CHEROKEE COUNTY, Texas (KLTV) - It was a thriving industrial town carved out of the Piney Woods in Cherokee County but that only lasted about five years. Mark Scirto talked about the Iron Queen of the Southwest in his most recent Mark in Texas History.
New Birmingham got its name from Anderson B. Blevins. Blevins was a sewing machine salesman from Alabama who named the community after Birmingham in his home state. Blevins envisioned an industrial center comparable to New Birmingham’s namesake. And for a short while, it was on its way there.
Blevins was attracted to the area’s abundance of pig iron, which was essential to the production of steel.
Blevins attracted many investors, and the town was hopping fast, with its own paved streets and electricity. However, the bottom fell out soon.
“It was a company town built on credit,” a Cherokee County historian said in a Proud of East Texas story about New Birmingham. “There was not much of a cash flow.”
A beautiful young woman, Mary Wheeler Kuney, who later became a noted artist, was the object of a good deal of jealousy among New Birmingham matrons. When General Hammon started spreading rumors about her, Mary’s husband, Stanley, shot and killed Hammon.
“Kuney was convicted of manslaughter, sentenced to two years in the pen, and he served it here in Rusk,” the historian said.
Hammon’s widow, Ella Virginia, was devastated by the light sentence.
“The story goes that she ran through the town calling for its demise and put a curse on New Birmingham, and a few years later, when the town collapsed, they said, ‘see, she put a curse on the town,’” the historian said.
To add to the problem, a fire destroyed the Tassie Belle furnace, putting almost 300 residents out of work. After that, the hotel and most of the manufacturing plants closed. By July 4, 1893, the “Iron Queen” was dead.
Only the memory remains, with a historical marker established in 1966.
If you want to see the former spot of New Birmingham, it’s on Highway 69, a mile southeast of the city of Rusk.