Houses of History

My great-grandparents’ Birmingham home (apartment) during the Great Depression

I’m an old soul — an unapologetic old soul. My college minor was theater (costume design). I love old clothes, old houses — really, anything having to do with history, especially related to Birmingham. I love walking through historic districts and imagining what life was like when these houses were built. I find it inspiring. My grandfather grew up in Miami, but he was born in Birmingham and lived here the first two years of his life, during the Great Depression. I remember hearing the story of my great-grandmother walking blocks and blocks with my toddler grandfather in tow, searching for bread.

Through some sleuthing at the Birmingham Archives, I was able to locate a photograph of his Birmingham home (which has since been demolished to make way for medical buildings near Southside). Yes, this was the kind of stuff I used to do on my lunch break. Before kids. When I was single. I know. Nerd alert! And yet, somehow … I still found a husband!! 😉 My favorite thing about finding this house photo is that years later when my mother was cleaning out her parents’ house, she found this photo of my grandfather at that house!

My grandfather, c. 1931. That hat!!

Ok, so what’s my point?

Glad you asked. I have two points to make. Number one: if you’re ever looking for that perfect housewarming gift for a family member or friend, consider an original photograph of their house from when it was first constructed. (That is, if said house is in Jefferson County, Alabama, and is 50+ years old!) These photos below are my friends’ houses in Crestline and Homewood.

To obtain photos, call the Jefferson County Board of Equalization at (205) 325-5566, ask them for the parcel ID numbers, then give them the address of the house you’re researching. Take your list of parcel ID numbers down to the Birmingham Archives. The archives building is directly across the street from the main downtown library (Central Library). Park on the street and walk around to the side of the building that faces Linn Park. Go through the glass doors, straight down the hallway, and take a left to go down the stairs (just past the elevators). When you get downstairs, you’ll see some glass doors to your left — that’s the archives room. Give the person at the counter your parcel ID numbers, and he or she will retrieve the corresponding files.

Generally, there’s at least one old photograph in each house file they pull, and you can either have them make a copy on the copy machine, or you can pay an added fee and have them mail you a professional copy. Put it in a nice frame, and voila! The perfect gift for a friend or keepsake for you.

Historical Markers

Secondly, you’ve probably noticed historical marker signs on older homes in town. If you own a house built before 1967 and want to apply for a Jefferson County historical marker for your front door, simply go to the Jefferson County Historical Commission‘s website to download an application. The process is very straight-forward and you can gather all the information you need from the house file at the Birmingham Archives. I just applied for one for our home, and it was an incredibly easy (and fun) project! 

The previous owners of our home lived here for 48 years and were Jewish German refugees during World War II. They found their way to Birmingham, studied at Samford University (then Howard College), and made quite a life for themselves here. I’m inspired by their story and determination. We were thrilled to find some artifacts last year belonging to them when we renovated our kitchen and knocked down a wall. Our contractor discovered a driver’s license renewal card from 1962 as well as an old receipt from the (now closed) Blach’s Department Store downtown. You never know what you might find when you start researching!

How about you? Please tell me I’m not the only history buff in Jefferson County!! Have you researched your home or do you have a historical marker outside your door? Leave a comment below — I’d love to hear your story!



  1. Love that you researched and recorded the info/photos of my Daddy’s home here in Birmingham, and so clearly help others know how to find out about theirs! Great article!

  2. Hi! I’m on Ardsley Place in Homewood. I started the search for the info to get the plaque for our house a couple of months ago. I’ve run into a few road blocks, but the lady at the histrical commission and been a great resource! It’s so fun learning about our house!

  3. Right after reading this article yesterday, I jumped in the car and went straight to the Archives office. We recently moved to Homewood and I have been dying to know some of the history on our house, built in 1939. Found some great information and decided to order a copy of the photos to frame in our house. Thanks so much for sharing this information!!

    • Welcome to Homewood, Julie King! I’m so glad you went to the Archives office and had so much success. It’s really fun, isnt’ it?!

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