Photo by Madoline Markham.
0812 Dexter Avenue Log Cabin House
119 Dexter Avenue as it stands today.
If the house at 119 Dexter Avenue just outside Crestline Village could talk, its story would be remarkable: how, in less than a century, a small farming community was transformed into the Mountain Brook we know today.
The house on Dexter was originally a two-room log cabin with a dogtrot and lean-to kitchen. It’s the oldest house in Mountain Brook, but according to the current owner, Brownie McElroy, the only immediately visible evidence of the original structure today is one log in the ceiling of an interior hallway.
The building was originally on 115 acres that is now Crestline Heights. Historical records say the house was built on Euclid Avenue after the Civil War and moved to Dexter sometime before 1896.
June Emory, who lives a few blocks away on Dexter Avenue, remembers stopping by the house and talking to carpenters during one of the renovations.
“The carpenters complained that they kept breaking their circular saws on the logs that had fossilized through the years,” she said.
Mr. and Mrs. Carl Bryson, who owned the house in the 1980s, applied for a historical marker from the Jefferson County Historical Commission but were turned down twice because of the changes in the appearance of the house.
McElroy and her husband, James, reapplied for a marker but were also turned down because of the renovations through the years.
McElroy said that besides the original timbers near the hall, there are telltale signs that show the age of the house.
The doorways and windows in the older part of the house are 12 inches thick, whereas modern doorways are usually half that thickness. Underneath the house, the old logs are visible, and hand-cut stones are used as piers instead of modern concrete blocks. The original beams are also visible in the attic.
According to the Crestline Heights Land Survey of 1907, the original property entered into the record under the name of Amos Reader in 1854 and transferred to R. C. Bendix in 1871. Ten years later, it was deeded to James Eastis. Eastis was thought to be an officer in the Confederate Army, though this fact is unconfirmed.
Eastis’ daughter, Alice, married Charles Helm, who came from Brunswick, Ga., and the two moved into the house andbegan their family.
The Helms had three sons, Clarence, Robert and William, and one daughter, Clara. But it was Clarence, born in 1896, who would provide for posterity some of the colorful history of what’s come to be known as the Helm House, and the area around Crestline.
In a 1976 interview with The Birmingham News reporter Olivia Barton, Clarence Helm said that in the early years, neighbors were few and far between in Crestline. People made their living running dairies and raising vegetables to sell to the rich folks on Highland Avenue.
Clarence’s mother, Alice, came to be known as Granny Helm. According to a piece written by Helen Pitman Snell in “Crestline: A Timeless Neighborhood,” Granny Helm was a neighborly person who was always on hand when she heard of anyone who was sick or in need.
Four generations of the Helm family lived in the house until the late 1950s. In 1957 the house sold to Laverne and Robert Hale and underwent remodeling in 1961. The dogtrot was enclosed to provide more living space. On the exterior, pink asbestos siding was added as well as a shingled roof.
Then, in 1970 two sisters, Anna and Virginia Praytor, bought the house. Once again, it underwent extensive remodeling inside and out to make the property suitable for rental. By this time, evidence of the original log cabin structure was not evident from the outside.
“It’s an important house,” said Tom West, past president of the Jefferson County Historical Commission. “And not many people know about it.”