About the Site

All text on this site is reproduced from "Historic Downtown Bessemer: Downtown Walking Tour Guide." The numbers located by the property descriptions correspond to the numbers located on the map on brochure which is available at the Bessemer Hall of History (Southern Railroad Passenger Station, 1905 Alabama Avenue, Bessemer, AL 35020).

Text that appears in the original brochure is in a black, serif font. All notes and additions are in a blue sans serif font as seen here.
When available, photography sources are noted with each entry.

UPDATE (7/3/13): It looks like copies of the "Walking Tour Guide" are not readily available around town anymore.  You can see a PDF of the brochure: "Historic Downtown Bessemer: Downtown Walking Tour Guide" below.
8/14/13: Added jpg version of map for tablet and mobile phone users.



In 1886 iron and steel magnate Henry Fairfield DeBardeleben founded the City of Bessemer, Alabama. DeBardeleleben's dream was to make the city a steel center that would attract companies and people from all over the United States. In 1887 DeBardeleben bought 4,000 acres of land that was rich in coal, iron ore, and limestone (the materials needed for iron production) and marked off blocks for this new town along the rail lines of the Alabama Great Southern Railway.

In April of that same year the first commercial lots were sold and the town of Bessemer began to take shape.

Bessemer experienced a boomtown effect. Within only a few months the city's population reached a total of 1,000 citizens. In less than two years the population soared to 4,000. The city's growth was so phenomenal that it was nicknamed the "Marvel City." Growth was so rapid that DeBardeleben imported several buildings piecemeal via rail to facilitate the rapid growth of the town.

These buildings were the first of many beautiful downtown structures to be built during the following decades. Bessemer's downtown tells a rich history of a southern boomtown and the effects of the coal, iron, and rail industry on our area.

We hope that you enjoy your tour of our historic downtown and we encourage you to stop in and visit our many shops and restaurants along your route.

1. Carnegie Library

321 North 18th Street, Bessemer, AL 35020

Constructed in 1907 with grant assistance from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation, this building was one of 1,679 libraries built across America under the stewardship of Andrew Carnegie.

Photo grabbed from a great collection of Bessemer shots by Dystopos, available at this Flickr page.

2. Bessemer Land & Improvement Company

330 North 19th Street, Besssemer, AL 35020

Constructed in 1889 and based upon a design by G. M. Torgerson, the architect who designed several buildings for the New Orleans Cotton Exposition. The building served as headquarters for the Bessemer Land & Improvement Company.

This photo was grabbed from the Bessemer Chamber of Commerce site.

3. U. S. Government Post Office

400 North 19th Street, Bessemer, AL 35020
Built in 1908 for use as a branch of the U. S. Postal Service, the building was purchased by the city in 1965 for use as a public library.

The image above is from a 1930s postcard.

4. Bruno's Grocery

401 North 19th Street, Bessemer, AL 35020

Renovated by the City of Bessemer Industrial Development Board in 2000 for use as a business incubator, this building was home to one of the early Bruno's chain groceries.

5. Superior Ice Cream Company

521-531 North 19th Street, Bessemer, AL 35020

This structure was constructed by the Schilleci brothers for their ice cream company in 1926. The trucks used the bottom floor for loading by entering the bay door on 6th Avenue and exiting through the bay door on 19th Street. The building also housed the Diana Bicycle Shop. The upper floor was once used as a ballroom and nightclub in the 1920s and later as a hall for civic and school dances. During World War II it was known as "Teen Town," a center for youth activities.

6. Zeigler Meat Company

1909 5th Avenue North, Bessemer, AL 35020

Constructed in 192o this building served as the first home of Zeigler Meats. The meats were sold via hand cart through the streets of Bessemer.

7. Wood Chevrolet

418 North 19th Street, Bessemer, AL 35020

This structure, built in 1922 was the first home of Wood Chevrolet.

8. J. R. Waldrop & Company

417-423 North 20th Street, Bessemer, AL 35020

This building was constructed in two sections in 1905 and originally housed the Huey-Hosey Grain & Grocery and J. R. Waldrop, a grocery wholesaler.

