Birmingham Texas By
W. T. Block
First Iron Smelting Attempt In Texas Ended In Ashes
most Southeast Texans know very little about Texas' earliest attempts at iron-smelting,
most of which was at a place in Cherokee
County, appropriately named New
Birmingham. Actually iron-smelting in Texas goes back to 1846 at Alley's Mill,
but the furnace in use there was quite minute compared to the Tassie Bell or Star
and Crescent furnaces at New
Birmingham, which produced 100 tons daily of pig iron. |
of the metal was the iron oxide or red ocher (hematite) beds that blanketed much
of the "Redlands," which is a very low grade ore. Since there were no adjacent
coal mines, huge quantities of the neighboring forests had to be reduced to charcoal
to heat the furnaces.
Birmingham owed its origin to A. B. Blevins, a Birmingham, Ala., sewing machine
salesman, who first studied the red ocher outcroppings and enticed Eastern bankers
to invest in iron production there. In 1888 the Cherokee Land and Iron Co. built
the Star and Crescent furnace, followed quickly by the Tassie Bell furnace, owned
by the New Birmingham Iron Co. Both furnaces required huge amounts of charcoal,
much of which was made by the state penal camps along the Texas
State Railroad to Palestine.
By 1890 New Birmingham seemed destined to become the leading city of
and large expenditures of money were observed everywhere in the city. The entire
business district consisted of brick buildings. With a population of 1,500 people,
it quickly acquired 300 new homes, depots of both the Cottonbelt and Palestine
railroads, an electric light system, a pipe foundry, churches and schools, a bottling
works, the Berkshire Sash and Door Co., a bank, the New Birmingham Plow Works,
two sawmills, and a newspaper named the New Birmingham Times.
Its most palatial building was the 75-room, three-story Southern Hotel, which
boasted of its society balls and hot and cold running water. Its surviving register
still bears the names of presidents Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison, who
perhaps campaigned there, and also that of Texas governors.
the New Birmingham experiment would have failed anyway because of the low-grade
ore and lack of coal mines. However the underlying causes of failure were the
financial panic of 1893 and the Texas Alien Land Law, which prevented foreign
investment there. The immediate cause was the explosion, which wrecked the Tassie
Bell furnace and the owner's refusal to rebuild it.
Old-timers of that
era, however, maintained it was the "red-haired woman's curse"-that "no stick
or stone will be left standing"-that destroyed the city.
In 1892 former
Confederate Gen. W. H. Hammon and his beautiful wife were the socialite leaders
of the town and resided at the Southern Hotel. Soon a young newly wed husband
and his gorgeous raven-haired bride came to town, and quite a rivalry developed
between the two beautiful women. Afterward Gen. Hammon was murdered, and when
the newly-wed husband was charged with the offense, his red-haired bride supposedly
ran through the business district, screaming her "curse."
After the town
disappeared, only the dilapidated Southern Hotel still stood until 1926, when
it too burned down, destroying the last "stick" that was still standing. And true
to the "curse," New
Birmingham's location has returned to the forest that spawned it, and hardly
a "stick or a stone" of the old townsite remains standing today.
W. T. Block, Jr. |
July 30, 2006 column
Reprinted from Beaumont ENTERPRISE, November 3, 2004,