned as it made its turn at Holt. Twenty-four people, many of them children, were lost, though valiant efforts were made to save them.



The Allen & Jemison Co. was organized in 1883 with the following stockholders: Thomas B. Allen, John Snow, Robert Jemison, M.P. Jemison and W.C. Jemison. The business began by handling building material, coal and wood, and by storage of cotton in a warehouse built for the purpose. In a short time, the company began to carry a full line of all sorts of hardware and converted the cotton warehouse into a planing mill and wood-working establishment. By 1896, the business covered more than an acre of ground in the heart of the city in a building with 46,600 square feet.



When you cross the Black Warrior River from Northport to downtown Tuscaloosa, you use the Hugh Thomas Bridge. Hugh Rowe Thomas was the son of the late Frank Thomas, longtime football coach at the University of Alabama. A businessman and active in several civic organizations, he ran for the Alabama Legislature and won handily. His career was short-lived, however, when he was killed in an automobile accident on a rain-slicked highway in 1967 while on his way to Montgomery.


TUSCALOOSA 200 Moment in History: Streetcar service

Streetcar service began in Tuscaloosa in 1883 with the first horse-car trolley. Streetcars were pulled on rail by mules and mustangs. A steam ‘dummy’ train began operation in 1888. There’s an overlap of about eight years in which the dummy and the horsecar trolley were both in use but the horsecar trolley was no longer needed in the late 1890s when the dummy line was extended to Riverview. The dummy operated until 1915 when the street rail was electrified. By 1941, most electric streetcars were eliminated as the city transitioned to a bus system.



Steamboat travel in the early days on the Black Warrior River could be perilous. On the Ophelia in 1838 were young Thomas Maxwell and his brother Robert, who had purchased a stock of goods in Mobile with which they planned to go into business in Tuscaloosa. Thomas traded with inhabitants of the towns and landings along the banks of the rivers and made a good sum. The Ophelia struck a snag and sank about 10 miles away from Tuscaloosa. Thomas had the forethought to toss his little black bag of money onto shore and when the young men were taken off the Ophelia by a small boat, the Maxwell brothers retrieved the bag and walked to Tuscaloosa, hired a wagon and salvaged as much of their goods as they could. They established themselves as merchants and became wealthy.



William Bacon Oliver Lock and Dam is located in Tuscaloosa on the Black Warrior River. Completed in 1940, it was named after U.S. Rep. William Oliver. The dam forms Lake Oliver and was the first modern dam to be built on the Black Warrior. It replaced and covered the first three locks built on the river, which were completed in 1895.



The lift bridge that crossed the Black Warrior River from Northport to Tuscaloosa was built in 1922 and was in use until the early 1970s when the Hugh Thomas Bridge was built. The bridge emptied traffic onto Greensboro Avenue up River Hill.



The first bridge across the Black Warrior River was built in 1834. The wooden bridge was damaged by a tornado that swept through Newtown on March 4, 1842. A new bridge was built in 1852 of heart pine and with a roof was made of drawn pine shingles. This toll bridge that lasted only 13 years; it was burned by Gen. John T. Croxton’s raiders in the Civil War in 1865.



Visitors arriving at the train depot routinely cursed the half-hour wagon ride through muddy ruts to downtown Tuscaloosa. Finally in 1882, 10 years after the first train arrived, a mule-pulled streetcar on rails was finally operating. Five years later, the Castle Hill development company purchased the streetcar system and laid more rails eastward to their proposed suburb. A small steam locomotive, known as a dummy, was eventually substituted for the mules. Commonly known as the Dummy Line, the officially named Belt Railway would not in fact encircle Tuscaloosa until the new century had arrived.



Tuscaloosans saw their first airplane fly in 1911. The University of Alabama’s first courses in aeronautical engineering were offered in 1929, and by 1937, its program was one of the first 10 to be accredited. Maynor Airport, later renamed Hargrove Van de Graaf Airport, was home to a Civilian Pilot Training Program, begun in 1940 by the U.S. Army Air Corps as a thinly disguised method of training pilots for the military. Four women were among its first graduates. After the war started, thousands of young men would come to Tuscaloosa to learn to fly.



Tuscaloosans saw their first aircraft in December 1911, only eight years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight. Balloon flights had been advertised in Tuscaloosa newspapers since 1860. But a powered aircraft flight was different — and unsuccessful. With a “thundering roar,” the pilot took off from the fairgrounds, flew over a fence, clipped a wing and fell in “a crumpled mass.” The first to reach the pilot were Tuscaloosa’s two African American physicians. He was then given a flask of brandy and sent to the Tuscaloosa infirmary. His confidence and ego also needed treatment.



