Sheffield Residential Historic District

Sheffield City, Colbert County, AL

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Home on Atlanta Avenue

Photo: Home in the Sheffield Residential Historic District, circa 1905, located at 400 Atlanta Avenue, Sheffield. The District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. Photographed by Gene A. Ford for the nomination document, 1999, accessed November, 2021.

The Sheffield Residential Historic District [†] is situated on the south bank of the Tennessee River. The residential historic district occupies most of a large grid system of streets (the Sheffield Downtown Commercial Historic District accounts for the rest of the grid area) that extends from First Street just north of the Southern Railroad to Fourteenth Street and from Dover Avenue to Wood Street. The district encompasses a triangular shaped area of streets bounded by Dover Avenue, Twenty-Seventh Street, and Fifteenth Avenue and several areas featuring curvilinear streets along the river's edge. It also includes an area bounded by Tenth Street, Montgomery Avenue, Park Boulevard, and the Tennessee River that forms Riverside Park. This area has always been undeveloped, planned as a park in the 1886 city design. The district contains 675 contributing resources, 124 non contributing resources, 1 contributing site, and 1 contributing structure. As designed by Civil Engineer Charles Boeckh in 1886, the grid system was intended to extend south of First Street; east of Dover Avenue; and west of Wood Avenue. In 1890, the streets in these areas were aligned at a forty-five degree angle to the master grid so that the houses on them would be closer to the town core. In general, avenues are oriented in a north/south direction; streets intersect avenues at ninety degree angles. The Sheffield town site grid consists of sixteen avenues and sixteen streets. Montgomery Avenue with its superior width of 100 feet is designated as the main thoroughfare in town (Sanborn Map Company 1889). The other avenues and streets measure sixty feet in width. The blocks north of Sixth Street and east of Columbia Avenue are bisected by a north/south alley and subdivided into twelve parcels; blocks south of Sixth Street and west of Columbia Avenue are cut into four sections consisting of six parcels by the intersection of two alleys, one oriented in a north/south direction, the other perpendicular to it.

In several intriguing instances, Boeckh deviated from strict adherence to the rigid geometry of the straight line and 90 degree angle and standardized parcel divisions. The engineer created a series of serpentine avenues along the river bluff. Hugging the edge of the bluff, the roads conform to the undulating topography of this section of Sheffield, especially the area bounded by Montgomery and Alabama Avenues north of Tenth Street. Alabama Avenue follows a natural ravine that descends from bluff top to river level. The lambent roadways function in symphony with River Side Park, providing mystery, frames of pleasing foliage and dramatic vistas of the Tennessee River for the amusement and recreation of Sheffield's denizens.

The Sheffield Residential Historic District is subdivided into several neighborhoods. The area of Sheffield bounded by the Southern Railroad. Sixth Street. Wood Street, and Montgomery Avenue constitutes a transitional zone, mixing small industry with working class residences and commerce. Sheffield's upper crust society occupies premium lots near the river, especially along Montgomery Avenue north of Sixth Street. The middle and upper middle classes have respectable domiciles in the section bounded by the Tennessee River, Austin Avenue, Sixth Street west of Montgomery Avenue, First Street east of Montgomery Avenue, and Dover Avenue.

The historic resources contained within the Sheffield Residential Historic District can be grouped into the following fields: Residences, Religious Buildings, Public Works, Educational Facility, Commerce, Transportation, and Recreation. Within the residential field there are the following categories: Victorian, Victorian Cottage, T-Cottage, Bungalow, Craftsman, Four Square, Tudor Revival, Neoclassical Revival, Colonial Revival, I House, Central Passage Cottage, Pyramidal Roof Cottage, L Cottage, Spanish Eclectic, Mission Revival, Pueblo Revival, Shotgun, Carriage House, Massed Plan Cottage, and Minimal Traditional Cottage, Fourplex, and Apartment Building.

