Edgewater is an unincorporated community in the Warrior coal fields in western Jefferson County. The two-lobed former mining village straddles Camp Branch between Birmingport Road and New Mulga Loop Road, north of Pleasant Grove, west of McDonald Chapel and south of Bayview Lake.
TCI established the Edgewater site in 1910, near the Central Water Works pumping station which drew water from the newly-filled Bayview Lake. The company opened the Edgewater Mine into the Warrior coal field about 1911. Initially the mine employed prisoners brought to the site on the Kansas City, Memphis and Birmingham Railroad, and the same line was used to haul their mined coal to coke ovens for use at the company's Ensley Works.
In 1912, under the direction of company president George Gordon Crawford, the practice of convict leasing was abandoned at TCI's mines. Planning began for a new "model mining village" in line with the company's new policy of welfare capitalism. The company hoped to attract better quality, more settled and dedicated workers by creating a company-owned village with modern sanitation, orderly houses, schools, churches, and recreation opportunities. The framed churches were re-built with more substantial brick construction in the 1920s.
Streets were named after various cities and countries, including Mexico, Libya, Java, Iceland, Holland, Houston, Galveston, Falmouth, Elkhart, England, Denmark, Canada, Belgium, Arabia, Kenosha and Jamaica.
The first houses were of the 4-room square top, pyramid-roof type that characterizes many industrial houses of the early 20th century. Each house had a yard and a privy building at the alley which contained a coal scuttle and garbage bin, all serviced by TCI sanitation department trucks. Later workers' houses, built between 1914-15 and 1917-21, were constructed in other styles with varying rooflines, including shotguns, 6-room duplexes, and 4-room gabled houses with attached porches. At this time, renters were given limited options for paint colors. Supervisors' houses were built on the hillsides overlooking the village. A "teacherage" for unmarried schoolteachers was built at the corner of Galveston and Iceland.
The village was racially segregated with the white workers and their families living in "Edgewater A" on the eastern "lobe" and black families in "Edgewater B" to the west. Lots for segregated churches and schools were also provided.
In 1913 TCI reorganized their health department, hiring Lloyd Noland to supervise from newly-built hospital in Fairfield. Free health services were available to those miners who opted into the company's $1.25/month "medical list." The company also provided social workers to each of its villages. A "community house" offered a full slate of programs for children and wives aimed at applying modern scientific ideas about proper housekeeping and social health.
In 1916 residents of Edgewater participated in a major pageant, called Wenonah: The Magic Word produced through the company schools to celebrate the establishment of a new model village at Wenonah. Other recreational and artistic opportunities included industrial league baseball, weekly dances, community sings, company sponsored lectures and literature libraries covering technical topics on mining and manufacturing, and various competitions for gardening and decorating the houses.
The town was expanded to accommodate a wartime boom in demand for steel in 1918. During the 1920s the Edgewater mine was the 2nd largest in the district, employing 1,252 miners with production in excess of 800,000 tons per year. Renovations to existing houses provided running water and, in some cases, indoor toilets. The program of social welfare continued at full strength through the 1920s, but the company's commitment to it was tested by numerous factors that emerged during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The workforce at the Edgewater mine was reduced greatly by 1933. The company deferred rent on the miners' houses and utilities and doled out credit at the company store (a move derided as giving out "pity slips" by the miners)
During the second World War, workers were more mobile and less dependent on the company for goods, services and recreation. In 1952 all the village real estate was sold to the John W. Galbreath Real Estate company ("America's foremost broker of company towns.") to be subdivided and sold. TCI workers living in the houses were given the first option on the properties, with the company offering a financing plan to help them make the transition from renters to owners.
In the years since, the village has gradually lost most of the unique elements of its role as a model village. The schools were closed by the county after the mine closed. Several of the houses have been destroyed or dismantled. Others have been extensively modified or enlarged. Most of the privy buildings have been removed. The churches, however, have remained active.
- Foscue, Virginia O. (1989) Place Names in Alabama. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press. ISBN 081730410X
- White, Marjorie Longenecker (1977) Downtown Birmingham: Architectural and Historical Walking Tour Guide. Birmingham: Birmingham Historical Society.
- Rikard, Marlene Hunt (November 1981) "'Take Everything You Are...and Give it Away': Pioneer Industrial Social Workers at TCI." Journal of the Birmingham Historical Society Vol. 7, No. 2, p. 24-41.