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masthead edition


Oct. 10, 2013

"Blach’s, The Family, The Store, Their Story"

A new book on one of Birmingham’s great mercantile families

by: Jim Bennett


January 9, 2014
Terri L. Hicks

UAB History Department Topic to be announced


Mountain Brook Library

Reception at 6:30 p.m.

Meeting at 7:00 p.m.



To Preserve and
Jefferson County

Meeting Notice:

October 10, 2013

Mt. Brook Library

Reception at 6:30 p.m.

Meeting at 7:00 p.m.

Reception Fare: Party Sandwiches, Cookies, Chips and Soft Drinks.

Blach's Ad 1946

Blach's Ad 1946

Harold B. Blach, Jr.

Harold B. Blach, Jr.

Jim Bennett

Jim Bennett

Blach’s Department Store

"A Century of Retailing"


lach’s Department Store, a favorite for many Birmingham residents for over a century, will be the topic of the October 10th meeting at the Mt. Brook Library featuring its last president, Harold Blach, Jr.

Also present will be Jim Bennett, author of a just-published history on the Birmingham retail establishment, a favorite for men’s suits and women’s shoes, which had several downtown locations over the years, The best known location was at the corner of Third Avenue and 20th Street.

Blach's Department Store

Blach’s Department Store

Blach’s moved to Birmingham in 1885 when its founder, Julius Blach, felt the time was right to take part in Birmingham’s boom years. The store began in Vevay, Indiana in 1855. His first store in Birmingham was on First Avenue, North. The store moved to the corner of Third Avenue and 19th Street in 1905, current site of the Kress Building. It moved again in 1935 to Third and 20th Street in the remodeled Bencor Hotel which had closed during the Depression.

Mr. Blach will make copies of the new book, "Blach’s, the Store, the Family, Their Story" available to anyone who makes a contribution of $10 or more to the Birmingham History Center.

Members of the Blach family will also be present as well as invited guests.

Since so many local residents fondly remember shopping at Blach’s and its suburban stores in Mt. Brook, Brookwood and Eastwood Mall, this would be a great time to bring a guest.

Blach’s Department Store closed in 1988.


119 years ago

October 2, 1894

The first classes for the Birmingham Medical College were held on October 2, 1894 in the former Lunsford Hotel at 209‑21st Street North. William H. Johnston was the first dean and the course of lectures required three six-month terms of study over three years.

The medical school was organized under a state charter dated June 9, 1894 and operated in Birmingham until 1915.

The school also operated a free medical dispensary for the treatment of the "indigent poor", including a small surgical theater for clinical instruction. Additional clinical instruction was carried out at Hillman Hospital, Pratt Hospital, the Jefferson County Hospital and Alms House, and the Davis Infirmary.

The college was subsequently placed under an independent board of trustees and, on September 12 of that year it transferred the school’s land, buildings and equipment to the University of Alabama, which continued to operate the college until all of its enrollees graduated. The last class received their diplomas on May 27, 1915.

Formerly operating in Mobile and later Tuscaloosa, Gov. Chauncey Sparks moved the four-year Medical College of Alabama to Birmingham with the passage of the Jones Bill (Alabama Act 89) in 1943. These were predecessor colleges for the University of Alabama School of Medicine.

Birmingham Medical College, 1912

Birmingham Medical College, 1912.


Message from the President

Tom Carruthers

Tom Carruthers


n Thursday evening, October 10, our members will be able to hear the story of Blach’s, one of Birmingham’s most famous and successful department stores. Our presenters are Harold Blach, the head of this extraordinary family, and our own Jim Bennett, presently your Secretary of State and editor of this newsletter. They have collaborated in writing a history of the business, and will have on hand for those who are interested, copies of this history, available for a donation of at least $10 to the Birmingham History Center. Bring your checkbooks.

You all know that we are on a new member binge. The Blach meeting will be an ideal time for you to bring to the meeting people who ought to be but are not members of JCHA. Please try to do so. We will stay with this drive for a while, at least until we add significantly to our rolls.

The day after the Blach meeting, on October 11, several of us from JCHA and several from the Birmingham History Museum are planning to visit the Atlanta History Center, to see its exhibits and layout, and to learn what we can from its experience. Some of you know its director, Sheffield Hale, whose parents were friends of many of our two groups. We will plan to make a report that should be useful as the Birmingham History Museum moves into its next phase at a new site.

See you on October 10th.

