In 1910, the Birmingham Realty Company began the development of the Norwood neighborhood. It is named for Sidney Norwood, a close friend of the company’s president, Leslie Fullenwider. Sidney L. Norwood, a native of North Carolina, came to Birmingham in 1887 and founded the American Grain Company that same year. He served as mayor of West End from 1900 until it was incorporated into Birmingham in 1910.
According to BhamWiki, the Norwood neighborhood was planned as a streetcar suburb centered around Norwood Boulevard along the same lines as the development around Highland Avenue in Southside or Forest Park with borders that follow an irregular path of creeks, roads, and railroad tracks. Norwood Boulevard ‘s central 1.5-mile 200-foot right-of-way included space for the Norwood Streetcar Line and broad landscaped park-like medians. In the early 20th century, Birmingham’s upper-class flocked to Norwood, which soon became an enclave for affluent families.
Norwood was where Birmingham’s doctors, lawyers, and entrepreneurs built their dream houses in Craftsman, American Foursquare, Neoclassical, Prairie, and various Victorian-era stylings. Billed as “The Placid Place,” the Birmingham Realty Co. touted the neighborhood’s convenience to downtown and its removal from the pollution of the city center. Other amenities promised by marketers included “gracious neighbors,” fully integrated utility services, and modern architecture. Houses sprang up along Norwood Boulevard before it was completed, including what came to be known as “Tennessee Row,” a group of homes built by families hailing from Tennessee.
As large homes were being constructed along Norwood Boulevard, other development soon followed. The Birmingham Realty Company built a commercial building that housed a grocery store, dairy, and meat market. In 1917, Norwood Hospital came into existence to care for the needs of the north-end-of-town people and in 1925 Norwood School was constructed. Built by Dr. Charles N. Carraway, Norwood Hospital looked like almost any red brick, two-story building. From the day of the hospital’s inception, Carraway, a devout Christian and steward of the Methodist Church, gave hospital stock annually to the Methodist Church. Some 30 years later, Norwood Hospital became Carraway Methodist Hospital.
Norwood’s slow, steady decline began in the 1930s as automobile ownership made it possible for wealthy families to move out of the area altogether. The developers of Mountain Brook and other “over the mountain” suburbs advertised more oversized homesites absolutely free from the smoke and haze of the city. Norwood’s second wave of homebuyers included Jewish, Greek, and Italian families who did not have access to the society of the neighborhood’s pioneers. After World War II, cheaper cars and social insecurity in the wake of school integration combined to spur white flight from many neighborhoods across Birmingham. Some residents blamed real estate companies for inciting fear of the area’s decline to profit from the rapid turnover. Meanwhile, other homeowners interested in selling reported threats made against their families by residents trying to keep African Americans from moving in.
In the 1960s, Birmingham’s segregation laws and zoning codes were overturned by federal actions, at the same time that construction of Interstate 20/59 was proceeding through downtown. Many of the middle-class African American families displaced by the new interstate looked to Norwood as an attractive destination. Institutions like the Norwood Community Ministry, Operation Pride, and Norwood Park, made attempts to integrate new and old residents with social, housing improvement, and recreational programs, however, they became targets for reactionaries who associated blacks and federal programs with the loss of their accustomed way of life. The interstate also served to create a barrier between the neighborhood and downtown, while the growth of the Birmingham Municipal Airport added noise to the list of ills borne by residents, becoming what The Birmingham News termed an “urban crisis” in 1969.
By 2005, homebuyers were mounting a renewal of Norwood as the historic architecture and convenience that attracted buyers a century ago brought in a whole new generation. Students from Auburn University met with the Norwood Neighborhood Association in 2006 to prepare a long-range comprehensive physical plan for the area. A Norwood Resource Center was established in the Robert Nygren residence to assist homeowners with restoring and maintaining the neighborhood’s historic architecture while also offering internet access, health and financial counseling, and other programs for residents.
Norwood was designated a historic neighborhood in 2012. The following year, the popular television show and magazine, This Old House comprised a nationwide list of 61 historic neighborhoods of the best historic neighborhoods to buy and renovate, Norwood was listed as #2 in the Southern region. The results were based on community involvement, purchase price, condition, and cost of renovation as well as the city in which the neighborhood was located. Once Norwood is brought back to life, it will be the largest restored historic neighborhood in Alabama. There are more than 1,000 homes in Norwood, ranging in size from small two-bedroom bungalows to much larger eight-bedroom mansions. Out of the 1,000 homes included, 382 have more than four bedrooms.
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