The arrival of the first automobiles coincided with Tuscaloosa’s attempts to modernize its street system. The editor of the Gazette complained in 1901 that giving directions to visitors was “like a Chinese puzzle.” Before long, the city of Oaks had numbered north-south avenues and east-west streets. Greensboro and Queen City kept their names but switched from streets to avenues. Forever gone were such streets as Locust, College, Franklin, Cotton, Union and many other charming names.



How appropriate that the 20th century would begin with D.L. Rosenau bringing the first automobile to Tuscaloosa. His 1900 Locomobile lacked fenders and a windshield. Worse, the steamer required an hour to build up pressure before driving. A few years later, W.S. Persinger took all day to drive his steamer from Birmingham to Northport. The poor roads “wore all the rubber off the tires,” and the clatter frightened the horses. Tuscaloosa’s first automobiles had not been standardized. Some were electric, most had tillers instead of steering wheels, and nearly all were fully open to the elements.



Tuscaloosans were entranced when Dr. Goree brought the first bicycle to town, a penny-farthing with a huge front wheel and small trailing back wheel. Penny-farthings were very difficult to control. All that changed about 1890 with the safety bicycle: two same-sized wheels propelled by pedals with a chain to the rear — the same as we use today. Seemingly overnight “wheelmen” and “wheelwomen,” as they were known, were everywhere. Safeties were particularly important to girls and young women, who no longer needed to saddle a horse. They could now ride anywhere they wanted, any time they wanted.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Black Warrior Finally Dammed

The railroad, which arrived in 1874, could not transport enough bulk coal and iron ore — that required steamboats. But the shoals at Tuscaloosa prevented those boats from ascending the Black Warrior River to the great Warrior Coal Field. With the U.S. Navy needing year-round access to coal, the federal government began constructing three locks and dams in May 1887 to open the river. Nine years later, in 1896, the first shipment of coal through the three locks at Tuscaloosa.



The 1866 deluge also created a smaller, but still deep, ditch east of Queen City Avenue known as the Ravine. It, too, had a rickety bridge — so rickety that the streetcar tracks had to detour several blocks to the south. After many years the Ravine was fixed and considerable fill brought in to allow University Boulevard to open once again. In order to demonstrate its success, the high-end neighborhood of Pinehurst was developed overlooking part of the Ravine.



An unprecedent deluge in 1866 created two huge ditches. The larger big gully cut across Broad Street (now University Boulevard) at College Street (21st Avenue). By 1879, the big gully had grown to about 30 feet wide, 14 feet deep and two blocks long. Tuscaloosans either walked around or tried their luck on a 100-foot bridge. Young Mayor William Carlos Jemison hired engineering professor W. A. Hardaway in 1884 to design a solution: an exceedingly heavy and expensive brick retaining wall. Jemison and two others pledged their personal property as security for the city’s loan. Hardaway’s wall worked splendidly.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: First train amazes Tuscaloosans

Tuscaloosa was at Alabama’s crossroads when it became the capital in 1825. But train tracks and new roads soon left her isolated. When the first train finally rolled up in 1871, Tuscaloosans groped for words. “Today the Iron Horse snorting like a Behemoth and whistling with a tremendous scream,” wrote a businessman, “and sent a thrill of joy through every heart.” The locomotive came “puffing and blowing, like some great war-horse, exhausted by his work,” observed a school girl. Unlike the train, the crowd was hushed in amazement.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Steamboat building along the Black Warrior

The City of Oaks seems an unlikely place for boat building. Yet in 1845, several mechanics and engineers were hard at work constructing a steamer some 155 feet long capable of carrying 1,200 bales of cotton. The Louisa, commanded by Capt. Cummings of Tuscaloosa, was launched and floated downstream to Mobile, where her machinery was installed. More steamboats were promised after the success of this first steamboat to be built by Tuscaloosans. And more were built through the 1850s.



Bridging the Black Warrior was not easy. The first bridge was constructed by Seth King in 1834, for the then-enormous sum of $30,000. It was roofed in part to shield the structure from the elements and in part because the thick lattice walls made the structure considerably more stable. The bridge stretched some 350 yards. It needed to be that long in order to be high enough to get above any floods. The result was what one pedestrian described as a “dark & dismal place ... to cross through on a dark night.”


