Category Archives: Trustees

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

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

Ancestral Memories preserved in Birmingham’s Oak Hill Cemetery

Oak Hill Cemetery’s tour guide and historian, Wilhelmina Thomas, is featured in a podcast/blog entitled “Love Lives in This Place/The Order of the Good Death”

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.

Steve Williams III (1936-2020)

Birmingham Historical Society Past President, Trustee, and Past President of Finance and Investment Committees

Steve Williams was a wonderful friend to Birmingham Historical Society and a contributing member prior to his death this month. Most recently he lent a photograph from his archive in Eufala for publication in our recent Shades Creek book. Over a period of many years he served as a Trustee, President, and Chairman of both the Finance and Investment Committees. 

As President in 1980, he led the Society’s Trustees though a series of long-range planning sessions conducted by the heads of both the American Association of State and Local History and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. These sessions, held at Protective’s Headquarters, set the agenda of our institution for subsequent decades. The former resolved that the Society would not collect records, documents, and artifacts; the later that it would direct research, publishing, and educational efforts toward the preservation of historic landmarks and districts. The Society’s Finance Committee met in his offices at Protective. Here also, working with Steve, Trustees first formulated endowment policies, crafting guidelines for investment policy. This was cutting edge planning for non-profits in the mid1980s.

Steve also supported the younger trustees when we decided to renovate a historic house and move our offices to the Sloss Furnaces. One day he took me out to lunch and shopping … at the Protective Corporation surplus furniture warehouse. He told me I could have anything I wanted. I picked the burnt-orange covered conference chairs and table that we long enjoyed, quite a step up from our army-surplus office desks and chairs. Steve always encouraged us to write more about people. I think of him fondly when we do and it is deeply rewarding to recall and write about our association with him.

– Marjorie White, BHS Director