Historic Structures

Arlington Place - Munger Mansion, Birmingham Alabama

Date added: January 11, 2019 Categories: Alabama House Mansion Greek Revival

The land and area that surrounds what is now Arlington House was originally deeded by Captain William Ely to the newly created Jefferson County. As an agent for the Deaf and Dumb Asylum in Hartford, Connecticut, he came to Alabama with the intent of building a school on the present site of the house. Originally know as Frog level, the State Legislature renamed the area Elyton in honor of Captain William Ely. Once Elyton was incorporated, it was established in 1820 as the seat of Jefferson County. At this time the courthouse was removed from Carrollsville, near the present Town of Powderly, to the more centrally located Elyton. This is where it remained until Birmingham was founded. An early report on courthouses in Alabama describes the placement of Elyton: "Elyton was the crossing place of two important stage lines connecting north and south Alabama and eastern and western parts of the state. Later progress brought the crossing of two railroads to this area and it was this connection which led to the creation of the City of Birmingham."

Two portions of the original land grant were purchased by William 0. Tarrant on February 19, 1821, and John Burford, Jr. & Sr., on March 5, 1821. One year later in 1822, Stephen Hall purchased both, constituting approximately 475 acres of land.

Stephen Hall had established a plantation on this land, where he erected "a dwelling house and outhouses." Lackmond stated that his house consisted of two rooms downstairs and two rooms above facing east toward Elyton. The front porches were plain. Steps to bedrooms were on the outside of the building, a feature traditionally understood to be a clever method used to circumvent property taxes imposed on landowners based on the number of stairs inside the house.

In his will Stephen Hall left the plantation including, the dwelling house, a blacksmith shop and tools plus other items to his son, Samuel W. Hall. During his life time, Samuel Hall, accumulated debts, and thus by court order from the bank of the State of Alabama, the land was sold at public auction in 1842. The property was purchased by William Mudd, and renamed "The Grove."

Born in Jefferson County, Kentucky in 1816, he moved to Elyton in 1831, and began building a life for himself in Jefferson County, Alabama. He was a prominent lawyer, legislator and circuit judge. He also became known as "one of the successful pioneers of Jefferson County, Alabama," for his help in founding and developing the City of Birmingham. He became involved in the incorporation of Birmingham when he and others formed the Elyton Land Company (where he served as a member until his death). He also played a crucial part in the building of the first hotel in Birmingham and in the founding of the Citizens Bank and City Bank of Birmingham in 1880.

During the Civil War, areas around Elyton were major contributors to the making of iron for armament and munitions. In an industrial history of the Birmingham District, Marjorie Longnecker White writes that, "Between 1862 and 1865, thirteen blast furnaces and a major armament were built in Alabama, with the Confederate government advancing most of the necessary funds. Based on the map and geological facts set forth by Michael Tuomey's 1850 survey, the Confederate government awarded substantial contracts to three operations in Jefferson County. In 1863, William Sanders received a large contract to provide an additional furnace and houses for 600 slave workers at Tannehill. With three furnaces in blast, Tannehill became a major Confederate supplier, producing more than 20 tons of iron a day. Two additional iron-making ventures sprung up almost overnight in Shades Valley, to the south of Red Mountain, and Oxmoor and Irondale. The first new furnace operation went into blast in 1863 at Oxmoor. It was built by the Red Mountain Iron and Coal Company, two of whose investors, Frank Gilmer and John T. Milner, were actively engaged in building the Alabama Central Railroad into this area."

General Wilson and his Union soldiers stormed through Alabama near the end of the war in an effort to destroy all of Alabama's resources. Historian Malcolm C. McMillan describes this march: "His [Wilson's] main objective was Selma, the great ordnance and manufacturing center of the confederacy, but he was to destroy textile mills, iron furnaces, and all military establishments in his path. He destroyed many iron furnaces as he moved through Alabama's mineral belt. .. As he moved through the "sterile section of North Alabama," he moved in three columns some miles apart in order to secure forage and deceive the enemy. On March 27 the columns concentrated at Jasper, and moved on through Elyton (now Birmingham) to Montevallo, meeting no resistance other than small groups of General P.D. Roddey's command. At Elyton, Croxton's brigade was dispatched to capture Tuscaloosa and burn the bridge across the Warrior River."

