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.
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.
“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
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.”
Death is not frightening, according to Birmingham Historical Society Trustee Wilhelmina Thomas, who leads tours through the historic Oak Hill Cemetery. She is among a number of volunteers who dress in period costumes and portray a deceased character buried there. Ms. Thomas brings to life the stories of Birmingham’s founders, politicians, and civil rights leaders. But she particularly likes to draw attention to the black elitists who are buried there as they are often overlooked in Birmingham’s history.
“The majority of the Black people in the cemetery were business owners, pastors, and started churches,” Wilhelmina explained. “When we’re looking at the Black people buried at Oak Hill, in the late 19th century, they’d have been the elitist. They were defined by the color of their skin and by how much money they had. The Black people who are buried there were very well educated, spoke more than one language, and were trying to build a community.”
In researching and telling the stories of residents buried there, Wilhelmina Thomas has become a compassionate voice of black history, and along with other volunteers, keeps Oak Hill residents ‘alive’.
Volunteers lead walking tours on the second Saturday of every month. Learn more and get tickets on Oak Hill’s website.
It’s rewarding when the efforts of Birmingham Historical Society trustees to preserve a first-class historical site are not only recognized, but seriously considered by city leaders and developers in urban planning. Thanks to the research and site visits of BHS Director Marjorie White, and BHS Trustee and Hoover resident Birgit Kilbeka, plans for a 4 mile parkway that could potentially destroy the landmark Brock’s Gap are now being debated. This article in The Hoover Sun by Jon Anderson highlights the importance of what is being proposed.
Thank you to Birmingham Historical Society Trustees for bringing historical sites to the attention of developers. And thank you to developers and city planners for listening and responding to these concerns!