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.