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Turning Kentuck into Northport

Steamboat travel up the Black Warrior River increased dramatically during the 1830s. Most of the passengers got off at Tuscaloosa. But some passengers needed to get off at Kentuck, and the farmers north of the river had crops that needed to be transported down the river. So it was probably the steamboat captains who first start calling the village across the river the North Port. By 1841, the name Kentuck had been dropped from the new post office address in favor of Northport.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: University Boulevard, the end of a very long road

When Tuscaloosa was founded, University Boulevard was known as the end of the Huntsville Road. Travelers would travel by boat to Tuscaloosa, disembark, and continue northward by horse or buggy by nearly the only route through the mountains. The Huntsville Road continued as the Great Valley Road, which went through Knoxville and the Shenandoah Valley all the way to Philadelphia. The old US Route 11 followed the same path from Tuscaloosa to Gettysburg. Interstate highways today run along the same Huntsville and Great Valley Road.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Arrival of first steamboat marked new era

The first steamboat to reach Tuscaloosa was the Tensa, which had left Mobile Bay 19 days earlier. Tuscaloosans were “extatic” and “marveled that the boat had survived ascending the long, serpentine, and (by boats of her class) hitherto unexplored Black Warrior.” The newspaper declared that steamboat travel was of “incalculable advantage to Tuscaloosa, and the country around and above.” The Tensa’s journey opened eyes to what modern river transportation could do for Tuscaloosans.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Alabama’s most inland port

Tuscaloosa was Alabama’s most inland port. The extensive shoals prevented boats coming upstream from going any further. Goods would have to be unloaded and passengers disembark to continue on by horse or carriage. The merchant James Crump, for example, left Mobile in 1816 with a load of sugar, coffee, rum, wine, dry goods and 1,000 oranges. He reached Tuscaloosa 20 days later, where he sold all the rum. He transferred the remainder to a wagon and reached Huntsville 120 miles and eight days later. Only a half dozen oranges spoiled.



One of Tuscaloosa’s lost treasures is the two-story Searcy House, built in 1904 by George Searcy, a banker and businessman, at 815 Greensboro Ave. The house was an excellent example of the Neo-revival style of architecture popular at the beginning of the 20th century and was one of the first large houses built in the area since the 1870s. Beginning in 1935, it was used as a public library until 1958 and the offices of the Tuscaloosa County Board of Education until 2012 when the Board of Education acquired the Federal Building on Greensboro Avenue for its offices. Efforts to save the house were unsuccessful, and it was demolished in 2014.



Tuscaloosa’s Old Tavern was originally located on University Boulevard between Lurleen Wallace B. Wallace Boulevard, north and south. When the Alabama State Capitol was in Tuscaloosa, many government officials stayed there, including Gov. John Gayle. In 1964, the Old Tavern was given to the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society with the provision that it be moved to another site; it was moved to the end of University Boulevard near Capitol Park.



Tuscaloosa has found its way into popular song titles. The first of many was Wade Ray’s 1930 “Tuscaloosa Waltz,” recorded by the Ray Brothers. “Hey Gus, is that the Tuscaloosa bus?” asked Johnny Mercer & the Pied Pipers in their 1944 hit, “Tuscaloosa Bus.” On the big screen, John Forsythe opens Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 black comedy, “The Trouble with Harry,” by whistling “Flaggin’ the Train to Tuscaloosa.” And then there was the 1975 off-Broadway musical, “Tuscaloosa’s Calling Me ... But I’m Not Going.”



One of Tuscaloosa’s lost treasures is the Battle-deGraffenried House, which was constructed at 1217 Greensboro Ave. in 1845, by Albert Battle, a pioneer Tuscaloosa merchant and planter. Albert Battle built the house as a wedding gift for his son, Dr. William Battle. The Battles left Tuscaloosa just before the Civil War and sold the house to Dr. William Hester for $5,000. After Dr. Hester’s death, the property went to Judge Henry Bacon Foster. The house stayed in the Foster family until Judge Edward deGraffenried purchased it around 1912. There were two other owners before the house was razed in 1962 to make room for a 40-unit Travelodge Motel. One of the house’s most outstanding features was ornamental ironwork around its front porch.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Stars Fell on Alabama-the Book

Carl Carmer taught literature and poetry at the University of Alabama for several years during the 1920s. He tried to make sense of those exotic and intoxicating years after he returned to New York by writing a book, “Stars Fell on Alabama,” published in 1934. “Tuscaloosa lives a life of its own,” he wrote. It is “an enchanted life in an age other than ours.” Being a poet, Carmer pretty much left it at that, content to remain baffled by the ways of whose puzzling people who lived so far from Gotham.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: “Stars Fell on Alabama”: The song

The 1934 classic jazz standard, “Stars Fell on Alabama,” originated when the famed lyricist Mitchell Parish noticed a recently published book of that title by former University of Alabama professor Carl Carmer. When Parish’s words were set to music by his collaborator, composer Frank Perkins, the result was one of America’s great songs. Beginning with Guy Lombardo and continuing through Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Buffett, “Stars Fell on Alabama,” has been recorded more than 100 times. And the state has proudly and informally adopted the song and used the phrase even on license plates.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Stars Fell on Alabama Event

Carl Carmer took the title of his 1934 book, “Stars Fell on Alabama,” from, in his words, the “shower of stars over Alabama.” He was referring to the Leonid meteor storm of Nov. 12-13, 1833. Although visible across eastern North America, its most intense display was across Alabama. The editor of the Huntsville Democrat watched for hours in awe as “thousands, and even millions of these meteors, appeared in every direction.” Others prayed. All remembered. When Mrs. Virginia Rodes, died in 1904, the Tuscaloosa Times-Gazette noted that she was born “when the stars fell.”



