Graham’s Woods and The Pines

Old Cloverdale is sited on land purchased in 1817 by William Graham, who later served as Montgomery’s first mayor. The rolling terrain and the thick stands of pines rendered the land unfit for farming, although the surrounding area was composed of farms and small plantations. Montgomerians enjoyed the area for outdoor recreation, such as picnics in the clover-covered dales. At that time, the area was known as Graham’s Woods or The Pines.

Cloverdale Neighborhoods

In 1887, the first effort was made to develop the former Graham’s Woods as a residential neighborhood. The national economic depression of 1893-98, however, prevented successful development. Although a plat was developed in 1892, only ten houses had been constructed by 1908.

Improved economic conditions and connection of the area to Montgomery by the electric streetcar soon enabled the area to thrive. Between 1908 and 1916, 125 houses were built. Although the area began as a streetcar suburb, it quickly developed the characteristics of a town. In fact, part of it was an independent, incorporated village from 1910 until 1927, when it was incorporated into Montgomery.

The plat of 1892 adhered to the then-popular garden towns that had begun in England and spread to the northeastern United States. This concept was in reaction to the noisy, dirty, densely-populated cities created by the Industrial Revolution. Garden town design characteristics included curving streets, irregularly-shaped lots and naturally landscaped parks. The intent was to create rural environments with easy access to city centers. Cloverdale was Alabama’s first landscaped, garden-designed residential area.

The western part of today’s Old Cloverdale especially adheres to the garden town concept. Mature trees hold Old Cloverdale’s diverse architectural styles together visually and aesthetically. Together, they blend into a charming neighborhood.

Historic Summary of Old Cloverdale

Compiled by Tom Dolan and Edited by Rus Baxley

The Cloverdale area of the city of Montgomery, Alabama was originally a portion of a 160 acre tract of land purchased by William Graham from the United States government in 1817. The tract of land owned by Graham “way out in the country” to the south of Montgomery was called Graham’s Woods. The landscape was covered with virgin pines, a few of which still exist on the lawns of some Cloverdale homes. Consequently, this area was sometimes called “The Pines” in addition to the name “Graham’s Woods”. In addition to the pine trees, there were also a number of open glens where clover grew in abundance, and this seems to be the likely origin of the name, Cloverdale, which was adopted in 1892.

In 1892, a plat of the property was drawn showing a series of winding streets with large irregularly shaped lots overlooking several open parks and a large lake site. The plan for Cloverdale today is slightly altered from the original 1892 plat.

There has been much speculation about the origins of the landscape design for Cloverdale. The picturesque natural garden landscape developed in Europe during the early 19th century and was popularized during the mid-century in America by landscape architect, Frederick law Olmsted Sr. Mr. Olmsted was America’s preeminent landscape architect and responsible for a number of very fine nineteenth century residential suburbs, including Riverside (1869) in Chicago, Illinois and Druid Hills (1893) in Atlanta, Georgia.

The plan for Cloverdale has basic qualities which are similar to Olmsted’s suburban residential designs elsewhere around the country. Olmsted was at work on the landscape plan for the Alabama State Capitol grounds in Montgomery in 1889. This, of course, was contemporary with the early development of Cloverdale. No documentation, however, has yet surfaced to substantiate any definite Olmsted influence.

A more likely designer of Cloverdale was the English landscape architect, Joseph Forsyth Johnson. Mr. Johnson emigrated to America in the 1870’s after a successful career designing the grounds for a number of estates in England, Ireland and Russia. He was also the curator of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Belfast before coming to this country. A comparison of Cloverdale with Johnson’s design for the residential suburb Inman park in Atlanta reveals some remarkable similarities. Both, for example, had proposed lake sites and both have long, narrow, central park areas surrounded by curving streets.

The earliest documentation discovered for the construction of a house in Cloverdale is from a letter dated 1892. This house, which was located on the corner of what is now Felder Avenue and Norman Bridge Road, was demolished for an apartment complex in the late 1940’s.

In 1893, The Cloverdale Land and Development Company was bankrupt, due to the nationwide economic panic of that period. During the next fifteen years, the Cloverdale site lay dormant with the exception of some activity along the north side of Felder Avenue, where a small golf course and tennis courts were built. This was the beginning of the Montgomery Country Club.

