Arlington Antebellum Home and Gardens Now a neighborhood in southwest Birmingham, the community of Elyton is located in Jefferson County‘s Jones Valley. The original county seat, the community played a significant role in the early history of the area. It was home to several of the county’s notable people, including legislators William S. Mudd, Goldsmith Whitehouse Hewitt, and Thomas Haughey and businessman and lawyer Elisha Wolsey Peck. Famed singer Tammy Wynette lived in Elyton Village, a public housing project built on a former Elyton plantation. It was annexed as a neighborhood of Birmingham in 1910.
Alabama’s Jones Valley was home to some of the earliest pioneer settlements in the state. It was named for Fort Jonesboro, built in 1813 by original settler John Jones. The fort soon became a stop on a wagon road bringing more settlers to the area. At some point, the specific area that would encompass Elyton became known as Frog Level, for its marshy, flat topography.
In 1819, the U.S. government donated a land grant of 23,000 acres in what was then the Alabama Territory to the American Asylum for the Instruction and Education of the Deaf and Dumb, based in Hartford, Connecticut, to use as it wished to create schools for vision- and hearing-impaired people in the nation. Federal land agent William Ely was sent to Alabama to evaluate the portion of the land grant in the Jones Valley and found it substandard and already illegally settled in several places. He convinced the Asylum to sell the land, and in February 1820, it went up for auction. Ely sold 27 acres to Jefferson County for use as a county seat, with the requirement that the county build a jail and a courthouse. The new town was christened Elyton in his honor and incorporated on December 20, 1820, one year after Alabama was admitted as a state.
William S. Mudd Elyton soon became an important crossroads for stage and market traffic connecting with Huntsville, Tuscaloosa, Montevallo, and locations in Georgia and Mississippi. By 1822, the town boasted a number of businesses and hotels as well as the Jefferson Academy, a privately owned school with separate facilities for boys and girls, and plantations ringed it in the rich land surrounding the town. In 1824, Samuel Earle established his plantation and built a large Greek Revival mansion, and five generations of the family would reside there. The historic Stephen Hall plantation (named for early settler Stephen Hall and now known as Arlington Antebellum Home and Gardens) was established on a 475-acre tract by William O. Tarrant (for whom the city of Tarrant is named) and John Burford Sr. They in turn sold it to jurist William Mudd, who would be among the founders of Birmingham with his interest in the Elyton Land Company and was married to Florence Earle, daughter of Samuel. He renamed it The Grove and built a large mansion. By the 1850s, the town had its own newspaper, the Elyton Herald, and a population of about 900.
During the Civil War, the town was one of many severely damaged during a lengthy raid through central Alabama by Gen. James H. Wilson and his federal troops. The Grove was spared from destruction when it was chosen as the headquarters of U.S. general Edward McCook. After the war, the Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad ran a line through the town, and a planned line by the North and South Railroad would have made Elyton a major shipping center for the mining and burgeoning iron industry in the region. Leaders of the Elyton Land Company began scheming to establish their own town and launched a campaign to have the proposed city of Birmingham named as the new county seat. In 1873, they succeeded, and Elyton’s time as the political, legal, and commercial center of Jefferson County came to an end. The majority of the town’s residents and businesses relocated to the new county seat as well.
Elyton Village Public Housing The town continued to exist as its own municipality in the late-nineteenth century, and many of the surrounding farms and plantations were subdivided into smaller neighborhoods as the population around Birmingham expanded. It was reincorporated in 1907 and Frank Smith was elected as its first and only mayor. Three years later, the town was annexed into Birmingham. In 1938, the Earle-Green plantation was demolished and turned into Elyton Village public housing. In the mid-1960s, country music star Tammy Wynette lived there and worked as a beautician and first gained fame on the Country Boy Eddie Show on local television.
Today, Elyton is an economically mixed suburb that is home to Elmwood Cemetery, Princeton Baptist Medical Center, and Arlington Antebellum Home and Gardens.
Moss, Florence H. W. Building Birmingham and Jefferson County. Birmingham, Ala.: Birmingham Printing Company, 1947.