Category Archives: Birmingham Historical Society

Heritage Society celebrates 40 years of James Beard award winning restaurant, Highlands Bar & Grill

Birmingham Historical Society President, Wayne Hester, greets members of the Heritage Society as they gather to celebrate nearly 40 years of culinary excellence at Highlands Bar &Grill. Chef Frank Stitt opened his award winning restaurant in the historic Spanish Stores building in Five Points South in 1980 in what was then a ’fine food desert’. Since then he and Pardis have received multiple awards including James Beard’s Best Restaurant in the United States, as well as training many of the restaurant/entrepreneurs that have made Birmingham a fine food destination.


From “The Heritage Society Goes to Highlands” by Marjorie L. White, Editor, November 13, 2021

Birmingham becomes a Bird & Wildflower Sanctuary in 1927 thanks to Mayor George Ward

https://alaudubon.org/

Today’s Alabama Audubon was organized in 1927 by Birmingham Mayor George Ward who was influenced by birdhouse salesman, Joseph Dodson. After purchasing a collection of his products for his private residence in Vestavia, Ward became an avid bird enthusiast. He solicited the help of Dr. H.E. Wheeler, who was a curator of the natural history museum at the University of Alabama, to present an illustrated ‘bird talk’ and the Birmingham Audubon Society was born with 49 members, and George Ward as President.

Thanks to his efforts and those of his neighbor, E.J. Smyer, who had an interest in preserving wildflowers, a law was passed to preserve wildflowers in 1927 and wild birds in 1929 which exists to this day. Of the 800 recorded species in the United States, 327 were documented by the National Audubon Society to reside in Alabama.

Birmingham Historical Society’s November 2021 newsletter elaborates on the history of this organization and lists the 49 charter members. Interested in birding trails nearby? Here’s a map and list of popular areas to explore in Jefferson County. This guide or this list might be helpful as well. Finally, the Alabama Audubon’s quarterly guide lists upcoming events through the end of the 2021 year.

The most common bird in Alabama is the American Robin, followed by the Downy Woodpecker. For a list of the 24 most common birds, please refer to this list.

Alabama NewsCenter shares Mayor George Ward’s story

Many thanks to the Alabama NewsCenter division of Alabama Power for sharing the story of George Ward’s contributions to the City of Birmingham with their customers. In their interest of highlighting ”…entrepreneurs doing innovative things, communities that make our quality of life so much better, and people doing things both great and small that make all the difference”, Alabama NewsCenter is helping the Birmingham Historical Society spread the word about a soon to be released book on Birmingham Mayor George Ward’s contributions, entitled Birmingham: The City Beautiful, compliments of G. Ward.

The NewsCenter article includes several photos of parks (courtesy of the City of Birmingham Parks & Recreation Board) envisioned by Ward in the early 19th century that are still being used today. However, his best known park was his residence on Shades Crest Mountain in Vestavia which no longer exists, but is now memorialized by the Temple of Sibyl.

You’re invited to attend a talk about the book to be released November 1st, 2021 at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. The book may be purchased there or from the Birmingham Historical Society.

You’re Invited! Nov 1, 2021

Birmingham Historical Society
invites you to
An Evening in Honor of George B. Ward
Monday, November 1, 2021
7:00 p.m. Strange Auditorium
at
Birmingham Botanical Gardens
PROGRAM
By Marjorie White
SIGNING OF THE NEWLY RELEASED
Birmingham: The City Beautiful, Compliments of G. Ward
Published by the Society
with the financial support of
The Sterne-Agee Foundation
Members paid for 2021 may pick up their copy of the new release.
Books not picked up will be mailed following the meeting. Additional copies will be available for purchase for $30 (cash or check), both at the meeting and from Birmingham Historical Society, One Sloss Quarters, Birmingham, AL 35222.


INVITATION FRONT: Left, top to bottom: George Ward, Mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, 1907; Birmingham City Hall (1901-1950); George Ward Park, 1901 Greensprings Avenue, Birmingham.
Center, top to bottom: The Relay House, the city’s first hotel and home to the Ward family, its proprietors (1871-1886); Cover, Birmingham: The City Beautiful booklet prepared and signed by Mayor G. Ward, 1908; View of Birmingham at the Red Mountain Gap, the city’s first protected viewshed, enacted 1929.
Right, top to bottom: George Ward, investment banker, builder of Vestavia, 1926; Ward’s Vestavia temple residence (1926-1971); Ward’s Temple of Sibyl (1929), as relocated to its park site on U.S. 31 at the entrance to today’s City of Vestavia Hills. Historic photographs courtesy Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Department of Archives and Manuscripts; color photographs courtesy Abraham Odrezin, 2020.

“George Ward was a most unusual and an unusually accomplished man with a significant legacy. Ward was alderman, mayor, and city commission president, an investment banker, a civic and community leader, a student and a reader, a writer, a lover of classics, a gentleman farmer, an idealist, sentimentalist, natu- ralist, conservationist, birder, and floriculturist, in short, a many-sided man of extraordinary ability.”
— Marjorie L. White, Author, Birmingham: The City Beautiful, Compliments of G. Ward


“Birmingham: The City Beautiful, Compliments of G. Ward is a fundamentally important contribution to the material available on our community. It places Birmingham in the City Beautiful Movement in the context of urban America. The document can also serve as a guide for citizens interested in becoming en- gaged in their community. It is a manual of civic participation. Three cheers.”
— Edward S. Lamonte, Retired Professor of History, Birmingham-Southern College, Former Chief of Staff to Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington Jr.


“Every man, woman, and child in Birmingham seems to be imbued with the city beautiful idea. I have never observed in any other city universal interest as is being manifested by the people in this city.”
— Warren Manning in “Manning Tells of Progress of Work-Talks to Commission of City Beautiful Plan,” Birmingham Ledger, November 19, 1914

(click HERE to purchase from Amazon)

Field of Dreams

Build it and they will come! Red Mountain Park is now a 1500 acre park with 15 miles of trails. But back then it was a former mining complex, and a ‘safe place’ that was healing and close to nature for Ishkooda resident Erwin Batain.

Son of a miner, Batain cleared a path from his backyard to one of the 15 mines that originally operated on the property. Overwhelmed with the beauty of the area, he brought his sister, Evanne Gibson, president of Birmingham’s West End Community, and Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson, to see it in the 1990’s along with many friends and family members who he thought would benefit from the meditative and healing power of nature. His enthusiasm for the area earned him the title, “The Prophet of Red Mountain”.

By 2012, it was officially established as one of the largest urban parks in the United States, with access to Birmingham west end communities of not only Iskooda but also Tarpley City, West Goldwire, Garden Highlands, and Mason City.

Jefferson County Commisioner Sheila Tyson dubbed it Birmingham’s west end ‘jewel’. And another of its early advocates was Birmingham Historical Society Trustee and Lawson State Community College history instructor, Gregory Wilson. Due to its rich geological, industrial, and archeological history, Wilson immediately recognized the value of using Red Mountain Park as an immense educational tool.

“[At RMP], I saw the geology, I saw the archaeology, I saw Native American history,” added Wilson, who has used the space to teach his own students by having them tour the space and ask questions of an archaeologist.

“Educators tend not to see [the potential] because it’s … a diamond in the rough,” he added. “They say, ‘If you bring us into a nice, air-conditioned building, that’s OK.’ But there’s a wealth of knowledge, history, and information outdoors.”

The park is FREE and is open from 7AM to 7PM. Download the trail map HERE or get directions HERE