5 landmarks you should know in Downtown Bessemer’s National Historic District

downtown bessemer
Historic Downtown Bessemer. Photo via Jacob Blankenship for Bham Now

Did you know Bessemer’s downtown is a nationally designated Historic District? Take a look at five of Bessemer’s most historic downtown buildings and learn a little about their long histories.

The city of Bessemer is over 110 years old, founded in 1887 by Henry F. Debardeleben. Among other fun facts rocked a massive mustache and held stake a in Red Mountain Iron. What became one of the largest cities in the state was originally named Brooklyn, before being renamed Bessemer after a British scientist who made advances in the steel-making process in the 19th century.

1. Bessemer Public Library

bessemer public library
The Bessemer Public Library. Photo via Jacob Blankenship for Bham Now

The current Bessemer Public Library was originally built in 1908 and was first used as a US Government Post Office. In 1965, the City of Bessemer transformed the old post office into a library, and eventually added on the more modern building, pictured above on the left-hand side.

2. Jefferson County Courthouse

jefferson county courthouse bessemer
The Jefferson County Courthouse, located in Bessemer. Photo via Jacob Blankenship for Bham Now

Constructed in 1919, this three story building is made of buff brick and is part of the Downtown Bessemer National Historic District. The current courthouse came a bit after the encorporation of the city in 1887, but trials were already happening in the city during it’s first year.

3. The Realty Building and Bright Star

No list of historic buildings and stores in downtown Bessemer would be complete without mention of the Realty Building and the world-famous Bright Start restaurant. The Realty Building was built in 1915 and is the tallest building in downtown Bessemer. It was constructed on the site of the former Rebie Hall Building from 1890 that was destroyed by fire, like several buildings in the area. Currently, the Realty Building holds office space above the renowned restaurant.

The Bright Star restaurant is a local legend, having hosted a string of celebrities from Bear Bryant and Nick Saban to several Alabama governors. It first opened in 1907 at a different location, and moved to the Realty Building after its construction.

4. Lincoln Theatre

lincoln theatre
The Lincoln Theater is currently under renovation. Photo via Jacob Blankenship for Bham Now

Also within the Downtown Bessemer National Historic District is the Lincoln Theatre. First opened in 1948, the Theater was a landmark of segregation in the city. Because of Jim Crow laws that spread throughout the country, the Lincoln Theatre was only open to African Americans.

The Holland Project spearheads the current restoration of the Lincoln Theatre, along with several other historic downtown Bessemer buildings. Their goal is to create a space dedicated to celebrating diverse cultures with an emphasis on African American culture in Bessemer.

5. Bessemer Hall of History

bessemer hall of history
Formerly a passenger train station, check out the Bessemer Hall of History. Photo via Jacob Blankenship for Bham Now

The monument to the monuments, the Bessemer Hall of History is a historic landmark in and of itself. The Southern Railway Passenger Train Station was constructed in 1916. A block grant from Housing and Urband Developmnent (HUD) and donations from private individuals funded the original construction.

Housed in a Southern Railway passenger train station, the Bessemer Hall of History is home to a variety of Bessemer artifacts. It tells the story of the Marvel City, both from an industrial and cultural perspective. The Hall of History began in 1965 and has been a popular downtown attraction ever since.

Interested in learning more about historic downtown Bessemer? Check out these recent Bham Now stories:

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Claire Hancock
Claire Hancock
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