Robert Loveman (1864-1923) was a poet and songwriter who was quite popular in his day. He composed a poem called “Rain Song,” often called “April Showers,” with the line, “It isn’t raining rain you know. It’s raining violets.” Loveman attended the University of Alabama, and while there, lived with his aunt, Linka Loveman Friedman, in the Battle-Friedman House in Tuscaloosa. The beautiful gardens of the house inspired his poem. His poem, in turn, inspired Al Jolson’s song, “April Showers.”



Samuel Minturn Peck (1854-1938), the first poet laureate of Alabama, was born in Tuscaloosa. In 1886, Peck’s first volume of poetry, “Cap and Bells,” was published to great success; the book went through five editions. The 86 poems in the volume demonstrate his technical facility in the genre of light verse. He published several more books of poetry before his death in Tuscaloosa in 1938.



The University Club at 421 Queen City Ave. is sometimes referred to as the “Governor’s Mansion” because one of the house’s many owners in the 1800s was Gov. Arthur P. Bagby, governor of Alabama from 1837-41 while the state capitol was in Tuscaloosa. The house was built in 1834 by Capt. James Dearing, who piloted the first steamboat from Mobile to Tuscaloosa. In 1944, the Warner family donated the house to the University of Alabama to be used as a social center for faculty and staff.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: British Royalty Visits T-Town

Lord Mountbatten, uncle of Prince Phillip, came to Tuscaloosa in 1972 at the invitation of Jack Warner, president of Gulf States Paper. The Admiral of the Fleet was an important and popular international figure, who first rose to prominence as a commander of a destroyer flotilla during the opening days of World War I. He was named Supreme Allied Commander of Southeast Asia during the Second World War. As the last viceroy of India, he oversaw that country’s transition to independence in 1947. Lord Mountbatten was aboard his fishing boat when he was assassinated by Irish terrorists in 1979.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Capitol Park goes up

During the Great Depression, the ruins of the burned statehouse were dispersed or massed into a low mound with grass on top. A charitable foundation came to own the property in 1988 and began extensive historical and archaeological research. A design committee, which included architectural historian Robert Mellown, drew up plans to create a ruin and, with materials returned by townspeople, began placing some of the columns and other stone fragments in their original locations. Capitol Park now adorns the city and is frequently used for weddings, plays and other occasions.



April 4, 1865, was Tuscaloosa’s blackest day. The morning began with the mayor and Catholic priest surrendering the city to the Union cavalrymen. Then a colonel and his men rode out to the University of Alabama, a campus deemed by many to be among the country’s most beautiful. After turning down a plea from Professor Andre DeLoffre, they destroyed the rotunda, housing the library, and most of the campus. They also blew up the magazine where the cadets’ gunpowder was stored. The resulting explosion was the loudest sound ever heard in the City of Oaks.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Political Cartoon Credited with Putting U.S. Grant in White House

Ryland Randolph, the Klansman and fiery publisher of Tuscaloosa’s Independent Monitor, finally went too far in the weeks leading up to the November 1868 presidential election. A political cartoon appeared in his newspaper showing two lynched Republicans hanging from an oak tree with the warning that this is what will happen when the Democrats entered the White House. Republican newspapers across the land reprinted the cartoon as an example of the Democrats’ real aims. Ohio Republicans credited the cartoon with swinging enough votes to Ulysses S. Grant to put him in the White House.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: The Notorious Ryland Randolph

Easily the most well-known Tuscaloosan of the post-Civil War years was Ryland Randolph. He was the leader of Tuscaloosa’s Ku Klux Klan and used his newspaper, the Independent Monitor, to viciously attack the Republican Party, which was composed of carpetbaggers (Northerners), scalawags (white Southerners) and the freed people (led by Shandy Jones). When the Klan murdered one of Tuscaloosa’s two representatives in the State House, Randolph ran and won the election. Curiously, Tuscaloosa was then represented in Montgomery by a black Republican (Jones) and a Klansman (Randolph).