— Tom Carruthers,  JCHA President


The Jefferson County Historical Association


This newsletter is published quarterly by and for the benefit of the membership
of the Jefferson County Historical Association.

Copyright © 2013 by JCHA. All rights reserved.

Visit us on line and view back issues at   www.jeffcohistory.com

Jim Bennett, Editor

Editorial Board

Tom Badham
Judy Haise
Dr. Ed Stevenson

Please send letters and notices to the editor via Email:

or mail to:
112 Meadow Croft Circle, Birmingham, AL 35242


Bomb Explodes In Sunday Show

—by: Jim Bennett


front page story in The Birmingham News on Christmas Day, 1932 began: "Violence added heavily to hospital lists over the holiday period with nine persons reported suffering from gun shots wounds, two persons stabbed and two persons slugged."

But the real story of the day was a bomb planted in the Alabama Theatre which went off during the evening showing of "A Farewell to Arms" starring Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes.

It threw a large holiday movie audience into an uproar, caused three women to faint and filled the house with smoke.

No one was injured and as ushers asked everyone to stay seated, the movie resumed.

While no one took responsibility, The Birmingham News said editorially union activity was suspicious in the explosion and another blast that had occurred in the same theatre on October 15 when four persons were slightly injured. Members of the Stage Hands Union in October refused the theatre’s demands regarding working hours which was followed by another walkout by union projection booth operators.

The Alabama Theatre

The Alabama Theatre as it appeared in 1927
(Birmingham Public Library).

Birmingham Police said they had been unable to find any clues which might lead to the identity of the persons who placed the bomb in the crowded theatre. Ironically, it went off near the climax of the feature picture at 7:14 p.m. immediately following a war scene where big guns and shells were heard.

R.H. Hawkins, acting chief of police, said that a special detail of detectives had been assigned to work the case and that the department would do all within its power to find the culprits.

"The rights of the public must be protected," he told The Birmingham Post. "We intend to keep on this case until it is cleared up. Bombing theatres is a penitentiary offense and we are going to do all in our power to see that the bombers get what is coming to them."

It is not known if any arrests were ever made.

Charles Childress from Cullman, who was in Birmingham visiting relatives, was sitting in the theatre seat under which the bomb, made of sulfur and phosphorous, went off with a loud bang. He said he was temporarily blinded by the explosion but made his way out of the theater following others who evacuated the premises.

Rolin Stonebrook, the theatre manager, said employees would keep close watch on future patrons who might cause trouble.

The Christmas Day bombing came almost to the day of the theatre’s fifth anniversary. An opening preview for invited guests was held on Christmas Day, 1927, while the first feature, The Spotlight, starring Esther Rawlson and Neil Hamilton, was screened on December 26.

Stonebrook had let one of two stage hands go a few months earlier saying one man could operate the equipment instead of two. The union, however, protested.

"It’s inhuman to ask one man to work from 8:45 a.m. to 11 p.m.," said Ed Lother, the union’s business agent. "We agreed to a $7.50 per week reduction in wages for each of the two stage hands but we won’t allow one man to do the work of two at practically the same salary he was earning before."

Retorted Stonebrook, "one man can do this work (and) and we don’t require his presence in the theater the entire time the theater is open." The Alabama’s manager said other theaters across the South were adopting the same policy.

Fifteen theatres in the southeast, formerly operated by the Publix Theatres chain including the Alabama, were acquired in September, 1932 by a company which placed show places in 37 cities including Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia and North and South Carolina, under a new management team.

Built in 1927 by Paramount’s Publix Theatre chain as its flagship theater for the southeastern region of the United States, The Alabama seated 2,500 people and was the largest in Birmingham eclipsing the year-old Ritz Theatre, which sat 2,000. The Alabama was constructed to show silent films and housed the "Mighty Wurlitzer" theatre organ for accompaniment.

In 1934, Loveman’s Department Store next door burned to the ground. Thanks to a thick firewall on that side of the Alabama, the theater was unharmed aside from some smoke damage around air vents in the auditorium.

The theatre, now on the National Register of Historic Places, was the first public building in Alabama to have air conditioning.

Mary Ball Candies ad

Birmingham News, 11/1946


The General and the Judge Meet at Arlington, 1865

—by Carolyn Satterfield

Judge William S. Mudd

Judge William S. Mudd

Gen. James H. Wilson

Gen. James H. Wilson



ack in the 1840s, Elyton, Alabama was the county seat of Jefferson County and on the Tuscaloosa Road that ran to the capitol of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. Birmingham’s founding was three decades away. Arriving in Elyton was William Swearingen Mudd, Kentucky born and educated at Elyton Academy and at St. Joseph’s Catholic College in Bardstown, Kentucky. Having passed the bar examination, he opened his law office in Elyton in 1839 when he was 23.