March 28, 1865 entry from a calveryman's journal reads, "Elyton, Alabama, General Upton marched with the advance guard. Halted the command on a plantation of a rich old southerner who owns the whole magnificent valley." Arlington, in 1865, during the closing days of the Civil War, was commandeered by Union General James H. Wilson. He established Arlington as his headquarters, and from here he issued orders to his cavalrymen to burn the University of Tuscaloosa and to destroy the iron furnaces at nearby Oxmoor and Irondale and the Confederate arsenal at Selma. According to Atkins, "Wilson's raiders burned Lamson's Flour mill at Black Creek on their way into Elyton, and the Oxmoor and Irondale furnaces as they were leaving. These pig iron furnaces were the most important military industries in the county."

There are many speculations as to why Arlington House was left undisturbed. In a 1953 article, the Birmingham News recounts the confederate side of the story of General Wilson's encampment: "While at the Mudd residence General Wilson and his staff occupied the downstairs rooms, and Mrs. Mudd and her children occupied the rooms upstairs. The Judge was away at the time. The Northern general was very courteous and considerate of the Mudd household in that he posted sentinels to guard it from marauding soldiers under his command."

With the end of the war and the emancipation of slaves, southern plantation owners looked for new sources of income. Mudd and other local business men formed the Elyton Land Company in 1871 and began planning for a new city--Birmingham. The name Birmingham came from the great industrial city of Birmingham, England. The Elyton Land Company was formed with Mudd as a shareholder. Their declaration read, "We, whose names are subscribed to this declaration, being desirous of forming an association for buying lands and selling lots with a view of location, laying off and effection the building of a city at or near the present town of Elyton, and of becoming incorporated, ... "

In 1872, Henry F. DeBardeleben appeared on the Birmingham scene, playing a leading (and dramatic) role in the development of the district's store of ore and coal. He arrived from Prattville and assumed the presidency of the company, operating the Oxmoor furnaces. Though still in his early thirties, young DeBardeleben displayed great energy and enthusiasm. It was he and his associate, T. T. Hillman, who built Alice Furnace and first proved the value of iron made in Birmingham from its own resources of coal. In 1886, he founded the coal town of Bessemer.

Born in 1840, Henry Fairchild DeBardeleben spent his first ten years in Autuaga County. When his father died in 1850, his mother moved the family to Montgomery. Over the next six years Daniel Pratt, an old friend of the DeBardelebens and Alabama's leading industrialist at the time, became Henry's guardian. At sixteen, DeBardeleben moved to Prattville where he attended school and eventually managed the mill in which Pratt made cotton gins. According to Ragan, "although opposed to secession, DeBardelebenjoined the Confederate Army and served at the front line before being detailed to run the bobbin factory in Prattville for the Confederate govemment." In 1862, he married Daniel Pratt's daughter, Ellen.

In 1872, Daniel Pratt and Henry DeBardeleben first showed their first interest in the Red Mountain and Coal Company. And with the loss of northern interest in financing the furnace, the two men took control of rebuilding Oxmoor Furnace. DeBardeleben admitted that Oxmoor was [his] first lesson in the iron business. It was not a profitable venture, however, and without a working knowledge of the iron business DeBardeleben was forced to close Oxmoor furnaces.

The Oxmoor furnaces reopened in the fall of 1873 under new ownership. The Eureka Mining and Transportation Company of Alabama was now in charge. This time they used coke instead of charcoal to produce coke pig iron; "the experiment of making iron with coke seemed to every man in the district the last straw." Production costs still ran high, and as a result the Eureka Company started facing the same problems DeBardeleben had faced. Judge Mudd, finding promise in the furnace, invested his time and money, in the operations for a few months. Judge Mudd chaired a meeting oflocal men to discuss the future of Oxmoor furnaces. Together they organized the Cooperative Experimental Coke and Iron Company, taking over where Eureka had started. According to Henly, Mudd advanced $30,000 and Colonel James W. Sloss, Charles Linn, and Mudd were elected as Board of Managers. As historian Ethel Armes put it, their personal fortunes, and the life and death of the town of Birmingham, depended on the outcome at the Oxmoor furnace. But they did succeed, and on February 28, 1876, coke pig iron was made.

DeBardeleben profited finally once iron makers saw the importance of the resources found on his land. "The ownership of the Oxmoor property had at length reverted to Henry F. Debardeleben, who now possessed the furnaces, and, as heir to Daniel Pratt, owned Red Mountain from Graces Gap to the town now known as Bessemer." In January 1878, DeBardeleben, Sloss, and Truman H. Aldrich purchased extensive coal lands in Jefferson County and organized the Pratt Coal and Coke company, and with success, became the big names in the Birmingham Industrial District. With DeBardeleben's cotton gin background and Daniel Pratt's money, they built a railroad from their Pratt mining camp to Birmingham, with DeBardeleben putting his entire fortune into the company.