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Tuscaloosans Embraced Moral Reform

Nineteenth-century Americans believed that society’s ills should be cured by reforming behavior. The great reforms were temperance and abolition. Reformers also tackled mental health, education, Christian missions and a host of other issues. The South has been dismissed as a place where moral reform was not found. But when John W. Quist looked carefully, he found that antebellum Tuscaloosans campaigned just as enthusiastically for reform as in similar towns in the North. The exception was abolition, although even abolitionists were to be found in the City of Oaks.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Tuscaloosa Figures into Old Southwest Humor

Old Southwest Humor, those rollicking side-splitters that culminated in the writings of Mark Twain, came out of the pre-Civil War frontier states and territories stretching from Alabama to east Texas. The humorist John Gorman Barr set most of his tales in Tuscaloosa, which were published in the leading national magazines and journals of the day. Barr also named his friends and used them in the stories. Barr’s writings are collected in “Rowdy Tales from Early Alabama,” published by the University of Alabama Press.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: William Nichols, Architect

Tuscaloosa needed grand structures, particularly a statehouse, after the town became the new state capital in 1825. So they hired the South’s finest architect, the English-born William Nichols. He immediately set to work, and the result was a masterpiece, a domed structure of brick and stone. Its beauty cannot be imagined just by looking at the foundation ruins in Capitol Park. If you want to see the statehouse that Nichols designed for Alabama, go to Jackson and imagine a smaller version of what later he did for Mississippi.

TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Bluecoats enter a quiet Tuscaloosa

Perhaps relying on Unionist sympathizers, Croxton’s cavalrymen reached Northport about 11 p.m. on April 3, 1865. They found 14 men taking up the bridge’s floor planks to prevent anyone’s advancing into Tuscaloosa. After a brief firefight, the invaders quickly replaced the planks and entered a very dark town. The only lights and sounds came from the Jemison Mansion, where a wedding had just ended. The Yankees burst in and went straight for the wedding cake before taking the groom, Capt. James Carpenter, prisoner and sending him back to Gen. Croxton’s headquarters.


Maude L. Whatley (1892-1989) was the first black woman educator with a bachelor’s degree in Tuscaloosa’s school system. She spent more than 50 years as an employee of the Tuscaloosa Board of Education as a teacher and later as principal of Central School. Whatley served in many other areas of the community. Particularly interested in the health needs of the medically underserved community, Whatley helped establish Maude L. Whatley Health Center in 1981 in west Tuscaloosa.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: British air cadets enjoy Tuscaloosa

Some of the more than 1,200 British and Commonwealth air cadets published “Fins and Flippers” while learning to fly in Tuscaloosa. “Tuscaloosans opened their homes to us,” wrote a Canadian, arranging dances, inviting us to church, and then serving Sunday dinners with “that most delectable of all dishes — Fried Chicken.” Another cadet wondered whether he had come to meet new girls or to “discover the real meaning of scrambled eggs.” But all was not fun. Many kept track of the Tuscaloosa cadets later shot down by the Germans.



The American Mirror was the first newspaper published in Tuscaloosa and a young girl, Miss Eliza Davenport was its first editor. Thomas M. Davenport started the paper with all the work done by him and two daughters. Miss Eliza, the editor, was described as “pretty, bright and saucy and if her racy pen was not able to outdo the caustic repartee of her tireless tongue, then nothing else on earth could.” (The Tuscaloosa Times, Oct. 28, 1896).


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Firefighting in the early days

Firefighting in the early days required every able-bodied man to pitch in when the alarm bell was sounded. The men had to drag the engine to the scene of the fire. Pressure was obtained by means of a large pump operated by hand; it took six to 10 men on each side to operate the pump. Water was sucked out of cisterns installed under Broad Street (now University Boulevard) and the pump could throw a stream of water as high as the roof of a two-story building. Away from the cisterns, the pump was of little use as it could pump out only a tankful provided by the bucket brigade.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: The City of Oaks and the Druid City

Thomas Maxwell arrived in Tuscaloosa in 1837 and soon purchased his first house. He replaced the chinaberry trees in the yard with some small oaks and then planted more oaks in the middle of his street. The idea caught on, and soon nearly all Tuscaloosa’s streets were lined with oaks. People started to call Tuscaloosa the City of Oaks. Then someone remembered that the ancient Celtic religious leaders in England, the Druids, believed the great oaks to be sacred. And that led to Tuscaloosa’s other nickname, the Druid City.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: The Capitol comes down

On Aug. 22, 1923, fire destroyed Tuscaloosa’s most enduring structure, the elegant statehouse designed and built by William Nichols. Not long after the government left, it became the home of the Alabama Central Female College. The painters who had been renovating the building blamed faulty wiring. No matter, all that was left after the fire were a few blackened walls, broken columns and mountains of debris. Tuscaloosans went about using what they could to build homes and decorate gardens, spreading the pieces far and wide.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Habitat for Humanity

