Red Mountain Park is a 1200 acre park stretching four-and-one-half miles along Red Mountain. The trail system in the park currently covers over eleven miles of hiking and biking trails.
Birmingham owes a lot to the red iron ore that was mined from this mountain. For over a century it didn’t matter what type of work a person did for their living, money in this town was either stained red from iron ore or black from soot. Iron was the economic force in this city.
When Alabama became a state in 1819, settlers encountered a fine red dust that stained everything that it touched. This red power was the residue of Hematite, a word derived from Greek meaning blood. The Creeks had used this dust to paint their pottery as well as themselves .
For more than half of a century no one knew anything about the value of this red ore. Imagine living on top of a gold mine, and complaining about those soft yellow rocks.
However, in 1840 a farmer named Baylis Earle Grace became one of the first people the first in the area to identify the red rock as hematite. He began to strip the ore from his land and send it to a forge in nearby Bibb County to be smelted for use by local blacksmiths.
By the time of the Civil War, the economic potential of Red Mountain had been recognized. Oxmoor Furnaces opened Red Mountain’s first commercial ore mine, named the Eureka 1, in 1863. Union troops, led by General James H. Wilson, destroyed the furnace and others as they swept through Alabama. However, these early furnaces laid the foundation for future growth and prosperity.
While the sheer amount of iron ore in the ground was impressive, this was only one of the natural resources needed to make iron. What made the Birmingham area so unique is that in addition to iron ore there was tremendous quantities of limestone and coal located in the surrounding region.
When Birmingham was founded in 1871, it was envisioned by its founders as the hope of the “New South”. It was touted as the only place in the world where all of the raw ingredients of iron could be found in such close proximity.
Thus in the 1880’s the town became known as “The Magic City.” The population of Jefferson County surged from a total of 11,000 people in 1860 to more than 140,000 by 1900. More than any other city of this time, Birmingham became an “overnight” success story, with Red Mountain as primary source of its prosperity and prominence.
This was my first trip to this relatively new park. I hiked toward the east end of the park along a trail called the #14 Mine Spur. The spur is a rail bed that once provided train access to the #14 Mine. It was used from 1895 until around 1905, when the rail car loading operations moved to the northwest slop of the mountain.
In addition to being able to hike though such an interesting historical site, the park’s designers have also added a bit of adventure too. The Hugh Kaul Beanstalk Forest is a treetop challenge course with 20 unique ropes course obstacles. The aerial elements include swaying bridges, tight ropes, and a zip line.
Then there is the whole other side that I have yet to visit…