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Chickasaw Shipyard, Chickasaw, Alabama

On 17 August 1917 U.S. Steel announced it would build a second shipyard at Mobile, AL, supplied with prefabricated steel from the Fairfield plant of Tennessee Coal and Iron Co., a U.S. Steel southern subsidiary. To be called the Chickasaw yard, it was expected to cost $30,000,000. Federal Shipbuilding developed this second shipyard for the war effort with $20m from the Navy. The shipyard was closed and liquidated after the war.

As World War I loomed, the Tennessee Coal and Iron Co., a division of U.S.Steel out of Birmingham, quietly purchased a large area which included what is now Chickasaw. Three corporations - Chickasaw Shipbuilding and Car Co., Chickcasaw Utilities Co., and Chickasaw Land Co., were formed with specific duties. By a tremendous effort, the cypress swamp adjacent to the creek was drained, with dikes built and huge pumps installed.

By the time operations at Chickasaw Shipbuilding and Car Co. were well under way, the Armistice was declared, but 14 ships were built and launched before it was closed. On 01 December 1919, the Chickasaw yard begins production of its first vessel, the Chickasaw City, the first of its order from US Steel. This yard never received the orders expected from the government, as the war had ended before they were able to begin production.

In 1920 six vessels, named for southern cities, were acquired new from Chickasaw SB. & Car Co., Chickasaw, Alabama. These vessels, based on U.S. Shipping Board Design 1037, were constructed to a special design primarily for the carrying of odd shaped steel products, with heavy booms capable of lifting 30 tons. Provisions were also made for the carrying of liquid cargo in bulk. Eight more followed in 1921.

An entire town was built - not just an ordinary "mill town", but a planned community with attractive and well-built homes for the shipyard workers. Many people in the United States lived in company-owned towns during the 20th Century. In the bituminous coal industry alone, approximately one-half of the miners in the United States lived in company-owned houses in the period from 1922-23. The percentage varied from 9 per cent in Illinois and Indiana and 64 per cent in Kentucky, to almost 80 per cent in West Virginia.

Chickasaw, a suburb of Mobile, Alabama, had all of the characteristics of any other American town. The property consisted of residential buildings, streets, a system of sewers, a sewage disposal plant and a 'business block' on which business places are situated. A deputy of the Mobile County Sheriff, paid by the company, served as the town's policeman. Merchants and service establishments have rented the stores and business places on the business block and the United States uses one of the places as a post office from which six carriers deliver mail to the people of Chickasaw and the adjacent area.

The town and the surrounding neighborhood, which could not be distinguished from the Gulf property by anyone not familiar with the property lines, were thickly settled, and according to all indications the residents used the business block as their regular shopping center. To do so, as they had for many years, they made use of a company-owned paved street and sidewalk located alongside the store fronts in order to enter and leave the stores and the post office. Intersecting company-owned roads at each end of the business block led into a four-lane public highway which runs parallel to the business block at a distance of thirty feet. There was nothing to stop highway traffic from coming onto the business block and upon arrival a traveler may make free use of the facilities available there.

In short the town and its shopping district were accessible to and freely used by the public in general and there was nothing to distinguish them from any other town and shopping center except the fact that the title to the property belongs to a private corporation.

Gulf Shipbuilding Corp.

In April 1939, the Village and shipyard were acquired by a Mobile businessman, Ben May, who sold it in July 1940 to Gulf Shipbuilding Corp., a subsidiary of Waterman Steamship Corp. The shipbuilding area was renovated, the homes repaired and modernized, and streets paved. Large scale operation at the shipyard brought a vast migration of workers. The shipyard produced Destroyers, 180' and 220' Minesweepers, and C_2_S_EL Cargo ships.

In 1945 Grace Marsh, a Jehovah's Witness, undertook to distribute religious literature on a sidewalk near the post office in the "business block" of the town, and was arrested on a trespassing charge. She was subsequently convicted of the crime of trespassing, and the Alabama courts upheld the conviction on appeal. This US Supreme Court reversed in 1946 [Marsh v. Alabama, 326 U.S. 501 (1946)], holding that Alabama could not permit a corporation to assume the functions of a municipal government and at the same time deny First Amendment rights through the application of the State's criminal trespass law.

Early in 1946, the entire village was purchased by Leedy Investment Co. for one million dollars. The houses were sold to individuals, with current occupants given first choice.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:45:39 ZULU