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Here You Go: 1936

March 1936. "Steel mill workers' houses, company owned. Vicinity of Birmingham, Alabama." 8x10 nitrate negative by Walker Evans for the U.S. Resettlement Administration. View full size.

March 1936. "Steel mill workers' houses, company owned. Vicinity of Birmingham, Alabama." 8x10 nitrate negative by Walker Evans for the U.S. Resettlement Administration. View full size.


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Neat and humble beginnings

Jeffrey Jakucyk, you got the right area! I think it's the houses down to the lower southeast corner of your overhead view. The tiny row houses on 7th Street Thomas and 8th Street. The Evans image just focused on the outhouses but there would have been another row of duplexes just off the left edge of the image.

Life was simple.

They are Duplexes

There are 8 houses and 16 outhouses.

Pratt-Ensley streetcar

The streetcar line in question appears to be the #6 Pratt-Ensley route of the Birmingham Electric. At this location the line was single track on a private right-of-way, which helps explain the use of bracket-arm overhead construction with dual contact wire (one for each direction). The route paralleled the steam railway for much of its length. In the background are the Thomas Furnaces of Republic Steel.

(Info from "Street Railways of Birmingham", Hudson & Cox, 1976)

Trolley BUSES

were ordered in 1945, so as Notcom says there wouldn't have been double wires for them, but the ones in picture appear to be too close together for bus use. My grandfather was a conductor on the old trolleys prior to 1922, and all the pictures I could find did not have double wires, so? Perhaps someone from Birmingham might have more information. In many cities, street cars were also referred as trolley cars, as the little wheel at the top of the pole which ran against the wire, was a trolley.

[The wires are for streetcar service. - Dave]

The Two Doors

Each of these homes has two back doors which leads me to believe that these are actually very tiny duplexes.

Hope they saved their corn cobs

Or had plenty of Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs available.

Outhouse windows

Diamonds in the rough.

A better Loo for you

They could save themselves a walk to the facilities by just cutting a hole in the kitchen floor. My mumma always said I was a genius.

Something Street Thomas

Several of these houses remain in Birmingham's Thomas neighborhood. The street railway had a route through here to neighboring Pratt and Ensley that ran to the east of the steam railroad. Not sure exactly which street/alley we're looking down, but we'd most likely be looking west from 16th Avenue Thomas to have the interurban-type overhead wiring (one wire for each direction to simplify signaling) and mast arm in the foreground.

There you go

-- a fine row of jakes.

Random thoughts

This photo is less than 90 years old; but is unimaginable today for factory housing.
Our house had 2 bedrooms and 1 toilet, if you played by the rules; 6 if you didn't.
That family next door is stealing our Sears & Roebuck!
When it's everybody's business when you do your business.
It's raining; don't tromp mud inside the house when you get back.
At least your sister didn't lock herself in there for an hour.

Going, going ...

Wonder if one of the outhouses had a gas explosion. Looks a little run down.

Kite-Eating Tree

... claims another victim!

Mystery in the air

The RR electrification is puzzling: there weren't any mainline installations in Alabama, and a plant line would seem like it would present interference with all the loading in a a steel mill; a streetcar line? Power plant line?

[That catenary is over the street, not the RR tracks. - Dave]

OK, but doesn't that just deepen the mystery ?? Birmingham did have trolley buses, but apparently not as early as 1936. Perhaps they're just some kind of power or phone lines, but I'm unclear on why they're suspended.

[The wires are for streetcar service. - Dave]

Ah, so 'Curtain #2': not THE RR track, but still a RR track ... of sorts.

[Those are train tracks. The street is not in the photo -- it's too close to the camera. - Dave]

Gotcha: the curse of 2D!!


What are those little sheds lining the property? I thought they were outhouses at first, but they are not related to the houses.


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