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The Historic Neighborhood of Highland Park

For 125 years, Highland Park has been a wonderful place to live. The purpose of the Highland Park Neighborhood is to take steps to ensure the continued success of the neighborhood and its high quality of life. In 2008, the Highland Park Neighborhood Association and the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham teamed to develop a new neighborhood plan for the community. The planning process kicked-off in September 2008.

Birmingham's Highland Park

Highland Park History

excerpt from Images of America- Birmingham’s Highland Park
by Richard Dabney
available now at Alabama Booksmith

In 1892, Elyton became the seat of Jefferson County, Alabama. During the next five decades the area was populated by people whose names have been well known both in Birmingham and its Highland Park neighborhood. Prominent surnames form these early days include Earle, Walker, Mudd, Hawkins, Morrow, Greene, Gillespie, Nabers, Owen, Sadler, Worthington, Henley, Jordan, Prince, and Smith

John T. Milner, chief engineer for the South and North Railroad (which became a part of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad in 1872), and Josiah Morris, a Montgomery banker and representative for the Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad, picked up land options and established Birmingham where the two railroads crossed. The Elyton Land Company was born.

Col. James Powell, president of the Elyton Land Company, was able to convince the New York Press Association to hold its annual meeting in the young Birmingham. The New Yorkers liked what they saw: scenic Red Mountain extending for miles with its seams of iron ore and lush farmlands in the valley below, where coal deposits were located. They returned home with an excellent report of the developing city. Interest in Birmingham grew, attracting the support of outside investment. Meanwhile Maj. William Barker laid out the city with downtown street grids. The first lot, at the corner of present day Nineteenth Street and First Avenue North, was sold for $150 to Maj. A Marre. The following year, a financial panic and the cholera epidemic left Birmingham weaker but determined. Dr. Henry M. Caldwell, the husband of Elizabeth Milner, succeeded Colonel Powell, who retired and moved out of town.

Initially the Elyton Land Company gave land from the original 4,150 acres to the major religious denominations, including the Episcopal Cathedral Church of the Advent, which was founded with the city of Birmingham. To entice commercial and industrial development, plots were also given to prospective businesses like the Alice Furnace Company. Of the remaining land, about 1,500 acres was undeveloped, beautiful woodlands at the foot of Red Mountain, almost a mile south of the city proper. Maj. Willis Milner became chief architect for the early development of this land. He was secretary-treasurer of the Milner Land Company, and his brother-in-law, Henry Caldwell, became president in 1875. Milner became superintendent of the waterworks, which he designed at a cost of $100,000. His next venture in co-operation with Henry Caldwell was the Highland Avenue Dummy Line Railway. This means of transportation would open up the immense undeveloped tract of land on the north slope of Red Mountain. Although a physician and Civil War veteran, Caldwell was father of the idea that led to the construction of the beautiful boulevard skirting the slope of Red Mountain, the grand Highland Avenue. Under Caldwell’s direction 70 acres of land became Lakeview Park, and Highland Avenue, when constructed, was the widest street in the South.

On Sundays and holidays, many who lived in the city would flock out to the Lakeview resort. Every 30 minutes from sunrise to midnight a train car of the dummy line would make a stop at the resort, which existed for people to escape the dirty air of the city and enjoy a quieter and cooler location in the Highlands. On the return journey to O’Briens Opera House downtown, one would pass by the most imposing structures of the city. The streetcar was horse drawn and began service on July 1, 1885.

By 1893, Birmingham was well on its way, and Highland Park already boasted a few houses on Highland Avenue. James Adams was building a few “spec” houses on what would become Tenth Avenue South. The Birmingham Board of Education was slowly building schools. The Pollock Stephens Institute was founded to avoid sending all the daughter of prominent families off to boarding schools. Members of the 1893 class of Pollock Stephens included Susie Martine, Lura Brown, Annie Jemison, Kate Morrow, and Ferry Nabb. They would later be married to Henry Key Milner, Allan Harvey Woodward, Owen G. Gresham, and Hubert Drennen respectively.

As Forest Park, Redmont Park, and Mountain Brook were developed, many residents of Highland Park moved, always wanting the newest and best. In 1929, when so many lives were ruined by the stock market crash, some residents were forced to divide their grand houses into apartments. This was almost a death knell for the neighborhood. Despite these setbacks, some residents remained for several generations, revering Birmingham’s past and working to renovate and live within a neighborhood of character. In the 1970’s, a renaissance came to the neighborhood, roughly from the Red Mountain Expressway throughout the historic district.

Highland Park in the early days was a neighborhood with unlocked doors, beautiful parks, fine homes, and upscale living. The energy of the present Highland Park is a rejuvenated diverse neighborhood.

(used with permission)
Author, Richard Dabney
Highland Park
Birmingham, AL
August 14, 2006