Enoch Ensley (born 1832 in Nashville, Tennessee; died November 18, 1891 in Memphis, Tennessee) was an industrialist responsible for the construction of several major blast furnaces in the Birmingham District, notably the Ensley Works in the Ensley suburb, which he developed and named for himself.
Ensley was the son of a Nashville attorney, but developed a keen interest in horses, and pursued a career as a stable keeper and horse trader even after graduating from law school in Lebanon, Tennessee. During the Civil War he enlisted as a private in Hunter's Indian Volunteers, enrolled as the 1st Chickasaw Infantry. After the war, he was given the honorary title of "Colonel".
After his father's death, Ensley acquired significant real estate holdings in Memphis. He operated the most lucrative post-war plantations in the Memphis area and invested in several businesses. He was the first president of the Memphis Gas Light Company and sat on the board of directors for the Union & Planters Bank. In 1873 Ensley responded to a statewide tax proposal with a 27-page treatise in which he recommended, "Never tax anything that would be of value to your State, that could and would run away, or that could and would come to you."
Ensley attempted to gain voting interest in the expanding activities of the Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Company, but was rebuffed by president John Inman. The emergence of Birmingham's mineral district, which he learned of through letters from Major Thomas Peters, provided Ensley an opportunity to compete head to head against TCI.
He traveled to Birmingham in 1881 and me with Henry F. DeBardeleben, asking for "something in the way of a coal mine," that would knock TCI "into a cocked hat." In what was billed as the region's first "million dollar deal", Ensley purchased the Pratt Mines and controlling interest in the Alice Furnaces and Linn Iron Works from DeBardeleben. The first payment, a check for $600,000 written at the meeting, was deposited that day into the Berney National Bank.
Ensley combined his holdings into the Pratt Coal & Iron Company and continued to buy up land in the area. With assistance from engineer Llewellyn Johns he expanded the production of the Pratt mines and his furnaces, leading to a record 150 tons of pig iron produced in a single day at "Big Alice" in 1886. In December of that year, Ensley played his hand by selling the Pratt Company to TCI and becoming president of the combined enterprise.
In 1887 Ensley began planning a new industrial city west of Birmingham. He raised capital through the sale of stock, purchased 4,000 acres from TCI for the newly-incorporated Ensley Land Company, and divided it into lots for sale. While the close of those sales was suspended to allow time for installation of utilities and construction of the Ensley Hotel, investors lost faith in the development and drained capital away from the project. Ensley, meanwhile, had journeyed to Europe to attend to his first wife, Laura, who had fallen ill. She died in Asheville, North Carolina in September of that year. Ensley returned to Birmingham to find the market for pig iron at a low point and his engineer, Johns, working for the rival DeBardeleben Coal & Iron Company.
Ensley responded with renewed commitment. He ordered simultaneous construction of four massive steel furnaces, TCI's "Big Four," at Ensley, which went into blast between by April 1889. By then, Enoch Ensley had resigned from TCI, sold his interest in his Birmingham concerns, and left the district to pursue other opportunities in Sheffield. After the economy recovered from the Panic of 1893, TCI's steel plant eventually became successful. It produced its first steel in 1899, but did not save the Ensley Land Company from falling into bankruptcy. The company's real estate holdings were sold at auction to Erskine Ramsay and Paschal Shook for $16,000. They led a renewed push for development of the industrial town in 1898.
Meanwhile, Ensley's Sheffield Company built two furnaces and formed the Lady Ensley Coal, Iron & Railroad Company with Walter Moore in 1891. That company bought the Horse Creek Coal Mine and its coke ovens in Walker County. Ensley died later that year with his Sheffield venture headed into receivership.
- Ensley, Enoch (1873) "The Tax Question. Important Letter to Governor Brown. What should be Taxed and How it Should be Taxed? Suggestions for the People of Tennessee to Consider."
- Armes, Ethel (1910) The Story of Coal and Iron in Alabama. Birmingham: Birmingham Chamber of Commerce
- Lewis, W. David (1994) Sloss Furnaces and the Rise of the Birmingham District: An Industrial Epic. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press. ISBN 0817307087
- Burke, David (June 30, 2015) "Enoch Ensley" Encyclopedia of Alabama - accessed December 28, 2015