The past is the present for future generations who do not know their history

Posts tagged “Sheffield

And the lights came on in Sheffield…

Below is an interesting bit of history for Sheffield and Colbert County, Alabama:
Messrs. J. A. May and C. B. Ashe Lease Light and Water Plants
TUSCUMBIA, Jan. 8. An important deal for Sheffield, in which Mr. J. A. May, of Tuscumbia, is interested, was consummated several days ago.
Mr. J. A. May and Mr. C. B. Ashe, of Sheffield, have leased the property of Consolidated Water, Light & Power Company, of Sheffield, and will operate the electric light plant.
It is probable that Tuscumbia will have a telephone exchange of its own in the near future. The Citizen’s Telephone Company, of Florence, contemplates establishing an exchange in this city, which will also be connected with the Florence exchange. The Citizen’s Company has been contesting the field in Florence with the Bell Telephone Company for a year, and has many subscribers.[Source: Daily Mercury newspaper, published in Huntsville, Alabama, 9 Jan 1897, Page 3, Column 5]

Another reflection of our past…

this is a 1933 photo of the Sheffield, Alabama downtown area.

Photo of downtown Sheffield Alabama in 1933

An Ode to family of my childhood…

is in order. News in the most recent of days send me back into time. Back to a time growing up in Sheffield, Alabama was like living in a Norman Rockwell painting. Good days. Good times. Big family.

My cousin Betty Bassham Porter was found lying on the floor in a coma in her apartment. She was not responding. So right this minute her family is sitting with her waiting for the transfer to hospice. It has been determined that she had a stroke and will not survive. Betty was born in Sheffield, lived in Tuscumbia and Sheffield.  In the 1950s her mother remarried and they moved to Dallas, Texas. The family moved to Arkansas, with some of them migrating to Missouri, mostly in the Springfield area.

The photo montage below is my tribute to a beloved cousin. Family.

Betty Bassham Porter

A little Sheffield, Alabama girl.

 Betty Bassham Porter

Betty Bassham Porter

Family is forever


This is a 1930s photo of the WMSD radio station tower located in Sheffield, Colbert County, Alabama.

WMSD radio tower 1930s

Amos Brenneman, World War I Soldier, Letter Two…

from Montgomery, Alabama.

Amos D. Brenneman served in Company C, 167th U.S. Infantry, served overseas and was severely injured in combat at Croix Rouge Farm in France on July 26, 1918. The last letter in the library collection written by Amos is dated 17 January 1919. Amos Brenneman remained in the military after the war, eventually achieving the rank of Master Sergeant.

Amos Brenneman served in the 42nd “Rainbow” Division, one of the first U.S. divisions to engage in fighting in Europe. The division participated in six major battle campaigns and served in occupation duty in Germany after the armistice was signed.

Amos Brenneman had a brother who also served in World War I. William Roy Brenneman probably spent the entire war at Fort Dade, Florida. He served in the Coastal Artillery Corps, Company 1. The last letter in the collection written by Roy Brenneman is dated 2 September 1918. Roy Brenneman was born 12 December 1894, and he died 8 October 1961, in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is buried in the Crawfordsville Masonic Cemetery.
R3 August 1917 letter home from Amos Brenneman, page 1

3 August 1917 letter home from Amos Brenneman, page 1

3 August 1917 letter home from Amos Brenneman, page 2

3 August 1917 letter home from Amos Brenneman, page 3

Postcards from the edge…

well, not really postcards, but letters from the past. And the Shoals area has a past very saturated with historic people, happenings, places, and events. Take, for instance, one Amos Brenneman.

photo of Amos Brenneman from Sheffield, Alabama, World War I soldier

Amos Brenneman was born 13 July 1898 and died 9 February 1956. He and other family members are buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Sheffield, Alabama. Amos Brenneman was a soldier of World War I. He served in Company C, 167th U.S. Infantry, served overseas, and was injured in combat at Croix Rouge Farm in France on July 26, 1918.
photo of Amos Brenneman World War I Soldier
The dates of his nine letters extend from 22 July 1917 to 17 January 1919. Amos Brenneman remained in the military after the war, eventually achieving the rank of Master Sergeant. His brother Roy also served. The letters will be shared here:
22 July 1917 Letter 1
22 July 1917 Letter 1 page 2
22 July 1917 Letter 1 page 3
Each letter will be published as a separate article so that size can be maintained.
All Rights Reserved by Remembering the Shoals 2012

I wonder aloud as to how much history has been forgotten…

about my hometown area – the Shoals area. In 1976 the American Chemist Society erected the historical marker at 300 W. 20th Street at the edge of the Furnace Hill area, as a tribute to Furnace Hill and the chemists of the five blast furnaces that operated there in the center of the industrial Park of Sheffield, Colbert County, Alabama.