Millard Fuller, a University of Alabama law school alumnus, had become a millionaire by the age of 29. But his marriage and health were declining. He and his wife, Tuscaloosa native Linda, sold their possessions, gave the money to the poor, and started over. With skills and experiences they gathered at a Christian community and in Africa, they started Habitat for Humanity in 1976. Volunteers supply the labor, needy families pay for materials, and the result is simple but good homes. More than 13 million people have benefited worldwide. Since the 2011 tornado, Tuscaloosa Habitat has completed more than 70 homes.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Living in three centuries

The West Alabama Breeze noted that Mrs. Alma Reed lived from 1796 to 1902 and Mrs. Julia Phillips from 1799 to 1905, both dying at age 106. In 1901, The Tuskaloosa Gazette observed the passing of Lilah Owen, said to be 115 years old, who had reportedly been brought to Tuscaloosa by Dr. John Owen in 1818. Each of these three women lived in three different centuries, beginning their lives while Napoleon was leading his armies across Europe and departing after the first automobile was seen on Tuscaloosa streets.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Wallace-Burns wedding

Lurleen Burns married George C. Wallace in a judge’s office in the Alston Building at the southeast corner of Greensboro Avenue and Sixth Street on May 22, 1943, when she was only 16 years old. George Wallace became Alabama’s 45th governor and Lurleen Burns Wallace succeeded him as Alabama’s first woman governor for 16 months until she died of cancer in 1968.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Today’s Tuscaloosa News stretches back over 180 years

In 1837, after 10 or 12 newspapers had already come and mostly gone, the Independent Monitor printed its first issue. It was a Whig newspaper opposed to Andrew Jackson and his Democrats. The Monitor merged with the Observer in 1872 to form the Tuscaloosa Times. Three years after that, the rival Tuskaloosa Gazette began to promote the New South vision of industrial development. The two papers merged to form the Times-Gazette after 1900 and in 1908 became the Tuscaloosa News, the direct descendant from Tuscaloosa’s years as the state capital.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Tuscaloosa deemed a legitimate military target

Although the Civil War was essentially over, Union Gen. James Wilson started south toward central Alabama. He led the majority of his more than 13,000 cavalrymen through Jefferson County, destroying iron furnaces as they prepared to attack the huge industrial complex at Selma. He also ordered Brigadier Gen. John Croxton and his 1,500 cavalrymen to Tuscaloosa, where they were “to destroy the bridge, factories, mills, university (military school), and whatever else may be of benefit to the rebel cause.” President Garland had predicted as much back in 1863, when Union troops were systematically destroying the South’s military schools.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Removal of government a crisis for Tuscaloosa

Tuscaloosa was dependent upon its role as the state capital. So perhaps a third of Tuscaloosa’s 4,500 residents began pulling up stakes nearly two years before Montgomery officially became the new capital in November 1847. Those who stayed complained that the streets were as silent as tombs and estimated that real estate prices had dropped from 50 to 75 percent. Visitors to the City of Oaks always commented on its beauty before noting the “gloomy appearance” of all the “dusty streets, the old, worn out, and dilapidated houses and fences.”


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: State capital moved from Tuscaloosa to Montgomery

Forcing the Creeks out of their ancestral lands in east Alabama opened the doors for settlers and shifted the balance of the population eastward. Meanwhile, the increasingly profitable cotton economy gave the Black Belt more political heft. With the votes, wealth and promise of a new North-South railroad, a majority of the legislators agreed in early 1846 to move the capital to Montgomery — but only after a new statehouse had been completed. When that was done, in November 1847, Tuscaloosa ceased to be the state’s capital.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Francis Scott Key comes to Tuscaloosa

Not waiting for the Creeks to leave, Alabamians in 1832 poured into the lands that the Creeks had agreed to cede in East Alabama for new land in what is now Oklahoma, taking the lands through deception, intimidation and downright theft. The Legislature sanctioned the chicanery by dividing the Creek land into eight counties. To settle the matter, President Andrew Jackson sent Francis Scott Key, author of the “Star Spangled Banner,” to the state capital. Key charmed Tuscaloosans, but he had no effect on either the governor or the legislators. Alabamians got what they wanted, and the Creeks left.



The village across the river from Tuscaloosa was originally named Kentuck. No one knows why. But David Crockett, who had been in Alabama during the Creek War of 1813, named his Tennessee homestead “Kentuck.” During the 1830s Kentuck was known as a “gambling hell.” Other than a few houses, it consisted only of a cotton warehouse, cash store and perhaps a few other rough buildings. But, by the 1850s, the village now known as Northport was described as being a third the size of Tuscaloosa and so “shockingly improved” that it supported three churches.