Mudd soon met pretty Florence Earle, daughter of Harriet and Dr. Samuel Earle, who was of the first families of Virginia Earles. While Mudd’s law practice boomed, so did his courtship with Florence. They were married on December 22, 1841, with Mudd promising her a fine home as her wedding present.

True to his word, Mudd bought hilltop acreage across from the courthouse at auction for $600. He built a fine two-story, eight-room white frame house in the Greek Revival style. The outside was adorned with six square columns, green shuttered windows with hand-blown glass panes, and a small balcony on the second floor.

To feed his growing family of eight children, Mudd was a successful farmer with food crops, cows, pigs, chickens, and fruit trees. He also owned a coal yard and was a partner in a small Elyton merchandizing concern. But his destined field seemed to be politics. In 1842, a year after his marriage and while building his home, he was elected state legislator. Even though a Whig from a Jackson Democrat backwoods area, he served until 1851. He became a Constitutional Unionist, favoring the Compromise of 1850 and opposing secession. Soon he was chosen a circuit court judge and remained on the bench for 28 years, which was through the turbulent times of civil war and reconstruction. Too old to serve in the war, he spent the war years traveling his circuit presiding over trials.

But the Civil War came to his doorstep. In March 1865, Union General James Harrison Wilson invaded northern Alabama with 13,480 cavalrymen. Since the rural South had turned to coal mining and blast furnaces to supply Confederate needs, the manufacturing works in Selma were one of the focal points of the Union raiders. And Elyton was on the way to Selma.

While Wilson’s men stole food, sacked and burned homes in Elyton, Judge Mudd sat across the table in his parlor with General Wilson, who made Mudd’s home his headquarters. The Judge and the General met at the fine Arlington home. Gathered upstairs and seeing smoke from neighbors’ homes were Florence Mudd and her children. The oldest Mudd daughter was Harriet, named for her grandmother. In 1860 she had married Alburto Martin, who was one of the first in Elyton to volunteer. He raised a company, became the captain, and marched off to war at the head of his troops. Martin was severely wounded at the Second Battle of Manassas, Virginia, which ended his military career and almost his life.

What was said between the Judge and the General in that tense atmosphere of aggression and survival? Why was antebellum Arlington saved from the flames? Maybe the fact that both men were Masons was enough to recall the brotherhood existing between them. Or did the Judge have valuable information to trade?

In order to execute his next orders to destroy Selma, the General needed knowledge of Confederate strength in Tuscaloosa. Since Mudd had recently returned from Tuscaloosa, he knew that only militia and university cadets protected the town. Wilson sent only one brigade under General John Croxton to destroy the University, and his other forces headed to Selma pursuing the elusive Lt. General Nathan Bedford Forrest. The war ended twelve days later.

So, Arlington survived the Union raiders and Reconstruction. In 1867 Mudd’s wife died in the same parlor where the Judge and General had met. The next year, young Florence married Dr. Mortimer Harvie Jordan of Elyton. Jordan was captain of the 43rd Alabama Regiment during the surrender at Appomattox and began walking home from Virginia afterwards. He became the beloved pioneer doctor doing much to save Birmingham during the cholera epidemic. Daughter Virginia, the last Mudd daughter to wed at Arlington, married William Augustus Walker in 1870. Walker, a University of Alabama cadet, had joined the Seventh Alabama Cavalry, was captured, and retained in a federal prison. After the war, Walker studied law and was elected a solicitor.

Sources: Leah Rawls Atkins, "William Swearingen Mudd," and Carolyn Green Satterfield, "Stephen & Samuel W. Hall," Arlington: Birmingham’s Historic House, ed. by Carolyn Green Satterfield.

Christmas at Arlington

This December 6, 2013, Christmas at Arlington salutes the Mudd families. After the Hanging of the Green by Mayor Bell and Jane Ellis, President of the Arlington Historical Association, guests will enter the house and meet Mudd Ghosts of Christmas past. The rooms will reflect decorators’ interpretations of 19th century Christmases. A reception follows. $20 tickets are available at the door and there is valet service, so come join us. For questions, contact:
Kirke Cater [205‑879‑0840] or
Carolyn Satterfield [205‑879‑2840].



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