Birmingham is a special place. There isn’t another city that resembles it. Birmingham is one of the most diverse cities in the country. It has a deep history, both with industry and civil rights, despite not existing until after the civil war. The city is home to beautiful sights and sounds, both natural and man made. Birmingham is unique in every sense of the word. There is no better place that exemplifies this uniqueness than Red Mountain Park.
Red Mountain separates Birmingham proper from southern suburbs like Homewood and Hoover. It is also the main reason why the city of Birmingham exists in the first place. Birmingham began as a manufacturing hub. This identity still looms over Birmingham in its nickname and sporting events. The Iron City was home to the Birmingham Iron of the Alliance of American Football for a half season. More importantly, the city hosted the annual holy war between Auburn and Alabama every year until 1988. The Iron Bowl is still what defines this state to the rest of the country.
None of this would have been possible without Red Mountain. Red Mountain Park originally began as a small iron mine before the civil war, before growing in scope after the war. Unlike other manufacturing cities like Pittsburgh or Cleveland, Birmingham had every ingredient necessary for steel production inside of Red Mountain.
According to Dr. Jennifer Rahn, an Environmental Geography expert at Samford University, Red Mountain is a geologic miracle. “Birmingham, geographically speaking, shouldn’t exist. No other place in the world has iron ore, limestone, and coal all within close proximity to each other. It’s truly a perfect geologic storm that helped to create the industry in Birmingham.”
The iron mines on Red Mountain ramped up production during the world wars, but demand for iron and steel waned after the defeat of the axis powers in 1945. Red Mountain’s final mine closed in 1962.
Today, you can hike around Red Mountain park and see this history for yourself. Remnants of the mines are still around today. Foundations of buildings that once served miners and their families are scattered throughout the forest. Miles of hiking trails run along the same routes railroad carts hauled minerals out of years ago. The red soil gleams with iron ore, while cuts in the trail reveal limestone and coal deposits. This is the only environment of its kind in the world. A unique park that matches the unique city it surrounds.
Red Mountain park is open during all daylight hours. I encourage you to go and experience it for yourself. The unique history and environment of Red Mountain is forgotten, but without it, there wouldn’t be Birmingham.