9. Gwin Block

401-415 North 20th Street, Bessemer, AL 35020

The structure was built by Chambers McAdory, Sam Ware, and M. M. Gwin in 1891. A two-story addition was added in 1905 at 413-415 20th Street, but the top floor was later destroyed by fire in 1910.

10. Bessemer Grocery Company

1928-1930 3rd Avenue North, Bessemer, AL 35020

Constructed in 1905, this building housed the Bessemer Grocery Company for many years. The second floor is rumored to have served as a brothel in the 1920s.

This photo was grabbed from atomoboy's photo stream at flickr. Find more Bessemer and Alabama photos are available there.

11. Bessemer Cornice Works

2020 - 2028 2nd Avenue North, Bessemer, AL 35020
This building which was constructed in 1900 and served as the home of Bessemer Cornice Works, a firm which produced molding used in building construction. The building eventually became the home of Long-Lewis Hardware and eventually Long-Lewis Ford, two prominent companies in Jefferson County.

12. Citizens Bank

2023 2nd Avenue North, Bessemer, AL 35020

Built by businessman Jeff Clay in 1899 as a financial institution, this building serves as an excellent example of the simplistic design of many early 19th century buildings.

Photo Copyright deepfriedkudzu.com.  Used with permission.  

13. Southern Railroad Passenger Station

1905 Alabama Avenue, Bessemer, AL 35020

This prairie-influenced railroad passenger station was constructed in 1916 by railroad employees at a cost of $30,ooo. The structure was renovated in 1986 with funds from private individuals and HUD's Community Development Block Grant program. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as the home of the Bessemer Hall of History, a museum dedicated to the Bessemer area's industrial and social history, Museum Hours are Tuesday - Saturday, 9am - 4pm.

14. Trolley Line Freight Depot

1906 Alabama Avenue, Bessemer, AL 35020

This 1905 structure was used as freight warehouse when the trolley line from Birmingham to Bessemer was in operation. After the trolley line was abandoned, it served as a warehouse for a soft drink company and later for Colley's Wholesale Liquors.

15. Lincoln Theater

1926 1st Avenue North, Bessemer, AL 35020
This theater was constructed in 1948 to serve as a movie house for the African American community during the days of segregation.

This photo of the Lincoln was snagged from Martin McCaffery's site, Dead Theaters Online. Find more shots of small-town movie houses there.

16. Sam Dunn Saloon

1930 1st Avenue North, Bessemer, AL 35050

This building, constructed in 1910, served as a saloon in its early days. A mural on the side of the building still advertises the saloon. The building was later used as a drug store.

17. Bessemer Livery & Transfer Station

112 - 114 20th Street North, Bessemer, AL 35020

This 1890 building was a horse stable around the turn of the century.

18. The Berney Bank Block

1900 Block of 2nd Avenue North, Bessemer, AL 35020
This prominent block housed several well-known commercial businesses such as the Berney Brothers Bank, S.S. Kress Company, Woolworth, Boackle, and Sears. The two buildings on the 19th Street side of the block were designed by G.M. Torgerson, the architect who designed many buildings for the New Orleans Cotton Exposition.
Most buildings on this block predate 1900. The block has undergone extensive renovations organized by the Downtown Redevelopment Authority and the Bessemer Development Board.

The Berney Brothers Bank is the building with the conical tower on the right hand side of this ca. 1908 postcard. The building was recently renovated, but has lost the tower and third-floor dormers. It is now the home of Sneaky Pete's Hotdogs.

19. Charleston Block

1813 - 1821 2nd Avenue North, Bessemer, AL 35020
This great Victorian block, constructed in 1887, was originally three stories, four at its central section along 2nd Avenue. The top floors were removed in the 1950s due to safety concerns. In its early years the building housed commercial businesses on the ground floor and tenement apartments on the top floors. The first Bessemer Post Office was located at this address until the construction of a new post office at 400 19th Street North (now the Bessemer Public Library).

A portion of the Charleston block shot from 19th is visible in this 1907 postcard. The property was also knows as the Steiner Building. Note: Building was demolished for new county courthouse, 2006.