The span of the years from 1887 to 1895  five blast furnaces were built on the west side of the new town – Sheffield. That was the birth of my hometown when they organized for the express purpose of exploiting the iron and coal so richly abundant in the area.

Tracts of land on the Tennessee River that contained twenty-acre lots were used as inducements to encourage development of furnaces for the production of pig iron. These inducements were provided by Sheffield Land, Iron  and Coal Company after its formation in 1883. Sheffield Furnace Company grabbed up the first tract when they agreed to build one blast furnace. Three tracts were awarded to Tennessee Coal & Iron Company in exchange for three blast furnaces.

Sheffield Furnace Company built the first blast furnace in Sheffield. It went operational New Year’s Eve 1887. A short three months later, Enoch Ensley (from Nashville) purchased the furnace. He was a very enterprising man and went on to acquire vast acreage in Franklin County rich in brown hematite used as ore. He also acquired the Horse Creek Coal Mine in Walker County, Alabama where a couple hundred beehive ovens were constructed to make coke for the Sheffield furnace. Prior to that enterprise the needed coke was shipped in from Virginia.

Ensley’s company formed the Lady Ensley Coal, Iron & Railway Company and received the deed for his company. It later became the Hattie Ensley Furnace. Enoch Ensley named the furnace in honor of his daughter. The Hattie Ensley furnace did not cease production of pig iron until 1926.

In 1888 another twenty-acre tract was awarded Ensley when he built another furnace. That furnace to honor his wife was named Lady Ensley. This furnace was blown in on 25 April of Sheffield Ammunition Plant

Three more furnaces were to be built by the Sheffield & Birmingham Coal, Iron & Railway Company, which was formerly Tennessee & Alabama Coal & Iron Company. Completes were in 1888, 1889 and 1895. By the time of completion in 1895, the property was transferred to Alabama Iron & Railway Company, then transferred to W. W. Coke & Associates. The Cole Company then formed Sheffield Coal, Iron & Steel Company.In 1883 all the land now embraced by the city of Sheffield was acquired by the Sheffield Land, Iron & Coal Company, and in May of 1884 lots were put on sale and my hometown of Sheffield was founded.

The production of pig iron ranged from 170 tons to an average of 221 tons per day. the Hattie Ensley Furnace set a record in May of 1904 by producing  6,851 tons. That is a lot of pig iron.

The area schools taught chemistry since 1825, but there were no Industrial Chemist employed in the area to that date that the furnaces were opened. Of note are the chemists this industry brought into the Shoals area.

Chemists who worked at the Furnace operations were: John Foster, James C. Foster, S. P. Cowardin, Marvin Garrison, Cletus McWilliams, and Frances E. Holloway. And a whole village was born that housed workers for these furnaces and future government jobs through the Tennessee Valley Authority.

The Fosters were natives of Pennsylvania. Their ancestor Thomas Foster was a soldier in the Revolutionary War (DAR 5152) and ancestor William Foster served in the War of 1812. James C. Foster, who married Dee McDavid of Florence, died in 1900. He had accidentally consumed water poisoned with corrosive sublimate.

It would be of great interest to those who attended Sheffield schools, that the children of John Foster and Martha Elsie Stebbens Foster were: William Anson Foster, Josephine Marie Foster,  Mary Dee Foster, Anna Foster, and Martha J. Foster . Daughter, Josephine Foster,  was the wife of William August Threadgill. Mr. And Mrs. Threadgill were long time teachers and principal in Sheffield Schools. When I started first grade they were at Alabama Avenue School where the Board of Education is now housed.  A school bears his name in tribute – the W. A. Threadgill Elementary School, now Primary School. The school is at 900 Annapolis Avenue in Sheffield.

John Foster worked in the Sheffield Furnace until 1912. He then removed to Tennessee. Later, in 1933 he went to work at the Tennessee Valley Authority as a chemist.

By the beginning of World War I only one of the Cole Furnaces was operable. It did not produce until early 1918 because of legalities. The Lady Ensley Furnace was torn down in 1916, but had ceased operations in 1910. A new furnace was built to replace the Lady Ensley. The new furnace began operation in 1915 or 1916 and continued operation until August 1927. With Lady Ensley’s replacement being blown out in 1927 there came an end to iron production in Sheffield – forty years of production.

