As a history geek, I’ve been obsessed with the photos of O.V. Hunt for years. In the early 1900s, he captured some of the best photos of Birmingham—at least in my opinion. I picked out a few of my favorites to share what Birmingham looked like through Hunt’s lens, over a century ago.
Meet Oscar Virgil Hunt
By now, readers of my articles are probably tired of hearing me fawn over O.V. Hunt. However, I’ve been infatuated with his work for nearly five years. I first came across his photos as an intern at the Birmingham Public Library Department of Archives & Manuscripts. Director and expert on all things Birmingham Jim Baggett tasked me with digitally scanning thousands of O.V. Hunt’s 8×10 glossy black & white photographs (with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was). As I scanned each photograph, I had the privilege of seeing Birmingham as it was through the eye of O.V. Hunt.
Born in Georgia in 1881, Oscar Virgil Hunt was one of Birmingham’s most prolific photographers during the early days of growth and development in The Magic City. During his career, he served as a photographer for the Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Company and for the Birmingham Ledger, as well as working with clients out of his own studio in the Clark Building.
Throughout his decades as a photographer, Hunt likely took tens of thousands of photos of the developing city of Birmingham. Sadly, only a few thousand remain, most of which live at the Birmingham Public Library Department of Archives and Manuscripts. Even so, these photos are one of the best ways to see Birmingham as it was.
Birmingham Under Construction
As a photographer in the early 20th century, O.V. Hunt was perfectly positioned to capture the construction of buildings we know and love today. During the early 1900s, Birmingham experienced a rapid growth spurt, largely due to the success of the iron industry.
O.V. Hunt managed to immortalize the construction of many of Birmingham’s most beloved buildings, such as:
- The City Federal Building (built 1913)
- The Watts Building (1928)
- Alabama Theatre (1927)
- Lyric Theatre (1914)
- The Pioneer Building (now Liberty Towers at Midtown) (1925)
- The original Tutwiler Hotel (1914)
- And many more.
The Places We Like to Visit
Even in a city as (relatively) young as Birmingham, many of our favorite hangout spots seep with history and shared experiences. If you’ve ever seen a concert in Avondale Park, shopped in Five Points South or visited downtown Birmingham, you’re traveling in the footsteps of thousands of people before you. O.V. Hunt captured some of these shared moments nearly 100 years ago.
The People of Birmingham
Nowadays, capturing a human moment can be as simple as whipping out your phone. But in the early days of film photography, things weren’t so simple—making O.V. Hunt’s human photographs so unique. As BhamWiki eloquently puts it:
See O.V. Hunt’s Work & More at the Birmingham Public Library
In this article, I picked only a fraction of O.V. Hunt’s work. If you’d like to see more, visit O.V. Hunt’s page on the Birmingham Public Library’s Digital Collections website. While you’re there, you can see the work of several other Birmingham photographers around the same time period.