Category Archives: Red Mountain

Help Save Shades Mountain with the SOUND of MUSIC!

Friends of Shades Mountain
are sponsoring a Benefit Concert
at Wild Roast Cafe in Bluff Park,
featuring great live folk, mountain,
and classical guitar music,
as well as original songs
by the President of the Birmingham Music Club

Sunday, September 11th, 6:00PM

Click image to download & print pdf invitation

The Birmingham Historical Society continues to research the historic importance of Shades Mountain and Shades Creek to our community with recent attention focused on Brock’s Gap, and the publication of Shades Creek–Flowing Through Time. But the Friends of Shades Mountain also want to preserve it for the benefits it provides all of us NOW including:

  • The forest protects homeowners below from erosion, mudslides and damaging storm water runoff.
  • It helps keep the water and air in the county clean.
  • By providing visual screening, the forest enhances property values in the valley below and the ridge above the mountain.
  • It provides habitat for many plant and animal species, some rarely seen in other parts of the county and state.
  • It is an aesthetic value in itself, providing a lush green landscape that cools the eye of everyone coming around, over and under its forest canopy.
  • It helps protect Shades Creek, already imperiled by previous development.
  • The forests along this mountain help to keep homes cooler by reducing the effects of hot, humid summer days. In the winter, the forest provides wind brakes that cut heating costs.
  • The forest cover saves the county an estimated $1,500,000 per year by reducing air pollution and storm water runoff.

You can HELP by buying tickets or donating if you can’t attend.

Heritage Society enjoys the Bush-Hill-Cooley Home

One of the most anticipated Birmingham Historical Society events each year is the annual Heritage Society party. It often features one of Birmingham’s most magnificent historic mansions and this year was no exception, with the Bush-Hill-Cooley residence.

Bush-Hill-Cooley Heritage Society Party 2022. Photo: Louise McPhillips

Local architectural firm, Warren, Knight, & Davis, was hired by Morris Bush soon after his marriage in 1920 to design a proper English manor house on top of the mountain on a large lot in a subdivision developed by Jemison & Co. The widely-respected firm designed a Tudor Revival style residence of smooth-face, random-laid Indiana limestone with steep roofs, gables, large chimneys, and surrounded by substantial gardens in keeping with the examples established by King Henry VIII (Henry Tudor) after the reformation.

Morris Bush (age 48) moved his bride Margaret Gage Bush (age 33) to the magnificent residence in 1928. Following subsequent funerals for both of her parents, his mother, and their next door neighbor, finally good news! Their beloved daughter, Gage, was born in 1931, but sadly, the following year, Morris Bush died of a massive heart attack. Margaret couldn’t bear to stay in the house after all that unhappiness and moved in 1934.

James Hill, president of the local Hill Grocery Co., his wife Rena McMurray Hill, with their son Delmar, purchased the estate in 1934 from Margaret Bush and they would live there for the next 30 years, followed by Rena and her sister, for the next decade. The Hill family thrived despite the Depression due to their ’shop local’ philosophy, positioning a neighborhood grocery store within walking distance of many households as well as their support of ‘cash and carry’ (including script issued by local industrial firms).

After Ed Craig, and then Lanny & Brenda Vines lived there, Tammie & Jim Dandy Cooley purchased the estate in 2015. They’ve enjoyed working with architect Hank Long of Henry Sprott Long & Associates to renovate the home and restore the features and plantings of the surrounding gardens.

”Three years on the inside and then three years on the outside” as Tammie Cooley describes the couple’s ongoing love affair with the residence and its gardens. As Jim Dandy adds, ”we see ourselves as the current stewards of this timeless place.”

Much appreciation to the Cooley family for sharing the rich history and their labor of love with the Heritage Society this year!

(Interested in the Heritage Society? Here’s how to join)

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

The Brock’s Gap Railroad Bed from South Shades Crest to Chestnut Ridge (1 mile) in West Hoover


Brock’s Gap site visit,  March 30, 2021


by Birgit Kibelka, BHSTrustee


On our second visit to Brock’s Gap we were a group of mostly Hoover residents with different backgrounds: Jim Langley and Deborah Burtnet along with Edna McWilliams and Gene Fuller, of the Hoover Historical Society; Brian Hale, Community Relations Officer with the Hoover PD; Carolyn Buck, Trail System Director with the Freshwater Land Trust, our friendly chaperone Thomas Abbey of the Brock’s Gap Training Center and myself (BHS).

We met at the entrance gate to the Brock’s Gap Training Center at South Shades Crest Road where Jim gave an overview of the history of Brock’s Gap followed by Birgit’s introduction of the map and of the walk ahead. As we walked we took a look at the 1907 Atlanta, Birmingham and Atlantic Railroad cut before stepping into the woods for a peek at the epic original 1871 railroad cut that led to the founding of the city of Birmingham. The large heaps of rock that line the rim of the cut impressively illustrate the magnitude of the work with the limited tools available at the time.

At the point where the cut and the current driveway meet we stopped to take in the ascent of the railbed from the south into the crest of Shades Mountain. We continued on into the wide views of the woods atop the tall fill that takes the historic railbed through the valley toward the steep towering slope of Pine Mountain. The newer, taller 1907 railroad track stays within view to the right  as a constant reminder of the progress that followed the initial struggle to access the mountainous mineral regions of Alabama.

The railbed then led us through the two cuts in Pine Mountain that time and again are awe inspiring. The rock layers rise at an angle and show drill marks in some spots. A drill bit that got lodged and broke off 150 years ago can be seen and invites to share Jim Hahn’s story of the wrought iron rings attached to the rock, used to tie up convict laborers during construction of the railroad. As we reached the stark slope in the driveway we talked about the 924′ long dry trestle that used to span the valley between Pine Mountain and Chestnut Ridge atop the 30′ tall embankment.

At this spot the difficulty of getting the railroad up the mountain was finally evident to everyone. We had seen and walked deep cuts, and tall fills and were now faced with a third method of building the railbed at the needed 1.25% grade. Walking down the slope to the long lower fill we took in the full extent of the former trestle. Once we reached the lower fill, the view into the valley and onto the shooting range was wide open.

Established in 1962, the Brock’s Gap training center is the reason why the historic railbed was preserved during the development of the surrounding areas into residential neighborhoods. As the training center prepares to move on, this view into the valley also represents the wide view into the future of west Hoover with its planned parkway and development corridor.

While we headed toward Chestnut Ridge the other active CSX line drew close on the left. Historic railbed and active railroad run parallel as they cut through Chestnut Ridge. We emerged from this last cut and found ourselves at the western end of Stadium Trace Parkway, high up on the southern slope of Chestnut Ridge. Toward the south the terrain drops toward the Cahaba River. To the left lies the new Black Creek Mountain Bike Park that would make a great anchor for a Brock’s Gap Greenway. A closer look from the opposite side of the street revealed that the original railbed continues south until it meets the active rail line. Could a greenway extend in this direction to reach the planned Cahaba Park?

What Might Have Been – Vulcan’s Underground Wonderland

Monorails, subterranean boat tours, historic cycloramas and murals under Vulcan Park and The Club never materialized, but were suggested when The Club first opened in 1951. Inspired by the fantasy of California’s recently opened Disneyland, The Club management and the Chamber of Commerce did a series of promotional watercolors now in the collection of Birmingham Historical Society.

Read more about the history of “The Cut” in Birmingham Historical Society’s latest newsletter HERE. Want more? Join us!