As the country entered the Industrial Revolution, Birmingham also saw an increase in the economic growth of this once farming region. One neighborhood in the heart of this growth was Ensley. Originally founded as industrial city in its own right, Ensley was founded by Enoch Ensley. He was originally from Memphis, but saw an opportunity for long term growth. Investing his own wealth in the project, Ensley attracted the interest of a Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company. They ended up purchasing a controlling interest in the Ensley Land Company.
Within a year, city streets were laid out and an infrastructure was started, including storm and sanitary sewers. Despite all of this progress, including the erection of four 200-ton blast furnaces. These were in operation by April of 1889. Yet an economic panic during 1893 resulted in the temporary end of the land company and the entire property being auctioned off for less than $20,000.
By 1898, the land company had been reorganized and the construction of industrial development continued, along with the building of housing for the workers in the newly built factories. One of the scientific developments of this time period was that TCI pioneered the open-hearth process to make steel within the region surrounding Birmingham.
Steel production grew in the area so much that another two blast furnaces were built by 1906. With the dramatic economic growth, a support system of schools, churches, retail and public buildings grew to keep pace with the new mills and plants that drew in scores of additional workers.
Prior to the Great Depression, Ensley was an established corridor of industrial development in southwest Birmingham. Additionally, a lively social scene that included fraternal halls and dance clubs also developed. The song Tuxedo Junction was written about one of these clubs and made the spot famous in 1939. In 1907, U.S. Steel purchased TCI and a new plant was added during the northeast in the center of another planned community. While it did allow for workers to change jobs without moving their families, it also ended most of the development in the area of Ensley.
However, today the area of Ensley has lost much of its economic base and also a large portion of their population. Yet, there is still a sense of community within this area. There is a private Catholic school and several schools served by the Birmingham City Schools.
While this area is another neighborhood in Birmingham that is struggling to redefine itself for the next century, it also demonstrates a larger issue within many communities that had a heavily industrial past. Simply put, how do you revitalize a community that had an economic base of primarily in factories, when these manufacturing jobs are no longer having the same economic impact?
Still, there is evidence that Birmingham is attempting to revitalize these areas with such historical significance through their Master Plan for the city. Many neighborhoods are attempting to reclaim their identity in this vibrant area of the South.