In 1908, there were only ten houses in Cloverdale, but by 1916 there were one hundred twenty-five. Many of these homes were designed by Montgomery’s leading architects, B. B. Smith, Weatherly Carter, Frank Lockwood Sr. and Frank Lockwood Jr. One house was designed by Mobile architect Nicholas Holmes Sr.

In 1910, the residents of Cloverdale voted for the first time to incorporate their suburb into a self-governing village. They elected Charles Tullis as the first mayor. This period also saw the development of a small commercial strip on the corner of Norman Bridge Road and the north side of Cloverdale Road, and this became Montgomery’s first suburban commercial area. In the late 1920’s, another similar business strip began to develop on the corner of Fairview Avenue and Woodley Road.

Cloverdale has been one of Montgomery’s choice residential areas since the turn of the century. It is one of Montgomery’s earliest suburbs and is the oldest landscape garden designed residential area in Alabama, predating similar areas in Birmingham. Its short existence as an incorporated village (1910 – 1927) gave it a special sense of neighborhood, which it has retained to some degree to the present day.

Brief History of the Neighborhood East of Cloverdale

The residential neighborhood bounded by Boultier Street, Carter Hill Road, Narrow Lane Road and Fairview Avenue is commonly called “Cloverdale” by current residents. A history of the development of the area, however, shows that it was never associated with the original Cloverdale, bounded by Felder Avenue, Boultier Street, Fairview Avenue and Norman Bridge Road. The original Cloverdale was incorporated and platted in 1892. It was not until 1908, however, that the area to the east began to be developed by an entirely different group of real estate agents and land speculators.

The neighborhood was developed piecemeal by several investors who were no doubt encouraged by the extension of the streetcar line to Woodley Road and Fairview Avenue and the establishment of Huntingdon College in 1908. The first development was a small area bounded by Boultier Street, Carter Hill Road, and Woodward Street. It was purchased for slightly less than $3,000 by Montgomery Real Estate Co. Zirkle and Moore (Db71, page 421). According to Plat Book 2, page 42, in the Montgomery Courthouse, the property was divided into lots and platted in 1908. It was called “East Cloverdale.” Apparently the name immediately caused confusion with it’s neighboring development just to the west. A short time later the name was changed to “College Park.”

A few years later, a larger area roughly bounded by Woodward, Boultier Street, Fairview Avenue and Narrow Lane Road was purchased by John Sellers. Mr. Sellers was President of the Alabama Feed, Fertilizer and Ginning Co. and resided on Perry Street in Montgomery. Sellers held onto the property for several years before actually starting development. He made his first profit from the property in 1919 when he sold the property on the corner of Boultier Street and Fairview Avenue for $10,000 to the Montgomery County board of Education for the construction of a school (DB 107, page 416). Sellers finally divided the remaining surrounding land lots, as recorded in Plat Book 5, page 54, in 1926, one year before the entire area was annexed into the city of Montgomery. He called his development “Cloverdale Ridge.”

A third much smaller area, encompassing only one street, between College Avenue and Narrow Lane, was purchased by Clyde Watson Jr., a traveling salesman with Teague Hardware Co. Mr. Watson lived on Cloverdale Road in “Old Cloverdale” and no doubt saw the potential for a quick profit. Platted in 1928 (Plat Book 6, page 25) the entire area had officially become a part of the city of Montgomery and the future of its growth was assured. Mr. Watson called his new development “Watson.” He also named its only street after himself.

The neighborhoods to the east of “Old Cloverdale,” therefore, were initially three separate developments – “College Park,” “Cloverdale Ridge,” and “Watson.” They were established more than 15 years after “Old Cloverdale” was incorporated in 1892. One look at a map of the area shows that “East Cloverdale” was planned for the less affluent homeowner with small, narrow lots unlike most of those in “Old Cloverdale.” Another apparent difference is the more traditional parallel street pattern, so different from the curvilinear streets in “Old Cloverdale.”

Despite those differences in origin and design, the entire area is thought of today as a single neighborhood. No doubt the close proximity of each development and the sharing of the same school contributed to the sense of a single community. The entire area was also annexed into the city at the same time (1927) and was probably collectively called Cloverdale by the city fathers. All of the various developments including “Old Cloverdale” experienced their growth between 1908 and 1930, making it appear as though it was a homogeneous development. For these and probably other reasons the neighborhood is considered a single unit by its residents despite the historic record to the contrary.

Tom Dolan
November, 1990