The Elyon Land Company donated donated to Hillman and DeBardeleben twenty acres of land at the west end of town to erect a a blast furnance in August of 1879. Construction of DeBardeleben's Alice Furnace began in period 1879-1880.

DeBardeleben's last greatest iron venture for Birmingham came as a result of a collaboration with a Kentucky lawyer, William Underwood. The two constructed Mary Pratt Furnace (named for his daughter) which went into blast in 1883. This became the tenth well-launched venture of the coal and iron trade in the Birmingham District.

In 1886, DeBardeleben found himself just outside of Birmingham thinking about steel production. It was this area, thirteen miles southwest of Birmingham, that he decided to establish a town, naming it Bessemer as a tribute to Sir Henry Bessemer, inventor of the famed steel-making system. What began as DeBardeleben's company's mining camp was incorporated as a city in 1887, under the Bessemer Realty Company, Henry DeBardeleben, President. DeBardeleben's company's mining camp became known as Bessemer and was incorporated as a city in 1887, along with the Bessemer Realty Company with Debardeleben as President. He bought many of the buildings from the New Orleans Cotton Exposition for use in Bessemer.

The steel enterprise was large in DeBardeleben's mind, but it got but one step further. He, with a Charleston cotton firm-Pelzer & Rogers-incorporated the Bessemer Steel Company, but never got seriously near making steel. Although DeBardeleben never was able to produce steel as he had hoped, the city possessed many growing enterprises such as a rolling mill and cotton mill and so survived.

It was in 1884, in the midst of iron making, that Judge Mudd sold the Arlington estate to Henry F. DeBardeleben. Debardeleben never occupied the house, but purchased it as an investment. In 1886 after never occupying the estate, DeBardeleben sold the land and house to F .A. Whitney of Iowa. There is not much information about Whitney, except that he also to used the estate as an investment, selling off parcels of the land to start a neighborhood subdivision. However, he did "his part to preserve the old era by naming the house 'Arlington' for General Robert E. Lee's home in Virginia."36 For sixteen years Arlington was an upscale boarding house. Among its occupants was John Joseph Colmant, a landscape gardener, and his family.

In 1902, Robert Sylvester Munger purchased the house as a summer home for his family. At the time, they were living in the Highland area of Birmingham. Later, when the city got to be too busy for Munger's taste, he decided to make Arlington his permanent residence. Originating from Texas, Munger was as a manufacturer and capitalist. He was best known for his role as vice president of two cotton machine manufacturing companies, the Munger Improved Cotton Machine Manufacturing Company of Dallas, and the Northington-Munger-Pratt Company in Birmingham ( organized in 1892). He was also an inventor, holding many patents pertaining to cotton gin processing. The Munger System was considered the first in its field. He was the pioneer inventor of most of the improved gin machinery used throughout the south; Munger also shipped his machinery abroad.

Munger was born in Rutersville in Fayette County, Texas, July 24, 1864. At an early age, he became practically interested in the cotton business. By spending a lot of time around his father's lumber mill and cotton gin, he "saw the old methods of ginning with machinery that permitted the lint and dust to fill the air." Wanting to save the health of others working in the gins, he devised a system of cotton ginning that would prevent lint from heavily burdening the air. This invention, known as the "Munger System," was the first of many inventions for the cotton industry. He became second to Eli Whitney as the greatest inventor of cotton ginning machinery. "Mr. Munger's gin patents upset lavorous methods, and gave a larger profit to the cotton growers. One hundred years after Whitney's cotton gin had become famous, Robert S. Munger received ten gold medals at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, for his inventions improving the antiquated methods of ginning cotton." Around 1891, Munger came to Birmingham, Alabama, manufacturing city and cotton-growing state, leaving his cotton gins in Dallas, Texas, under the management of his brother, Stephen Munger. Here in Birmingham, with others, he organized the Northington-Munger-Pratt Company-- using the Munger System -that in 1896 developed into the Continental Gin Company, of which he and his brother Stephen each served as president. It was not long before it became the largest cotton gin manufacturing company in the world.

Munger married Mary Collet, daughter of Captain J.H. Collett of Austin, Texas, and the couple became the parents of eight children. He was a very active humanitarian and community leader. He led the movement to find a suitable site for the Y.M.C.A. building and was the President of this organization from 1901-1914. He was also an active leader in the local Methodist Church and donated much to Birmingham-Southern College (Methodist affiliated).

After Robert Munger's death in 1923, followed by his wife's death in 1924, their daughter, Rose Munger Montgomery moved into the house. She and her husband lived there until 1943, but found living in the house to be too primitive. They were the last to use the estate.