Sample photographs from the "Great Temple of Travel"


A native of Jacksonville, Florida, Marvin Clemons grew up in Birmingham, and as a young rail fan he became fascinated with Birmingham's colorful railroads.  Following graduation from high school, in 1964 he landed his first railroad job as  tower operator, controlling passenger train movements through Birmingham Terminal Station.  He later worked for Atlanta Terminal Station and Missouri Pacific Railroad before being called to military duty in 1967, serving as an Army officer during the Vietnam Conflict.

Returning to Birmingham following military discharge, Marvin majored in mass communications at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, becoming the program's first graduate.  He interned and then wrote for the Birmingham Post-Herald as the paper's transportation editor. 

Following a brief career in journalism and public affairs, in 1980 Marvin returned to UAB to earn a master's degree in counseling.  He co-founded of one of Alabama's first private rehabilitation counseling firms, and was a board-certified counselor in private practice until his retirement in 2012.

While pursuing his profession, Marvin continued to explore his interest in railroads as a writer, photographer, and historian. In 2007 he co-authored and self-published Birmingham Rails—The Last Golden Era with Lyle Key, a fellow rail fan and college fraternity brother.  The book received positive reviews in both the national and local press, and the limited edition of 1,850 copies sold out within ten months of publication and remains out of print.  In 2009, Birmingham Rails was honored by the Railroad & Locomotive Historical Society with the George W. Hilton Book Award, the highest recognition given to a book on American railroad history.

Following publication of Birmingham Rails, Marvin helped to found the Mid-South Chapter of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, headquartered in the historic 1884 Southern Railway depot in Leeds, Alabama.  He served as the chapter's first president and established the chapter's publication, The Mid-South Flyer, covering railroad history in the Mid-south region.  Marvin is curator of the Frank F. Ardrey Exhibit at the Leeds depot, showcasing the work of Birmingham’s most noted railroad photographer.

Throughout his professional life, Marvin continued to acquire historical data and photographs on Birmingham's Terminal Station, which was demolished in 1969 for a failed commercial development.  To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the station's untimely removal, Marvin has authored and self-published the first book-length history of Terminal Station.  Great Temple of Travel: A History of Birmingham Terminal Station is a tribute to one of Birmingham’s most venerated lost landmarks, and a personal testament to a life-long love for trains and the forgotten romance of rail travel.

In this first book-length history commemorating Birmingham, Alabama's Terminal Station, rail historian Marvin Clemons recounts the story of Birmingham's iconic railroad station, known for its grand European architecture as the "great temple of travel."

Beginning with Birmingham's first rail passenger service in 1871 and covering more than a century of railroad history, the book describes the formation of Birmingham Terminal Company and the construction of Terminal Station in 1909.  Considered the finest railway station in the South, the building's classic design is described in the words of the station's architect, P. Thornton Mayre.  The station's construction and early operation is presented in rare photographs and vintage post cards.

A photographic tour of Terminal Station's interior explores the magnificent main waiting room, with its vaulted 100-foot high dome and soaring arched windows.  Photographs include multiple views of the waiting room and other station facilities, including the U.S. postal facility and the Railway Express Agency.

Every great rail station is noted for its trains, and the book includes a chapter covering the passenger service of each of the station's five tenant railroads, including the Southern, Seaboard, Central of Georgia, Frisco, and Illinois Central.  Featured are dozens of black & white and color photographs, many never before published, of  the station's famous and lesser-known trains.  A selection of professionally colorized black & white photos demonstrate the variety of color schemes applied to steam and early diesel locomotives.

Recovering from the strain of record rail travel during World War II, in 1947 the station underwent a major refurbishment as the railroads updated their services in a vain attempt to compete with automobiles and airlines.   This last " golden era" of rail passenger service is illustrated by colorful images of  Terminal Station and its trains.  The station's final years  are illustrated by  poignant scenes of the abandoned station and its demolition in 1969.  The author recounts the circumstances leading to the decision to demolish the station and explores probable causes for its untimely removal.  

The book concludes on a positive note with a chapter devoted to Southern Railway's "Southern Crescent," Terminal Station's only surviving passenger train until its surrender to Amtrak in 1979, marking the official end of the Birmingham Terminal Company.   

In a touch of genuine irony, the return of Southern Railway's remaining passenger train to the Amtrak station, located at the site of Birmingham's first railway station,  brings the story of Terminal Station full circle back to its very beginning more than a century ago.

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