Sloss-Sheffield Iron & Steel Company acquired the Ensley furances after 1891 and Enoch Ensley’s death. They went on to acquire the Cole furnaces, and another furnaces property in Florence. Eventually U. S. Pipe & Foundry acquired the properties; then ownership went to Jim Walter Corporation and it was renamed the Coal, Iron & Chemicals Group of Jim Walter Corporation. After several years of leasing the property, the property came under the ownership of U. S. Steel Corporation.

Before closing the dialog on the blast furnaces of the Shoals area, there needs to be a mention of one important invention that Sheffield and the workers at the blast furnaces influenced. A Vanderbilt graduate, D. I. Miller a graduate Mechanical Engineer, invented the furnace top. He worked as Acting Superintendent at several blast furnaces including those in our area, procurement agent, foreman, and then inventor extraordinaire. The blast furnace top was designed for charging and properly distributing the material in a blast furnace. This new blast furnace top was intended for furnaces with an output of less than 300 tons per day – a perfect fit for the blast furnaces in our area. He acknowledged that he invented the new furnace top with suggestions from his co-laborers at the Sloss-Sheffield Company blast furnace. The invention was of epic proportions and his new invention was manufactured by likely the largest manufacturing concern of the time, the Hunt Company.

There were furnaces in Lauderdale County as well. The Florence Land, Mining and Manufacturing Company was incorporated with a capital of $800,000 by a group of Florence Citizens on 31 August 1886. The company purchased thousands of acres in and near the city of Florence and set about the task of bringing industries to North Alabama. The Florence Land Company, a division of the aforementioned company, donated a tract of 128 acres in the city of Florence on the Tennessee River to the W. B. Wood Furnace Company, and there was the Philadelphia Furnace in Florence. In northern Alabama there were also furnaces in Decatur and Fort Payne.

William Basil Wood was the leader of our beloved 16th Regiment of Alabama Infantry who fought so valiantly during the War Between the States. It is on record that because his men were so tattered and torn in their clothing, many without shoes because they had worn them out and many had rags tied on their feet in those bitter winters of the war, that he started his own manufacturing company making uniforms for them; and possibly bullets.

By the time of World War I, the manufacturing of pig iron was pretty much a thing of the past. The people were desperate for industry and jobs. President-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed an immense crowd in the Shoals area  from his railroad car in January 1933, and promised “to put Muscle Shoals back on the map.” He then toured the idle U.S. Nitrate Plant No. 2 and Wilson Dam with Senator George Norris. The new Congress approved Norris’s plans for development of the entire Tennessee River and FDR signed the Tennessee Valley Authority Act 15 May 1933, thereby ending years of bitter controversy about the future of the Muscle Shoals district. The nitrate plants were given to TVA for development of fertilizer in peacetime and production of munitions in wartime.

FDR returned to Sheffield in 1934, to inspect the work underway by TVA at Wheeler Dam and Nitrate Plant No. 2 and again boarded his train in Sheffield. The TVA projects helped the area recover from the Great Depression, and power from the dams induced new industries to locate here.

Wilson Dam was once used as a power supply center for munitions plants in World War l. For production of ammunition for use during WWI, the Sheffield Nitrogen Plant, built in 1917 was to be converted to a 90 and 105 MM Plant, as soon as possible.

Photo of Sheffield Munitions Plant being built

The J A Jones Construction Company was contracted for the construction of the building. Construction went on rapidly, until the main plant was to be put in and then it was decided to cancel the entire plant because the shells were no longer needed in the war effort.

Alabama Blast Furnaces written by Joseph H. Woodward is the first and remains the première source of information on all blast furnaces built and operated in Alabama, from the first known charcoal furnace of 1815 (Cedar Creek Furnace in Franklin County) to the coke-fired giants built before the onset of the Great Depression. From the rise of the iron industry in support of the Confederate war effort, to the giant internationally important industry that developed in the 1890s, the manufacture of pig iron in Alabama was the most important industry of the State and was a vital factor in the prosperity and welfare of its people.

Alabama has been the site for seventy-seven blast furnaces. Four more furnaces were either partially completed or, if completed, were never operated. Out of this total of 81 furnaces 32 were built to use charcoal as fuel and of this number 10 used coke at some time during their operation. Five of these eleven furnaces were later permanently converted for coke fuel. So, it would seem Enoch Ensley and his imperialistic nature benefited the Shoals area citizens; and that Sheffield was ahead of its time in the respect to the production of pig iron using coke.