The Sheffield Residential Historic District contains one of the last vestiges of the Sheffield Railway Corporation's street car system that connected Tuscumbia, Sheffield, and Florence: the street car barn. Completed in 1904, the electric street car line extended 12 miles from Tuscumbia to Florence and crossed the Tennessee River via the Southern Railway bridge. The line facilitated local intra and inter travel before the days of the automobile. Built in 1904, the street car barn in Sheffield was designed to house street cars as well as offices and maintenance shops. The street car line operated until 1933 when the franchise expired. (See Streetcar Suburbs 1888 to 1928.

The District contains one of Sheffield's last historic school buildings, one that served the community for nearly 80 years. One of the first items the newly‑established town of Sheffield acted upon in 1886 was to build a small, four-room frame school on Atlanta Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets. The city foresaw the need for a larger facility and soon voted to construct a 12-room school, estimated to cost around $30,000, on Alabama Avenue. Construction was slow and not completed until 1892. The Alabama Avenue School was built as a large two-story brick and stone building with then-modern conveniences such as electric lights and indoor running water. This building served as the city's sole source for elementary education for white students until the 1960s. Today this building houses the Colbert County Board of Education. The original 1886 frame school became the high school after the Alabama Avenue School was constructed in 1892, was replaced in the early 1920s by an adjacent school, and torn down in 1924. The site of the 1886 and 1920s schools now contain a circa 1961 elementary school.

The District is notable for its collection of late nineteenth to mid twentieth-century residential architecture. Contained within the historic district are locally-significant examples of high style and vernacular houses. Victorians, Craftsmans, English manors, and Colonials are prevalent as are bungalows, industrial village housing types, and minimal traditional cottages. These houses feature such stylistic embellishments as brackets, spindlework friezes, turned posts, oriel and bay windows, turrets, towers, exposed timberwork, wood posts on stone or brick piers, and classical columns. These houses of the middle and upper classes reflect a conscious effort on their builders and owners to capture the essence of nationwide architectural trends from the latter part of the previous century to the middle of the present one. The grand and resplendent Chambers-Nathan Home is as fine a Victorian as there is in the state. The same can be said for a baronial Tudor Revival mansion on River Bluff Drive and its representative genre. Of no less importance, hip roof, cross gable, and massed plan cottages document the efforts made by Sheffield's industries and real estate developers to provide basic shelter for the working classes. Twelve, brick, hip roof cottages on Pittsburgh Avenue represent the last vestiges of worker housing built by Sheffield's long gone steel, coal, and iron industries.

Once a dominant part of Sheffield's residential stock, this housing began to disappear during World War I and II as it was relocated to other manufacturing sites and was all but obliterated save for the few surviving examples to make way for a federal housing project in the 1960s.

Additionally, the Sheffield Residential Historic District is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places based on Criterion C in the area of architecture for its collection of High Victorian Gothic and Neoclassical Revival religious buildings. Four churches, including the Church of Christ (Resource 62, CR), Cumberland Presbyterian Church (Resource 247, CR), First United Methodist Church (Resource 473, CR), and the Methodist Church (Resource 675, CR) feature such High Victorian Gothic details as towers, parapets, rose, pointed, segmental, rounded, and ogee arch top windows, and rusticated stone construction. The Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Methodist Church were built in the late nineteenth century. Featuring such details as a pedimented portico, entablature, and Doric columns, the B'Nai Israel Temple (Resource 169, CR) is an excellent representative of Neoclassical architecture.

Gene A. Ford/Trina Binkley, Christy Anderson, ARC Reviewer, Sheffield Residential Historic District, nomination document, 2002, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C., accessed November, 2021.

Street Names
10th Street • 13th Street • 14th Avenue • 15th Avenue • 17th Street • 25th Street • 26th Street • 27th Street • 3rd Street • 4th Street • 5th Street • 6th Street • 7th Street • 8th Street • 9th Street • Alabama Avenue • Alabama Court • Annapolis Avenue • Atlanta Avenue • Austin Avenue • Columbia Avenue North • Dover Avenue • Forest Avenue • Frankfurt Avenue • Gordon Avenue • Hatch Boulevard • Little Rock Court • Mabel Avenue • Minuteman Street • Montgomery Avenue North • Nashville Avenue North • Park Boulevard • Pittsburgh Avenue • Raleigh Avenue • Riverbluff Drive • St Louis Avenue • Walnut Street • Wood Street

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