I was born here, went to college here, and most of my relatives still live in Sweet Home Alabama. Most of my readers probably have never been to Birmingham and may still have negative thoughts toward my home state and city. But, much has changed over the years for the better. So, before you judge, read on to see what Birmingham has to offer.
You cannot begin to talk about Birmingham without remembering the steel mills. Early on Birmingham adopted Vulcan as their symbol being that he was the god of fire. Indeed, when iron ore was discovered in and around Birmingham, it transformed the city from a sleepy hamlet to the “Pittsburgh of the South”. To quote the Vulcan park website: “What kind of city builds a huge statue of a burly, bearded, bare-bottomed man to tower over its entire population? One that never forgets its roots. Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and forge, watches over all of Birmingham as a symbol of the city’s iron origins–and the ever-present spark of its indomitable spirit.” So, with this post, I remember my roots.
My first 6 years were spent in Tarrant City, near the airport. I had uncles who worked in the steel mills, some losing their fingers in the process. My family left when I was 6 and moved to Jacksonville, Florida. I returned in 1966 to attend Auburn University thanks to my Uncle Jerry who helped get me into the Engineering Co-op program at Auburn. Today, Auburn boasts over 6000 engineering students and is one of the most highly regarded Engineering schools in the South. Probably our most noted graduate is Tim Cook (’82), CEO of Apple. Recently I returned to Auburn and enjoyed visiting the campus. Here is the original building at Auburn, Samford Hall.
Of course, you can’t talk about Auburn without mentioning football and the rivalry between Auburn and the University of Alabama, one of the most intense rivalries in the United States. One of my fondest memories was beating ‘Bama in the Iron Bowl at Legion field. Auburn gained a total of 3 first downs the whole game but won on two miraculous plays – consecutive punt blocks for touchdowns. Final score, Auburn 17, ‘Bama 16. Here is the famous Legion Field where the game was played until 1989.
On December 2, 1989, Alabama came to “the Plains” for the first time ever as a sellout crowd witnessed Auburn win its first true “home” game of the series, 30–20 over an Alabama team that entered the game undefeated and ranked #2 in the country. ‘Bama still won the SEC championship and their bowl game, but they fired their coach Bill Curry who never beat Auburn. Thank you Don Stanley for securing the tickets and inviting me! What a memory! War Damn Eagle!
After leaving Auburn as a student, I returned to Birmingham on numerous occasions to visit family and have watched its transformation from a grimy industrial steel town to a cosmopolitan health care focused city. Gone are the steel mills and the soot. In its place is a city boasting wonderful restaurants, great parks, and activities. One of my favorite restaurants is Botega featuring Chef Frank Stitt. His other highly acclaimed restaurants are Highlands Bar and Grill, and the less formal Chez Fonfon. One of my fondest memories was taking my mother out on “dates” to each of these establishments. One one such occasion, after dining at Botega, Mom loved telling people of my gapeing mouth when Chef Stitt came to out table to introduce himself. She and I had wonderful times together enjoying fine dining. Her eyes twinkled each time we went out.
But, Birmingham’s dining scene is not just Frank Stitt. My cousin Teresa took me to a new place in downtown Birmingham called Overbird recently. Fully farm to table. It was a really eye opening experience as I had previously regarded the area as worn down. However, it is clear that Birmingham is investing in its downtown. Urban developments are springing up all over. Here is a photo of Ovenbird.
Birmingham also has an outstanding botanical garden which my mother and I would visit on occasion. To whet your appetite to go, here are a few photos of the gardens.
Of course, a visit to Birmingham would not be complete without learning about the Civil Rights movement. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (www.bcri.org) is a wonderful resource. It is located directly across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church where four little girls lost their lives during a bombing. On one of my trips to Birmingham, my son-in-law, Pete, and I visited the museum. We were given a tour of the surrounding area where many of the demonstrations and protests occurred. It was a very moving experience, one that I highly recommend to everyone.
Of course, speaking of Alabama and Birmingham would not be complete without mentioning one of my favorite pastimes, golf. The Robert Trent Jones golf trail surely is on the bucket list of any serious golfer. The trail boasts the ability to test your game at 26 golf courses at 11 different sites across Alabama. But, I believe that the best course is the Grand National at, you guessed it, Auburn. Here are some photos to get your juices going.
I hope you have enjoyed this blog that has a personal connection to my roots and I hope someday you can visit. Let me know and I’d be glad to show you around. Until then, WAR EAGLE!