Where in the heck is the lake on Lakeshore Blvd?
Jimmy’s Favorite Stories
A while back, I was traveling from my home in Ross Bridge to Highway 280 on my way to a medical appointment at St. Vincent's Hospital. I drove a couple of miles and hit Lakeshore Parkway. I have driven on Lakeshore many times from Highway 150 to Highway 280. Suddenly, the question came into my mind, "Where is the lake?". I am sure many residents in the western part of Hoover have driven the road many times going to Homewood or Birmingham and maybe have the same question. Inquiring minds want to know. So, I did a little research, going to the Internet and sources like Leah Atkins and Marjorie White, noted historians in the area. The following is the story behind the lake in Lakeshore.
Edgewood Lake covered 117.4 acres along what is now Lakeshore Drive. And now, this once magnificent area is home to Homewood High School, Samford's Soccer field and a Track and Field Stadium. It also has a Retirement Home and assisted living houses. Edgewood Lake today lives only in memories. Edgewood Lake was a shallow lake, that froze over several times in the cold winters of the 1930s and 1940s. Residents who had ice skates had great fun while children enjoyed watching. it was a beautiful man-made body of water fed by Shades Creek and by the little creeks and drainage ditches that flowed rainwater into Shades Creek, nestled at the foot of Shades Mountain. The road to Columbiana crossed over the dam and then climbed up the mountain. In the early 1940s, cars traveling too fast down the new Green Springs Highway sometimes went over the bank into the lake. Mr. Weaver, who operated a filling station and grocery store on Green Springs Highway at Broadway, went off the road into the lake and drowned late one night during a rainstorm.
The dam was first announced in June 1910 as part of the proposed Birmingham Speedway to be constructed for the Birmingham Motor Club. The version finally realized was announced in 1912 by the development team of Stephen Smith and Troupe Brazelton, who had formed the Edgewood Highlands Land Company and built the Birmingham & Edgewood Electric Railway (1909) connecting their developments with the city of Birmingham.
In 1912 the streetcar line was extended from Broadway and Shades Road to a point on Old Columbiana Road just shy of where it crossed Shades Creek. At the crossing, which was about halfway between the present Green Springs Highway and I-65, they planned to dam the creek, creating a lake "five times the size of East Lake, which would serve as the centerpiece of a recreational resort of the type commonly used to attract home sales and businesses to a particular streetcar suburb.
The Birmingham Motor and Country Club acquired the property in 1914 and soon afterward began clearing the lakebed and building a dam across Shades Creek. The original design called for a motor speedway around the lake, which was patterned after the one in Indianapolis. Although the north and south runs were graded and eventually became Lakeshore and South Lakeshore Drives, the raceway was never completed. Charles Rice, known as, "The Father of Homewood" was influential in getting the Motor Club built. An avid car collector, he thought a motor club would attract people to the area.
By the fall of 1915 the lake, 6,500 feet long and no more than 750 feet wide at its western end was filled and stocked with bass and bream for fishing. It was the signature feature of the club's 400-acre property.
A log clubhouse was erected on a rise overlooking the northern shore of the lake for the Edgewood Country Club the same year. The club lobbied for the paving of the streetcars right-of-way to allow for Birmingham's new elite class of motorists to make the journey into the valley. Birmingham civic and fraternal groups and families held barbecues, dances and picnics there. The Motor Club also promised a golf course, but it was never completed. Amenities included a swimming pool, dance pavilion, fishing, boating and parking for hundreds of automobiles. Unlike golf and tennis clubs, this was instead a driving club since the ownership of an automobile was the latest rage.
The Birmingham Motor and Country Club dissolved in 1923. The clubhouse was subsequently opened to the public by Grapico bottler Raymond Rochelle, who added parking areas and a dance pavilion to the offerings at what was then known as Edgewood Park.
Through the 1920s and 30s the lake attracted crowds of bathers, boaters and picnickers. Blue Hole, located on Griffin's Brook, which fed the lake from the north, attracted skinny dippers. The lake attracted fishermen who could reach the lake by the streetcar line that ended at the lake’s northern shore. Patrons who rode the streetcar learned to be careful not to step on the cane poles, corks and hooks that were resting on the floor. It was also the site of large gatherings and celebrations. The Birmingham Elks Lodge held their Labor Day celebration here.
But the most infamous event that occurred on the dry lakebed happened on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 1923, when the Robert E. Lee Klan, No. 1, the oldest and largest Klan in Jefferson County sponsored a mass initiation ceremony on the lakebed. Many area Klansmen came to Edgewood to participate. Klan leaders from Atlanta and all over the state and the South attended.
The Birmingham News reported that 25,000 people made their way to Edgewood that night to watch the initiation ceremony, and half that many more were stuck in traffic jams. They never reached the lake bed to see the thousands of white robed Klansmen, the new initiates, the burning crosses, torches, and red, white and blue fireworks. Cars were parked in a tangled mess on the sides of streets and roads for miles.
In later years, many male Edgewood residents (women would not have dared to be seen there) shared memories of watching the spectacle that night. The most famous initiate was a talented and ambitious Birmingham lawyer from Clay County who was destined for greatness as an Alabama U.S. Senator and U.S. Supreme Court Justice — Hugo LaFayette Black.
In 1934, Edgewood Park was joined by Homewood's Shades Creek Park to the east, at the present site of Brookwood Village mall, in providing recreational opportunities in the valley. A walking path connected the new public park with the circuit around the southern shore of Edgewood Lake, basically South Lakeshore Drive.
Shades Creek, normally a slow-moving bubbling creek, sometimes flooded into a raging stream with steady rains that sent high waters over Shades Creek Parkway, Lakeshore Drive and Columbiana Road. At least twice, in 1923 and 1935, the dam broke under such pressure. When this happened, the lake would empty down Oxmoor Valley, leaving the bed muddy, then dry, and plants and trees would soon grow beside the winding channel of Shades Creek.
In 1935 Jefferson County repaired the dam, restoring the lake. The vacant clubhouse was demolished in 1938. In the years after the Great Depression, Edgewood Lake became a burden to nearby property owners who didn’t like the fishermen and riffraff that came to the lake. Neither the county nor any city government would spend money to keep the lake and dam in good repair. Depression-era government agencies could not help because they could not spend money on privately owned properties. In 1940, the Investor’s Syndicate of Minneapolis, which then held title to the land, deeded the land to Jefferson County in a right-of-way agreement. From then on nothing was done.
The City of Homewood, nearby residents and the County Commissioners squabbled over what to do and who would pay for it. The county claimed that the lake was too shallow for good fishing anyway and that extensive improvements were needed. Thus, Jefferson County drained Edgewood Lake in the spring of 1946 ostensibly for repairs. The repairs never came about and they turned over 100 acres of the again-dry lake bed to Howard College, which later became the present Samford University. Some said It was drained due to uncontrollable mosquitos and some insisted It was drained because the powers to be got mad at Roy Bridges for launching a World War II amphibious duck in the lake. They drained it so show their power they said. Attempts by residents to have the lake restored failed and redevelopment of the area was allowed to proceed. Trees grew in the lakebed, but boys, men and hobos continued to fish in the deep holes of the creek. It was a wilderness inhabited by snakes and animals.
And the lake was gone forever. A smaller "Edgewood Lake" briefly reappeared as a result of
heavy rains in January 1954.
Initial annexing into Homewood began in 1959.