Friday, August 28, 2009

Brookside, Alabama: St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church

Brookside is a former mining town predominantly settled by Eastern European immigrants located in western Jefferson County, Alabama, United States. As of the 2000 census, the population of the town is 1,393.

The Brookside mine was opened in 1886 by the Coalburg Coal and Coke Company. It was purchased one year later by the Sloss Iron and Steel Company as a source of fuel for their blast furnaces in Birmingham. Following the practice of the time, the mined coal was processed into coke in rows of beehive ovens banked into the hillside below the mine opening.

Sloss, like other employers in the booming industrial expansion of the early 20th century, had difficulty recruiting skilled labor. Recruitment efforts extended internationally and Brookside became the home of many Czechoslovakian immigrants and their families who made their way to the mines. As Brookside became a destination for Eastern European miners in the area, the culture of the town reflected their ethnic traditions. A Russian Orthodox church was founded and served to strengthen community ties. This church was one of the first Russian Orthodox churches built south of the Mason-Dixon. Unlike other mines where skilled whites and unskilled blacks could be played against each other by the owners, the Brookside miners were tightly organized and carried out a successful (albeit violent) strike in 1906.






Brookside remains a small town with a distinct Eastern European flavor. The onion-domed church, re-faced with brick in 1965, still holds services for approximately 70 congregants. An annual "Russian Food Festival" brings visitors to tour the church, see traditional Slavic and Russian dances, and sample traditional foods prepared by the townspeople.

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