The Birmingham-Tidewater Railway (originally the Birmingham, Tidewater & Coast Railroad, later the Birmingham, Ensley & Bessemer Railroad) was a street railway that offered passenger service between Ensley and East Lake. The company was organized in 1912 with offices on the 1800 block of 5th Avenue North. Its cars began operating on September 18 of that year.
The company had ambitions of hauling freight and expanding its interurban service to Tuscaloosa, where it could transfer cargo to barges accessing tidal waters, hence its name. Ultimately the railroad could continue to the coast, allowing cargo to be transferred directly to oceangoing transports. The railway began by connecting Tuxedo Junction to Pratt City and continued through downtown and below the Terminal Station to East Lake by February 1913. McArthur Brothers of New York was hired to install the track.
Shortages of capital investment, however, limited the rate of construction of the line, which was designed for heavy service loads expected when it began hauling freight. The company curtailed those plans, though, and changed the name to the Birmingham, Ensley & Bessemer Railroad (BE&B RR).
The railroad originally bought ten cars (numbered 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, and 20) constructed by Wason. Five additional cars (numbered 22, 24, 26, 28, and 30) were constructed by Perley A. Thomas in 1913. A last group of cars (numbers 32, 34, 36, 38, 40, 42, 44, 46, 48, and 50) were completed later that year by Brill.
In September 1914 the Birmingham, Ensley & Bessemer Railroad entered into foreclosure proceedings and eventually into receivership. During that process, a minority group of shareholders claimed that the banking houses had used the sale of bonds of the BE&B RR to offset losses in the separate Birmingham & Gulf Railway and Navigation Company. They succeeded in having a co-receiver, Augustus Benners, appointed to represent their interests in opposition to the majority stockholders. The company's assets were put up for sale on October 28, 1915. A merger of the BE&B into the Birmingham Railway, Light & Power Company's system was approved by the Alabama Public Service Commission in 1916. In 1917 the sale of the Tidewater's assets was completed.
BRyL&PCo., which operated a parallel Owenton-Wylam line west of Birmingham, completed the work of merging the lines in 1924. The former Tidewater line became part of the No. 27 Ensley No. 38 South East Lake streetcar line, and survived as the last streetcar line to run in the city, finally ending service on April 19, 1953.
The Tidewater route began and ended at the Tidewater Barn at the end of 17th Street north of Avenue C in Ensley. It followed 17th Street until it merged with 18th Street and proceeded east to Pratt Junction where it jogged back up to 17th and onto Graymont Avenue (a route now obstructed by I-65). The route proceeded along Graymont, past Legion Field, and onto 5th Avenue North, by which it entered downtown Birmingham.
From there the route continued through the Birmingham Terminal Station's "subway" underpass and continued eastward to 41st Street North in Avondale. It then turned south, crossing the tracks of the Alabama Great Southern and Georgia Pacific Railroads to 4th Avenue South, merging with 5th Avenue South near the Continental Gin Company as it approached Woodlawn. From Georgia Road the route followed 1st Avenue South to 68th Street, then jogged to 2nd Avenue South to the Cascade Plunge and College Station (Howard College) and on to 85th Street where it turned north to 1st Avenue North.
At that point the Tidewater route returned to 68th Street by 1st Avenue North before turning south, completing its East Lake loop, and retracing its route through Woodlawn, Avondale, Birmingham, and Graymont to Ensley.
- "An Alabama Utility" (December 6, 1913) United States Investor. Vol. 24, No. 49, p. 2278
- "Broader Victory for the 'Under Dog'" (March 20, 1915) The Financial World.
- Hudson, Alvin W. & Harold E. Cox (1976) Street Railways of Birmingham. Forty Fort, Pennsylvania: Harold E. Cox
- Birmingham Electric Co. at Don's Rail Photos