Emma Henderson (1925-2014) was a pioneer in education in Alabama. She opened Tuscaloosa Day Care in McKenzie Court. The day care was moved to Stillman College, where it became the first licensed day care/pre-kindergarten program in Tuscaloosa and the second oldest in the state. At the program’s peak in the 1970s, Henderson had 103 students and 30 faculty members. Over the 50 years the program was open, Henderson taught more than 5,000 students.



A giant B-24 Liberator was christened “The Tuscaloosan” in October 1943 from submissions by schools, home demonstration clubs, civic clubs and other organizations and individuals. The honor of choosing the name was given after a war-bond drive raised more than $2 million. Why the name “The Tuscaloosan”? “Because we all love Tuscaloosa and wanted the first bomber to bear her name.” Tuscaloosa County would pay for three subsequent war bond bombers, all B-17s: “Black Warrior,” “Chief Tuskaloosa” and “Alabama’s Northport.”


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Mob attacks Jack Palance

On July 8, 1964, a month and a day after Bloody Tuesday, the actor Jack Palance and his family were watching a movie in the Druid Theater. Several hundred rowdy white men gathered outside. Sources differ, but some claim that they thought the heavily tanned Palance to be a black man with a white woman. Police were called into to suppress the resulting riot. Palance and his family were issued helmets and escorted to their then-heavily vandalized rental car. A curfew was imposed, and once again Buford Boone published another front-page editorial decrying mob rule.



The end of formal segregation in Tuscaloosa was a long process of escalating tensions. The pivotal moment began with a nonviolent protest campaign launched by the Rev. T.Y. Rogers, a protege of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. They objected to racially discriminatory signs in the new courthouse, contrary to promises that no signs would go up. On June 9, 1964, known as Bloody Tuesday, tear gas was fired into First African Baptist Church, where the police had forcibly pushed the marchers. The New York Times reported 94 arrests in its front-page article.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Tuscaloosa a Unionist Town

The traditional and unquestioned assumption has been that white Southerners, especially outside the mountainous regions, were unanimous in supporting secession and the creation of the Confederate States of America. Nothing could be further from the truth. Twenty years of detailed research by Tuscaloosa’s own Christopher Lyle McIlwain, as found in his important book “Civil War Alabama,” demonstrates that the state was bitterly divided and remained so throughout the war. This includes Tuscaloosa, which sent the two leading anti-secessionists to the convention that in 1860 took the state out of the Union.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: What a price for peace

The violence and exclusion of Autherine Lucy, the University of Alabama’s first black student, in 1956 had long-reaching effects. The Tuscaloosa News would win its first Pulitzer Prize for the Buford Boone editorial “What a Price for Peace.” Lucy and her attorneys, including future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, unsuccessfully sued the trustees, claiming conspiracy. For that she would be expelled. Lucy spoke on the Voice of America after Communist countries used her for propaganda. She would eventually return to UA to earn her master’s degree and send her daughters to the university.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Autherine Lucy breaks the race barrier

The Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision overturned an earlier “separate but equal” ruling that had permitted racial segregation. On Feb. 3, 1956, Autherine Lucy first arrived on the University of Alabama campus to study librarianship. Mobs continued to grow and become more violent over the next three days. On Feb. 6, Lucy was besieged trying to attend classes and escaped personal injury only after some university officials used a distraction to spirit her away. That evening the trustees excluded her, citing the danger to her personal safety.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Dinah Washington, Queen of the Blues

Ruth Lee Jones was born in Tuscaloosa in 1924, but the world knew her as Dinah Washington, the “Queen of the Blues.” Between 1948 and 1955, she recorded 27 top 10 hits on the rhythm and blues charts, and two of those reached No. 1. Her first top 10 hit on the pop charts came in 1959 with “What a Difference a Day Makes.” She was 39 when she died in 1963. Dinah Washington was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. Tuscaloosa’s cultural arts center is named for her.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: From Tuscaloosa to deepest Africa and back again

William Sheppard graduated from the Tuscaloosa Theological Institute (later to become Stillman College) and in 1890 set out as a missionary to Africa. His work was grueling, but rewarding. The world condemned the Belgian king after Sheppard exposed the atrocities that Belgians committed in their colony. Sheppard returned to the U.S. in 1910 bringing back one of the world’s great collections of African folk art. Stillman College named its library in Sheppard’s honor in 1959.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Origins of Stillman College

