Bessemer is a Birmingham suburb in Jefferson County, Alabama, United States eight miles west of Hoover. The population was 29,672 at the 2000, but by the 2005 U.S. Census estimates, the city had fallen to a population of 28,641.
Bessemer is situated in the midst of the iron ore and limestone district of Alabama, in the southern part of Jones Valley (about 3 miles wide). Iron ore was mined on the hills on the city's southeast side, coal was (and still is) mined to the north and west, and limestone deposits were also nearby. All three ingredients were necessary for steelmaking, which led to the area becoming a major steel center from about 1890 through the twentieth century. Steel is no longer made within the city limits, but is still manufactured in its northern city Fairfield.
Originally surveyed in 1887 and incorporated in 1889; Bessemer was the vision
of industrialist Henry Fairchild DeBardeleben. At age 30 DeBardeleben came to
Birmingham and soon acquired a controlling interest in the Red Mountain Iron and
Coal Company, which was later renamed the Eureka Mining Company. DeBardeleben
was the general manger of this company. It was during this time in 1886 that he
proposed to buy a site consisting of 4,040 acres of land that was located about
13 miles to the southwest of Birmingham for approximately $100,000.
DeBardeleben's plan was to build eight furnaces and to add two additional
railroad outlets to the city within two years. He believed that the future of
this city and the surrounding areas depended on the success of its iron and
steel resources. The original name of the city was Brooklyn; however
DeBardeleben decided to rename the city Bessemer in honor of Sir Henry Bessemer,
the British scientist who was famous for his contribution to the steel making
In 1900 Bessemer ranked eighth in population in the state, second in amount
of capital invested in manufacturing, and fourth in the value of its
manufactured product for the year. By 1911 ore mining, iron smelting and the
manufacture of iron and coke were the chief industries of Bessemer; truck
farming was also an important industry.
Today, ore mining has ended as supplies exhausted. Manufacturing remains a factor with the Mueller Water Products U.S. Pipe division ductile pipe plant on the city's north side. On May 9, 2007, U.S. Pipe announced that it would be building a new $45-million foundry near the current plant. The site was selected, among other reasons, for the space which would be available for potential future expansions.
The city was also once home to a large railroad car manufacturing factory operated by Pullman Standard for many decades and later Trinity Industries, but the plant ceased most production in the 1990s, though other industries have relocated to this facility. With the exhaustion of the mines and the exodus of the steelmaking and railcar manufacturing industry, the city faced an economic crisis in the early to mid 1980s with percentage of un-employed workers reaching into the mid 30s. Since that time the city, through the efforts of the Bessemer Area Chamber of Commerce and the Bessemer Industrial Development Board, has been successful in diversifying its economy and is recognized for its business growth.
As of the census of 2000, there were 29,672 people, 11,537 households, and
7,868 families residing in the city. The population density was 729.0 people per
square mile (281.5/km²). There were 12,790 housing units at an average density
of 314.2/sq mi (121.3/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 69.55% Black or
African American, 28.93% White, 0.28% Native American, 0.18% Asian, 0.02%
Pacific Islander, 0.30% from other races, and 0.74% from two or more races.
1.14% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There were 11,537 households out of which 30.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 34.6% were married couples living together, 29.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 31.8% were non-families. 29.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.52 and the average family size was 3.12.
In the city the population was spread out with 26.8% under the age of 18, 9.6% from 18 to 24, 26.1% from 25 to 44, 21.1% from 45 to 64, and 16.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 82.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 75.8 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $23,066, and the median income for a family was $28,230. Males had a median income of $29,413 versus $21,552 for females. The per capita income for the city was $12,232. About 24.2% of families and 27.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 37.8% of those under age 18 and 24.7% of those age 65 or over.
Points of Interest
* Bessemer is home to a theme park, Alabama Adventure. The park was
originally built as Visionland, and operated by a consortium of Jefferson County
cities and the county itself. After a series of financial difficulties and
finally Chapter 9 bankruptcy, the park was sold in 2002 to Southland
Entertainment Group. The park faced more financial problems, and in 2008, the
park was sold again, this time to Adrenaline Family Entertainment, an
Oklahoma-based theme park company, and the current owner. Plans to build a hotel
and campground nearby the park have never been realized.
* The Bright Star, a restaurant and local institution located in downtown Bessemer, is billed as the state's oldest continuously-operated eating establishment. Founded in 1907 as a small café, the restaurant has expanded several times over the years, most recently in 1985.
* The Watercress Darter National Wildlife Refuge is a small National Wildlife Refuge protecting the endangered watercress darter.
* The Bessemer Hall of History, a museum dedicated to the history of Bessemer and Western Jefferson County. The museum is housed in the former AGS depot which was constructed in 1916 and located at 1905 Alabama Ave. The building is listed on the National Historic Registry.
* The Downtown Bessemer National Historic District. Bessemer, Alabama's downtown is listed as a National Historic District.
* The Dr. Thomas McAdory Owen House, 510 N. 18th Street. Listed on the National Historic Registry in 1982.
* The Owen Plantation House. Listed on the National Historic Registry.
* The Thomas McAdory, 214 Eastern Valley Road. Listed on the National Historic Registry in 1972.
* Canaan Baptist Church, 824 Fifteenth Street North. Listed on the National Historic Registry in 2005 due to its work during the Civil Rights Movement.