Bessemer founder had ties to Daniel Pratt

Henry Fairchild Debardeleben - File photo
Henry Fairchild Debardeleben - File photo

Bessemer – Bessemer, Alabama is a suburb of Birmingham and is located in the southwestern section of Jefferson County. With a population of about 30,000 and nicknamed “The Marvel City” because of its rapid growth in its early days.

Bessemer was founded by Henry Fairchild DeBardeleben in 1887 and was incorporated two years later. Henry was married to Ellen Pratt, daughter of Prattville founder and Alabama’s first industrialist, Daniel Pratt, and they had eight children together.

Learning at the “right hand” of Pratt, Debardeleben learned the cotton gin business and graduated to the coal and iron industry. Pratt and his son-in-law purchased the Oxmoor furnace near the lines at the foot of Shades Mountain and Debardeleben took over as manager.

Shortly thereafter it was discovered that coke – a light, porous by-product, was created when coal is baked for 48 to 72 hours at high temperatures in glazed firebrick ovens, and it was a better fuel for producing iron. Debardeleben then formed the Pratt Coal and Coke Company in 1878, along with two other early Alabama industrialists.

When Debardeleben returned to Birmingham in 1885 after being gone for several years because of health problems, he incorporated two companies; the Debardeleban Coal and Iron Company and the Bessemer Land and Improvement Company. The latter speculated on land and sold “boom-town” lots to anyone interested in developing a new city named for English scientist inventor, Sir Henry Bessemer, who was famous for his contribution to the steel making process.

In addition to being situated in the heart of the iron ore and limestone district of Alabama, Bessemer boasts other attractions as well. The Alabama theme park called Alabama Adventure is located off Interstate 20/59 in Bessemer and in 2005 it held the distinction of being Alabama’s second-most popular tourist destination. The park opened under the name Visionland in 1998 with four major areas: Magic City USA Theme Park, Splash Beach Water Park, Marvel City (children’s area), and Celebration Street (shopping/dining area).

Located next to Alabama Adventure is WaterMark Place, a 200,000 square foot outdoor outlet shopping mall. Stores include Liz Claiborne, Lane Bryant, Tommy Hilfiger, Zales Outlet, Wilsons Leather, Gap Outlet, Polo Ralph Lauren. And OshKosh B’Gosh.

Historic downtown Bessemer is being renovated as many older structures date back to 1887. Debardeleben Park was laid out in 1890 and there is a brochure available for those who want to take a “walking tour” of downtown. Downtown is also the location for Alabama’s oldest continuously-operated restaurant, The Bright Star, which began in 1907, and is still thriving today, feeding patrons Greek-style specialties, fresh seafood, and the finest steaks available.

Article by Melissa Parker

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