The Railroad Reservation

Some cities were founded along rivers -- Birmingham was founded along a railroad.


The city grew at the junction of two railroads, and the plan for the city called for a Railroad and Mechanical Reservation along the mainline of the railroads, surrounded by a street grid of avenues (west to east) and streets (south to north). 


This 1880 map from the UA map archive clearly shows the label of Railroad Reservation, with a new city planned to grow around it.


Note that in Birmingham everything really is on a southwest to northeast diagonal, due to the line of the ridges like Red Mountain.  So, when we say "south" we often really mean "southeast".


South of the railroad reservation avenues were originally lettered from Avenue A, increasing to the south, toward Red Mountain.  North of the railroad, avenues were numbered from 1st Avenue, increasing to the north.  In later years, the lettered avenues became numbered avenues, designated "south" and "north" indicating to which side of the railroad a street was located.



Thus, it was intended that this new city of Birmingham would have industrial activities located adjacent to the railroads and right in the heart of the city.  For example, Alice Furnace was located at the "west" end of the railroad reservation and Sloss Furnace was located at the "east" end of the reservation.  At these locations the two main rail lines diverged, creating a distinct triangle area for both of these early industries.  See the Birmingham Industries section of this page for a more detailed view of the image above, and below.


Alice Furnace was dismantled years ago, and today  Interstate 65 covers part of the site. 



Sloss Furnace, on the other hand, became a museum in 1972, and is about to enter a new era with the implementation of a Master Plan for development.


Over the years, the City of Birmingham has developed into "downtown" and "Southside".  Downtown is the heart of the central business district, and Southside is the heart of the University District.


In 2004, the City is undergoing a new City Center Master Plan, led by Urban Design Associates (UDA), of Pittsburgh.  This is an exciting new plan for the future of the downtown area.  A key component of this plan seems to include the Railroad Reservation Park, or District, as an east west linkage as well as a focal point for revitalizing this portion of the central city.


A parallel effort is led by the Friends of the Railroad District (FoRRD), who are working with the City of Birmingham to assist and provide a catalyst for the development of this Railroad Reservation Park.  This is an exciting effort to add a vibrant new district to the City Center in Birmingham and to provide a focal point for revitalization and economic development.


Continue exploring the Railroad Reservation  This page may take a bit longer to load, please be patient.

Return to Birmingham Rails Index Page