Powell School, Birmingham’s first school building, may get new life

Powell School
Powell School (or the Free School), Birmingham’s first permanent school building. Closed since 2001, the school was nearly destroyed in 2011 from a fire. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

According to Michael Calvert, a longtime civic leader in Birmingham, the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation is working with a developer to explore restoring  Powell School, the first permanent school building in Birmingham.

Built in 1888, Powell School was named after one of the founders of Birmingham and its first mayor, James Powell.

FullSizeRender 429 Powell School, Birmingham's first school building, may get new life
Front of Powell School in 2018. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

The facility was considered “the most modern and the best equipped elementary school in the South” when it was built in the late 1800s.

Over the school’s 113 years of operation, it was used primarily as an elementary school. In 2001, the city school system  closed Powell.

On January 7, 2011, the vacant historic 16,944 square-foot building was severely damaged when a fire broke out on the third floor destroying the roof. Subsequently, insurance monies were spent stabilizing the building and replacing the roof.

Here is a video of the fire posted on Facebook.

Google map of Powell School, located on 2331 6th Avenue North.

In an interview with Calvert, he stated that the developer (he did not disclose the name to Bham Now) is looking at restoring the building for residential and commercial purposes.

Along with Calvert, Attorney Sam Frazier, the city and The Alabama  Trust for Historic Preservation have played a vital role over the years keeping this cherished school building “alive.”

FullSizeRender 430 Powell School, Birmingham's first school building, may get new life
Powell School on the 23rd Street side. Photo by Pat Byington, for Bham Now

Let’s hope Birmingham’s oldest school can make a comeback.

Do you remember Powell School?  Provide Bham Now some feedback and stories about the Magic City’s oldest school.


Pat Byington
Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.

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