Echoes From The Mine…

Artifacts and Remnants from the city’s mining history

by Meg McKinney

It’s everywhere like kudzu. We  pass it by, and ignore it. We treat it with both respect and irreverence. We appreciate the efforts of others to preserve it, but only pay attention to it when it’s convenient to our busy schedules.
“It” is our history of Birmingham’s mines, foundries,  railroads,  rural communities, cities, towns, and the companies that supported and depended on them for survival. The thousands of people who made our history move forward – miners, engineers, steel workers, commerce owners, and more — were often uncelebrated.
When my  Birmingham  friends described their youthful adventures exploring this history, I decided to visit these mysterious sounding places. I put hundreds of miles on my car without leaving Jefferson County.
I was fascinated by what I found and attempted to capture it with my camera.

Meg McKinney, exploring history with camera.

exterior of former Harbert building, miners houses: Among a quadrant of buildings in English Village – two miner’s homes, a 400-square foot office building, a four-apartment building – history lives on. The small, square building is the original office for the Harbert Company. The four buildings are owned by Margie Ingram.

Beginning in the 1890’s, miners from eastern Europe came to Brookside for employment in the coal mines. One tombstone tells the highlights of a miner’s life, but no name given, just “Father.”

Hot jazz comes from Q-BOP, lead by Rich Davison, saxophone. Named for a modern iron furnace (Quell Basic Oxygen Process), Davison says “I grew up hearing about the Q-BOP from friends’ fathers and neighbors who worked at U. S. Steel.” A Q-BOP represents the newest technology, efficiently burning impurities out of the molten ore.

By naming their group Q-BOP – Davison; Jeff Drew, bass; Anthony Williams, keyboard; John Nuckols, drums – they keep the connection between Birmingham’s steel history and modern times. Here, they are playing contemporary jazz numbers at the B. O. S. S. Ultra Lounge, Birmingham.

Using a flashlight to illuminate the interior, the front doors and windows of the Southern Railroad’s roundhouse in Birmingham, remain untouched by weather because a warehouse was attached to the front section.

The front porch of The Commissary exhibits art as a new piece is put into place. The company store was built in the early 1900’s and sold goods only to miners and their families. Located on Overton Road, the store is home to artists’ and designers’ wares.

Built in the early 1900’s, The Commissary functioned as a company store for miners and their families. With much restoration work completed, designers and artists currently sell antiques, art, hand-made decorative items, and more, in the large building, located on Overton Road.

Irondale’s history of railroad engines passing through the town is depicted in a mural of a steam-powered locomotive engine, while a modern locomotive makes it way past the city one Friday afternoon.

Irondale’s viewing platform and a railroad engine keep company.

A traffic barricade with a light to stop traffic, blinks as a freight cars rumble by. Irondale, home to the Norris Yard, a large service rail yard, has been an integral part of the area’s railroad history since the 1800’s.

Signal lights blink as rail cars pass by, in Irondale. The city has had an active railroad yard since the 1800’s.

Eric McFerrin, Park Ranger for Red Mountain Park, has collected and archived historical information, trudged through underbrush, and interviewed retired miners and engineers. McFerrin’s work is extensive, and springs from an enthusiastic dedication to document industrial history. His photography is on view at

Surrounded by tools and artifacts, Robert Mitchell, owner of the former commissary building, or company store, in Bayview, discusses his interest in mines and railroads. Mitchell’s refrigeration and heating company is located in the building, built 1912, and a copy of the blue prints are framed at right.

A well-used miner’s hat and safety lantern sit on top of a file cabinet in Robert Mitchell’s office.

A vintage “Danger” sign warns of the dangers of electrical shock.

A worn miner’s hat, safety lanterns and lights are among the many items Robert Mitchell has collected.

3 Responses to “Echoes From The Mine…”

  1. James says:

    What a great article Meg and what beautiful photographs. You have a great eye.

  2. Carl Skees says:

    There is so much excellent history in the state. I moved to Calera four years ago and have read more and more of the history. My interest was mainly in short line railways, but as I researched online I found so much it was amazing. Great work!

  3. Jack says:

    I loved this piece, Meg. Glad you included the photo of the Roundhouse. My maternal grandfather worked many years for Southern Rail.

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