Between the 1800s and the late 1920s, Birmingham and other central Alabama cities experienced dramatic growth in industry, commerce, and population resulting in building booms. By the turn of the 20th century, Birmingham was the industrial center of the South. Surrounded by mills, mining operations, and blast furnaces, at least 90 towns thrived in the Birmingham region at that time, ranging from small mining communities to larger industrial centers such as Bessemer, Thomas, Ensley, and Pratt City.
Pratt City, originally known as Coketon, grew rapidly due to the opening of a group of coal mines known as the Pratt Mines in 1879. The prosperity of the mines lasted from the time it opened until the Great Depression. Birmingham and the New South’s entry into the American industrial revolution began at the Pratt Mines in that year. These mines are located just to the west of the Historic District, at the district’s western boundary. From Slope #1, the very first entrance into the largest and highest quality of Alabama’s coal seams, poured forth tons and tons of the Pratt coal used to fire the furnaces, stoke the locomotives, and heat the homes of what would become, by the late 1800s, the South’s largest industrial center, Birmingham.
William Gould sank the first shaft in the area, and Henry DeBardeleben’s Pratt Coal & Coke Company developed it in 1878 to serve Linn Iron Works and Alice Furnace in downtown Birmingham. As a tribute to his father-in-law and benefactor, DeBardeleben named the company after Daniel Pratt. While he concentrated on sales, his partner Truman Aldrich set up mining and coking operations with engineer Llewellyn Johns. Worldwide attention attracted to the Pratt Mines at the World Exposition of 1884 later contributed to the influx of immigrants from southern rural areas, Northern industrial states, and foreign nations. Pratt City’s miners, as well as the small business entrepreneurs, represented a melting pot of nationalities. By 1886, the Pratt Mines had become the largest mining complex in Alabama.
Streetcar service from Birmingham arrived in Pratt City in 1887 creating a heavily trafficked commercial spine. As Pratt City flourished, so did its number of churches. In December 1901, work began on the new Southern Methodist Church in Pratt City at the corner of Third Street and Third Avenue, on the main street of the city just above the streetcar line. The congregation, led by Reverend J. R. Turner, was eagerly awaiting its new building, having received nearly a hundred new members in the last five months. The new church building was largely due to Turner, who managed the project.
A 1902 article in The Birmingham News noted Pratt City had become a “city of churches”, with at least fourteen to fifteen churches in the town. This church building was built by contractor Hudson W. Culpepper for $10,000. The Southern Methodist Church of Pratt City laid its cornerstone on April 4, 1902, with a ceremony conducted by the local Masons. A speech was given by Dr. Russell McWhorter Cunningham, who worked to improve the treatment and health of leased convicts and was appointed physician and surgeon at the Pratt mines in 1885.
The Pratt Mines produced 2,000,000 tons of coal annually and employed nearly 3,000 men in the production of this product alone. Hundreds of others worked in the manufacture of coke and kindred products as well as in the management of the mines. The growth of the town’s commercial areas, caused by the influx of merchants and investment capital was such that by 1910, the Pratt City Carline District served as the commercial center for the largest of industrial communities incorporated into the City of Birmingham in that year. At the time, Pratt City’s population of 6,000 was larger than Ensley and North Birmingham, communities that have much greater land areas. The Pratt Mines ceased operations in the 1920s. Still, the area remained a commercial destination until the 1950s. After the mines closed, Pratt City suffered economically and began a steady decline. The Pratt City Carline District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. The nomination form called noted it as Birmingham’s earliest and largest intact collection of commercial resources.
In the 1970s, the Methodist church merged with another congregation and moved. The church building was later sold to a Pentecostal church, the Original Miracle Deliverance Temple. Unfortunately, due to a shrinking congregation and no funds for needed repairs, the property was sold to an investment firm in 2009. On April 27, 2011, a deadly tornado outbreak occurred in Alabama which saw dozens of tornadoes touch down across the state including a monster EF4 tornado that ripped through Pratt City. Many structures were destroyed and later demolished following the storm, but the church was left standing. In 2020, the old Methodist church was finally demolished.
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I have some great pictures of the church in Pratt City
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I would love to see them. Send me an email, email@example.com
What did they do with the remaining stain glass from the windows?
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I have no idea if they were salvaged or thrown away.