Norwood: The Placid Place

In 1910, the Birmingham Realty Company began the development of the Norwood neighborhood. It is named for Sidney Norwood, a close friend of the company’s president, Leslie Fullenwider. Sidney L. Norwood, a native of North Carolina, came to Birmingham in 1887 and founded the American Grain Company that same year. He served as mayor of West End from 1900 until it was incorporated into Birmingham in 1910.

Sidney Norwood
A young Sidney Norwood in 1902

According to BhamWiki, the Norwood neighborhood was planned as a streetcar suburb centered around Norwood Boulevard along the same lines as the development around Highland Avenue in Southside or Forest Park with borders that follow an irregular path of creeks, roads, and railroad tracks. Norwood Boulevard ‘s central 1.5-mile 200-foot right-of-way included space for the Norwood Streetcar Line and broad landscaped park-like medians. In the early 20th century, Birmingham’s upper-class flocked to Norwood, which soon became an enclave for affluent families.

Norwood was where Birmingham’s doctors, lawyers, and entrepreneurs built their dream houses in Craftsman, American Foursquare, Neoclassical, Prairie, and various Victorian-era stylings. Billed as “The Placid Place,” the Birmingham Realty Co. touted the neighborhood’s convenience to downtown and its removal from the pollution of the city center. Other amenities promised by marketers included “gracious neighbors,” fully integrated utility services, and modern architecture. Houses sprang up along Norwood Boulevard before it was completed, including what came to be known as “Tennessee Row,” a group of homes built by families hailing from Tennessee.

As large homes were being constructed along Norwood Boulevard, other development soon followed. The Birmingham Realty Company built a commercial building that housed a grocery store, dairy, and meat market. In 1917, Norwood Hospital came into existence to care for the needs of the north-end-of-town people and in 1925 Norwood School was constructed. Built by Dr. Charles N. Carraway, Norwood Hospital looked like almost any red brick, two-story building. From the day of the hospital’s inception, Carraway, a devout Christian and steward of the Methodist Church, gave hospital stock annually to the Methodist Church. Some 30 years later, Norwood Hospital became Carraway Methodist Hospital.

Norwood
Birmingham Realty Company began advertising Norwood as “The Placid Place” as early as 1905. This advertisement appeared in the Birmingham Post-Herald in 1906.
Norwood
A historic view of Norwood Boulevard (Birmingham Public Library Archives)
T. S. Abernathy
Thomas S. Abernathy, president of the Strand Theater Company.
Norwood
The T.S. Abernathy Home was built in 1916 on Norwood Boulevard. The above photo was taken in 1920.
Abernathy-Carraway House
In 1933, Dr. Carraway purchased this residence from Abernathy. The two-story Craftsman-style home was designed by architects Jacob Salie and Philip Mewhinney and includes three baths, two sleeping porches, a music room and sunroom.
Abernathy-Carraway House
A later owner was unable to keep up with the maintenance and abandoned the property, which fell into deeper disrepair. In 2006, a squatter’s cooking fire spread destroying half of the roof. The damaged structure was condemned in May 2007 by the City of Birmingham and later that year appeared on the Alabama Historical Commission’s “Places in Peril” list.
Norwood
Tom Creger and Ken Harris hired a title search company to find the owner and purchase the home. The contractor they hired to fix the damaged roof absconded with his payment after the bundles of shingles he stacked on the roof caused another cave-in. The Abernathy-Carraway House remains unfinished.

Norwood’s slow, steady decline began in the 1930s as automobile ownership made it possible for wealthy families to move out of the area altogether. The developers of Mountain Brook and other “over the mountain” suburbs advertised more oversized homesites absolutely free from the smoke and haze of the city. Norwood’s second wave of homebuyers included Jewish, Greek, and Italian families who did not have access to the society of the neighborhood’s pioneers. After World War II, cheaper cars and social insecurity in the wake of school integration combined to spur white flight from many neighborhoods across Birmingham. Some residents blamed real estate companies for inciting fear of the area’s decline to profit from the rapid turnover. Meanwhile, other homeowners interested in selling reported threats made against their families by residents trying to keep African Americans from moving in.

In the 1960s, Birmingham’s segregation laws and zoning codes were overturned by federal actions, at the same time that construction of Interstate 20/59 was proceeding through downtown. Many of the middle-class African American families displaced by the new interstate looked to Norwood as an attractive destination. Institutions like the Norwood Community Ministry, Operation Pride, and Norwood Park, made attempts to integrate new and old residents with social, housing improvement, and recreational programs, however, they became targets for reactionaries who associated blacks and federal programs with the loss of their accustomed way of life. The interstate also served to create a barrier between the neighborhood and downtown, while the growth of the Birmingham Municipal Airport added noise to the list of ills borne by residents, becoming what The Birmingham News termed an “urban crisis” in 1969.