Tuscaloosa Theological Institute began about 1876 upon the initiative of the Rev. Charles Stillman, pastor of Tuscaloosa’s Presbyterian Church. The institute met downtown in rented houses until 1881, when a building was purchased on what is now 21st Avenue. Stillman served as its director until his resignation in 1893. Two years later the name was changed to Stillman Institute and an academic department initiated. The institute moved in 1898 to the Cochrane House and 20 acres of land west of the city. The institute became Stillman College in 1949.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: The Extraordinary Shandy Jones and KKK threats

The Ku Klux Klan targeted Shandy Jones after he became the leader of Tuscaloosa’s freed people and entered politics. The Klan leader, Ryland Randolph, printed vile cartoons of Jones in the newspaper that he edited. Jones felt his life threatened enough to move to Mobile, where he worked in the U.S. Customs house and pastored Little Zion AME Zion church. Jones died in 1886, and the site of his unmarked grave was lost. It was discovered recently in Mobile’s Magnolia Cemetery, however, and a memorial service was held and a new marker installed.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: The Extraordinary Shandy Jones, innovator

The leader of Tuscaloosa’s newly freed people was Shandy Jones. He came to Tuscaloosa during its capital days as a barber and became wealthy investing in real estate. He was also Alabama’s leading advocate of colonization, or black removal to Liberia in western Africa. With the end of the Civil War, Jones was instrumental in establishing Tuscaloosa’s first black school and black church, today’s Hunter Chapel AME Zion. He was also elected as a representative to Montgomery from Tuscaloosa to become a member of Alabama’s first class of black legislators.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Basil Manly, minister, UA president and secessionist

At the center of many issues in the mid-1800s was the Rev. Basil Manly. He left the pastorate of the Charleston, South Carolina, Baptist Church in 1837 to become president of the University of Alabama. While he was president, Manly, himself a slaveholder, successfully led Southern Baptists in forming their own separate convention pledged to support slavery. He served as chaplain for Alabama’s secession convention in January 1861 and for the provisional Confederate Congress a few months later. A diehard Southerner, Manly gave the prayer at the inauguration of Jefferson Davis as the Confederate president.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Abolitionists in Tuscaloosa

Even among Tuscaloosans, abolition had its champions. In 1824, one local newspaper advertised subscriptions to a Quaker abolition newspaper. The Alabama Colonization Society, dedicated to removing African-Americans to west Africa, was organized here in 1830. Professor Henry Tutwiler wrote to James G. Birney in 1832 that “almost all of the moral and political evil in our Country may be traced” to slavery. Birney was a University of Alabama trustee who became a leading abolitionist, running as the Liberty Party presidential candidate in 1840 and 1844. Their voices were silenced as the country approached the Civil War.



The building program, initiated when Tuscaloosa became the state’s capital in 1825, brought all sorts of skilled artisans. Quite a number of them were free blacks, i.e., black Americans living in slave states. The most successful Tuscaloosan was the plasterer Solomon Perteet, who became a very wealthy man by dealing in real estate. Other free blacks included the barber James Abbott and the teamster Ned Berry. These extraordinary people lived in a precarious state, always fearing that their freedom would be removed at the whim of the Legislature. 


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Tuscaloosa on the maps for nearly 500 years

After Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto pillaged across Alabama in 1540, mapmakers quickly turned to re-creating his route. Chief Tuscaloosa’s town was placed prominently on their maps, although the town was no more after his people succumbed to European diseases unknowingly introduced. The name Tuscaloosa stayed on the maps nonetheless, shifting about until finally staying put where it is today — long before settlers arrived. In April 1991 a bead from de Soto’s expedition was found in the Black Warrior basin near Tuscaloosa. But because beads were used for trade, whether the expedition went through here remains uncertain.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: Tuscaloosa indeed a warrior

The Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto and his force of well over 600 men had been wandering about the Southeast looking for gold, brutally forcing into submission the Indians they found. In October 1540, the Spaniards finally reached the town of Chief Tuscaloosa, somewhere in central Alabama. When they seized the chief, his men launched a surprise counterattack that nearly succeeded, but at a massive cost. De Soto survived but would later die near the Mississippi River. Perhaps half of his massive expedition finally reached Mexico City in 1543, four years after their expedition began.


TUSCALOOSA 200 MOMENT IN HISTORY: A little confusion can’t stop incorporation

Older than the State: The year was 1819, and on Dec. 13 of that year, the Alabama Legislature decided to incorporate a frontier village along the Black Warrior. Everything was confusing. For one thing, the new town was spelled Tuscaloosa, at other times Tuskaloosa, and at still other times both ways in the same document. Then it turned out that the Legislature, which called itself the “State of Alabama” when it incorporated Tuscaloosa, was in fact still a territory. Alabama would not become a state until Dec. 14, the day after Tuscaloosa’s incorporation.

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