Alabama Blast Furnaces written by Joseph H. Woodward. Reprinted by University Of Alabama Press, 25 October 2006.

A Record of University Life and Work,” The Vanderbilt University Quarterly, Volume 7, Number 1, page 223. Published by the University of Vanderbilt on January 1907.

“Sheffield Historical Context ” written by John A Ford. Published by Sheffield History and Recollections, a Journal of Muscle Shoals History, Tennessee Valley Historical Association, Volume XVIII, pages 5-6. Published 2011. Photo of Richard Sheridan of Hattie Ensley Furnace.

“Chemists will Pay Furnace Hill Workers Tribute” by Staff. Published by Florence Times Daily Newspaper, 28 March 1976, page 4 and 22.

Here is a doll…

as the photograph clearly shows.

This is a photograph of a doll.

This is a photograph of a doll.

Most of the time a doll for my mother and her sisters were sticks from a tree that had a fork to them. There would be no head or arms, just two legs. But that was enough to spark Mother’s and Ellen’s and Preston’s imaginations. Since their dresses and drawers were made of the hard to come by flour sack material that Mama would fashion into pretty little things for the girls from pictures in the Sears & Roebuck catalogs (that served a dual purpose), there were no scraps of materials to use to clothe the dolls. So, they improvised with whatever was available to ‘dress’ their dolls. I wish I had asked if they were pretend baby dolls or pretend fashion dolls, but I think I know the answer to that for they always lived out in the boonies and likely never saw fashion in anything. I do recall that mother said once that when Mama told her it was her fourth birthday and Mother asked if her birthday could walk because she equated birthdays with the calendar on the wall. The calendar always had a picture of a pretty girl on it. So she figured birthdays could walk, unlike her stick doll.

Mother and her siblings grew up during the first great depression. Times were hard. Very hard. When the girls were lucky enough to come across a passion-flower they would create the most beautiful colorful doll in the world. Mother always loved purple, so I am quite sure this was very pleasing for her. The siblings would pluck the flower with as long a stem as possible as those were the doll’s legs. Then they would pluck off certain parts until there was a head and two arms. The purple fluffy and flowy part was the skirt. They pretended the doll was a dancing doll. I always called them a ballerina, but I did not remember to ask them if they thought that – likely not as Mother never had a hamburger until she was grown and they had moved to town so it is just as likely that they never saw a ballerina until grown either.

To this day, I have never witnessed anyone who could play a game of Jacks as well as mother. My jaw dropped to the floor at her skill level and dexterity when she played with us when we were little. No doubt they played this game when they were little, too. But not with store-bought Jacks, just rocks and whatever they could use for a bouncy ball.

Didn’t we have it good when we were growing up compared to most of them in that generation?

Four generations of Hillard…

are featured in this photo taken in 2009. Hillard Murray was born in Sheffield and lives in Colbert County. Hillard has two children: Tim and Patty. The photograph shows Hillard with son, grandson and great-grandson. Hillard is one of the subjects of a prior story published on Remembering the Shoals.

Four Generations Of Hillard Murray

Four Generations Of Hillard Murray

Related posts:

Another Father’s Day without Daddy…

April 22, 1944. LVTs (Landing Vehicles Tracked...

LVTs 22 April 1944; Daddy would be on one of these landing vehicles

should be the norm now since he died in November of 1979. The one thing most lacking after losing my father is that my children will never know the meaning of what a ‘Gran’ or a “PaPaw” can be. For as my first cousins can attest; it is the gatherings of family on special occasions that jolts our memories of good times and family, especially extended family. Sadly, my children really have never known much extended family. So, I must tell them my firsthand accounts and stories that will give them a sense of what ‘family’ could be and should be. So, dedicated to my children, my grandson, and my great-grandchildren, I proffer this about my soldier father:

Four buddies during WWII

Daddy on the left with three of his buddies during WWII

James A Murray — a member of  THE GREATEST GENERATION

“The Victory Division”

24th Infantry Division, US Army  1941 to 1996*

   There are some histories of the battles of the 24th Inf. Div. and  its men and women over its 55 years of service to  country, especially  for the Victory Division who fought so valiantly  in the Pacific in  WWII. They were truly the greatest generation. And we are free because of them.