By 2005, homebuyers were mounting a renewal of Norwood as the historic architecture and convenience that attracted buyers a century ago brought in a whole new generation. Students from Auburn University met with the Norwood Neighborhood Association in 2006 to prepare a long-range comprehensive physical plan for the area. A Norwood Resource Center was established in the Robert Nygren residence to assist homeowners with restoring and maintaining the neighborhood’s historic architecture while also offering internet access, health and financial counseling, and other programs for residents.

Norwood was designated a historic neighborhood in 2012. The following year, the popular television show and magazine, This Old House comprised a nationwide list of 61 historic neighborhoods of the best historic neighborhoods to buy and renovate, Norwood was listed as #2 in the Southern region. The results were based on community involvement, purchase price, condition, and cost of renovation as well as the city in which the neighborhood was located. Once Norwood is brought back to life, it will be the largest restored historic neighborhood in Alabama. There are more than 1,000 homes in Norwood, ranging in size from small two-bedroom bungalows to much larger eight-bedroom mansions. Out of the 1,000 homes included, 382 have more than four bedrooms.

Norwood
Many of the old homes, like the one pictured above, are awaiting restoration.
Norwood
Quite a few of the larger homes in Norwood were eventually turned into apartments or boarding houses.
Norwood
An October 1930 ad placed in The Birmingham News lists a room for board at this home on 31st Street. The old mansion was likely built around this time and is one Birmingham’s most photographed homes.
Norwood
This home on 12th Avenue and 30th Street N was demolished in 2016 along with two other homes next door.
Norwood
This home, photographed for a 1923 The Birmingham News article, sits at the intersection of Norwood Boulevard and 31st and 32nd Streets. The house was built for W. O. Broyles, the owner of the W. O. Broyles Furniture Company.
Norwood
This large, 4-bedroom bungalow was completed in 1923 and was once considered one of the most unique and attractive homes in Norwood. W. O. Broyles designed the house himself and gave his plans to an architect to scale them. The house is constructed of native rock hewn from Red Mountain by master masons and polished to the highest degree. The tones of orchid pink and gray being dominant, put together with a dark brown cement, make a combination of colors that are unusual as well as beautiful. The kitchen in the home is “Washingtonian,” being L-shaped so that no fumes can reach any other part of the house. Upon completion, the Broyles bungalow featured an Italian garden built by Cerro Diadonne, the official gardener for the King of Italy for 17 years and a world-renowned artist.
Norwood
W. O. Broyles in the front yard of his home in Norwood with his horse named Henry Ford. Mr. Broyles enjoyed horseback riding and his horse was one of the finest in the country that came from the famous Ginger Nickles stables in Kentucky. He paid $12,000 for the horse, which would be equivalent to $200,000 today. Mr. Broyles taught a horseback riding class for free to anyone that was interested and would take them riding down a private trail along the foothills of Red Mountain. (photo courtesy of The Birmingham News)
Norwood
John R. Copeland’s residence in Norwood in 1910. Copeland was president of Copeland-Inglis Shale Brick Company and secretary and treasurer of Alabama Paving Company.
Norwood
The circa 1905 9,000-square-foot mansion is currently undergoing a slow restoration.
Norwood
Norwood
Norwood
This home was built in 1912 for H. P. Johnston, a sales representative for the Dean & Kite wholesale crockery and China firm. Johnston was born in Kentucky but had lived in Birmingham for 50 years before his death. He died at his home after suffering a stroke in 1956.
Norwood
Next door to the Johnston Home is the former residence of Richard Huckaby Jr., a watch repairman and a member of the Norwood Methodist Church. He lived here until his death in 1963. The house was later occupied by Miss May Ethel O’Keefe until her death in 1980 at the age of 94.
Norwood
In the 1950s, this was home to R. H. Kelley, his wife and their five children. Sadly, his wife Grace Rogers Kelley passed away in 1959 at the age of 44.
Norwood

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You can find me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. For more amazing, abandoned places from across Alabama, check out my books Abandoned Birmingham and Abandoned Alabama: Exploring the Heart of Dixie.

7 comments

  1. I would love to see the western part of B’ham ..Ensley, Ensley Highlands, Central Park, Belview Heights, Wylam, etc, etc

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  2. Thank you so much for sharing. It was a great read. My parents and moved to Norwood in 1955 before I started school.. we lived on 30th St. Initially. Then we moved to Norwood Blvd. It was a great place to grow up. I lived there until after high school graduation.

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  3. Thanks so much
    This has been so interesting to read about ,and I would love to see some of these homes after restoration!!
    There used to be several rows of Very costly mansions built similar to these on a street not far from where I live ,it’s called “ Silk Stocking Row”. Because only the extremely wealthy ladies lived there and they could always afford the Silk Stockings “
    Tho now several were torn down to make room for college students apartments ,Just was so sad that it happened ,several are still standing ,and are a master piece ,and most all are occupied by families ,

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  4. Saw where they are tearing down the old Carraway Hospital and Norwood Clinic, worked there for several years, the rundown neighborhood is what eventually did them in.

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  5. This is one of the sadder posts. Its not just a single abandoned home or building, but an entire neighborhood of beautiful old homes. I hope that the area gets the restoration that it deserves. Thank you for sharing this.

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