20. Bessemer Rifles

108 - 110 19th Street North, Bessemer, AL 35020

This building, constructed in 1889 was home of the Bessemer Rifles. The downstairs area also served as the ticket office for the Bessemer Dummy Line (inter-city trolley). The building at one time also housed a masonic lodge and the early town offices of the Alabama Power Company. The building was greatly damaged by fire in the early 1990s but has recently undergone an extensive renovation which saved the beautiful facade of the building.

21. Site of the Grand Hotel

SW Corner of 19th Street and 2nd Avenue North, Bessemer, AL 35020

The Grand Hotel, constructed in 1887 was demolished in 1987 to construct a new jail facility for Jefferson County. The hotel had been one of the finer examples of architecture in the Victorian "boom town" class.

In this 1920 postcard view of 19th Street, the Grand Hotel can be seen on the left.  The Grand was home to one of downtown Bessemer's movie theaters.  It was later renamed The Gary Hotel. 

22. Jenkins Block

218 - 230 19th Street North, Bessemer, AL 35020

This two-story brick commercial building was constructed in 1887 by pioneer businessman John Jenkins and was owned by his family until the 1970s. It was enlarged in 1889 after receiving interior damage from a fire. The building long housed grocers, the first of which was J. Y. Lucas.

23. Jefferson County Courthouse

1801 3rd Avenue North, Bessemer, AL 35020
This three story building of buff brick was constructed in 1919. It was built in the enframed block design which was a popular style for public buildings in the early 20th century.

24. Realty Building

1824 3rd Avenue North, Bessemer, AL 35020
The Realty Building, the tallest downtown structure, has been standing since 1915. Since its construction, the building has housed the famous Bright Star restaurant, the oldest restaurant in Alabama. The restaurant has remained in family hands throughout the years. The interior of the restaurant contains murals that were painted by a European artist in the 1920s. The rest of the building serves as professional office space.
The Realty Building stands on the site of the 1890 Rebie Hall Building which was destroyed by fire at the beginning of the 20th century.

Top photo is a 1930s postcard.
Lower photo snagged from
goforchris' photostream at Flickr. Find more cool shots of Bessemer and Birmingham there.

25. Bessemer City Hall

1800 3rd Avenue North, Bessemer, AL 35020

This 1938 building was constructed on the site of the old City Hall and fire station which was destroyed by fire. The building was constructed in phases under Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration from 1938 to 1941. The building was designed to house commercial space along 3rd Avenue to provide the city with additional income and is the home of the City Auditorium which provides a meeting space for community events. The clock on the tower is the original one from the old city hall, circa 1890.The top postcard (c. 1945) shows City Hall and the Municipal Auditorium.

The lower postcard (ca. 1908) shows the original 1890 city hall. The building also housed the fire department. Fire wagons were housed inside the arched doors on the left face of the building (18th Street side).

26. Three Former Residences

1700 block of 3rd Avenue North, Bessemer, AL 35020
The quaint Charleston House (1709 3rd Avenue) was constructed in 1889. It was renovated in 1988 by The Western Star, Bessemer's weekly newspaper, and serves as the paper's office.

The 1705 House features a facade-wide front porch supported on clustered square columns resting on brick piers. It was constructed in 1900.

The 12-room Maddox House (1701 3rd Avenue) was built as a private residence in 1901, but converted to apartments in the 1930s. The original, detached servants quarters and garage are still standing, but have been joined to the main house.

27. DeBardeleben Park

Bounded by 2nd and 3rd Avenues North, between 16th and 17th Streets.Covering an entire city block, this is the downtown area's largest park. The site for DeBardeleben Park (formerly Berney Park) was laid out by the Bessemer Land and Improvement Company in 1890. Featured in the center of the park is a doughboy statue which was created by E. M. Viquesney. The statue is one of more than 140 such statues that were created by Mr. Viquesney. A large fountain originally stood where the doughboy statue stands today.

Special Thanks

The Downtown Walking Tour Guide brochure includes a special thanks to:
Bessemer Main Street
Bessemer Industrial Development Board
Bessemer Downtown Redevelopment Authority
City of Bessemer
Bessemer Historical Homeowners Association