 Nick named the “victory division” and the ” pineapple army” because it was formed in Hawaii in early 1941. It also carried other nick names and mottos; “First to Fight” and ” Taro Leaf “, which is now  the name of its association’s news letter.

         World War II:      Campaign Participation Credit

1.          Central Pacific;

2.          New Guinea (with arrowhead);

3.          Leyte (with arrowhead);

4.          Luzon;

5.          Southern Philippines (with arrowhead) 

The Victory website welcomes us to the official Web site of the 24th Infantry Division Association, the Pride of the Pacific Theater.  Our motto is, “First to Fight.”   An Act of Congress confirms this.  We were first to take arms against Imperial Japanese forces, and we were first to engage the North Korean aggressor in 1950.   We are the division Japanese Army General  Yamashita said broke the back of the Japanese Army at Breakneck Ridge on Leyte, and we are the division the liberated people of the Philippines called, “Victory”.  Taromen have always stood ready to defend freedom and the democratic way of life, anytime, anywhere, against all aggressors . . . in the jungles, through the snow, or on the sands in far off lands.  We are fiercely Proud of our heritage, and when our nation calls upon us once again . . . we will be, First to Fight!!! The 24th Infantry Division (Mech) inactivated on August 1, 2006 at Fort Riley. Its most recent operations included preparing Fort Riley for the return of the  1st Infantry Division, previously stationed in Germany.                                                  

World War II

The 24th Infantry Division was among the first to see combat in World War II and among the last to stop fighting. The Division was on Oahu, with Headquarters at Schofield Barracks, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941, and suffered minor casualties. Charged with the defense of northern Oahu, it built an elaborate system of coastal defenses. Pvt. James Murray arrived in Hawaii on May 17,1942. In May 1943 it was alerted for movement to Australia and by 19 September 1943 had completed the move to Camp Caves, near Rockhampton, on the eastern coast of Australia. After a period of intensive training, the Division moved to Goodenough Island, 31 January 1944, to stage for the Hollandia (currently known as Jayapura)Tanahmerah campaign. The 24th landed on Dutch New Guinea, 22 April 1944, and smashed its way to and seized the important Hollandia Airdrome despite torrential rains and marshy terrain. Shortly after the Hollandia landing, the 34th Infantry Regiment moved to Biak, 18 June, to reinforce the 41st Infantry Division, and captured Sorido and Borokoe airdromes before returning to the Division on Hollandia in July. After occupation duty in the Hollandia area, the 24th Division landed on Red Beach on Leyte, 20 October 1944, as part of the X Corps, Sixth Army, and driving up Leyte Valley advanced to Jaro and took Breakneck Ridge, 12 November 1944, in heavy fighting. While mopping up continued on Leyte, the 19th RCT moved to Mindoro Island as part of the Western Visayan Task Force, landing in the San Jose area, 15 December 1944. Airfields and a PT base were secured for operations on Luzon. Divisional elements effected a landing on Marinduque Island. Other elements supported the 11th Airborne Division drive from Nasugbu to Manila. The 34th RCT, landing at San Antonio, Luzon, 29 January 1945, ran into a furious battle on Zig Zag Pass and suffered heavy casualties. On 16 February 1945 the 3d Bn. of the 34th Infantry took part in the amphibious landing on Corregidor and fought Japanese under a hot sun on the well-defended Rock. After numerous mopping up actions in March, the Division landed on Mindanao, 17 April 1945, cut across the island to Digos, 27 April, stormed into Davao, 3 May, and cleared Libby airdrome, 13 May. Although the campaign closed officially on 30 June, the Division continued to mop up Japanese resistance during July and August 1945. Patrolling continued after the official surrender of Japan. On 15 October 1945, the Division left Mindanao for Japan.

                  United States Army

                   U. S. 6th Army

                   X Corps

                                    24th Infantry Division

                                    1st Cavalry



President Franklin D. Roosevelt

                                    General Douglas MacArthur

                                                      Gen Walter Krueger

                                                                      Major General Roscoe B. Woodruff, Commander of the

    • 24th Infantry Division and
    • 19th Infantry 
    • 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team

All the little ones, at least those not experienced enough to escape, would get the perfunctory pinch and twist of the jaws by this man, my Daddy. I am here to tell you, it would be something that you would not soon forget. Daddy had a sense of humor. That humor is attested to in the following postcard that he sent home while in the service during World War II:

On leave Postcard Daddy mailed home during WWII dated 20 Feb 1942

On leave Postcard Daddy mailed home during WWII dated 20 Feb 1942