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Woodlawn Alabama


Woodlawn is the name of a community in the city of Birmingham, Jefferson County, Alabama, United States.


Present-day Woodlawn was settled by a group of farming families who entered the area in 1815, just as it was opened to settlement by the Treaty of Fort Jackson. The community took its name from the Wood family, headed by Obadiah Washington Wood and his son Edmond Wood, Huguenots from Greenville, South Carolina. The site they chose was a well-watered section of Jones Valley along the Georgia Road which extended deep into what was then still part of the Mississippi Territory.

Edmund was granted 1200 acres (5 km˛) of Obadiah's holdings on which to raise his family. It was on that property that the town of Rockville was formed in 1832 - a small cluster of houses near the roadside. The first railway came through the valley in 1870, at which point the settlement was renamed Wood Station and began to grow. By the end of that decade a private "Woodlawn Academy" had been founded to educate the children of the communities 89 residents. In 1884 the Georgia-Pacific Railroad began offering service into the rapidly-growing city of Birmingham, about 4 miles to the west.

In 1891 the State of Alabama granted a municipal corporation to the "City of Woodlawn," the name chosen by its first citizens to honor the Wood family, who remained active in civic affairs. In 1895 the first City Hall and Jail were built and by the end of the century the population was 2,500. A second, larger City Hall was built at the turn of the century, along with schools, churches, a fire station, and library. The grand gothic-inspired Woodlawn High School opened in 1922.

In 1910 the City of Woodlawn was annexed into Birmingham, but maintained a strong community spirit that was bound up with the Wood family, who had turned their estate into a public park (now "Willow Wood Park"), complete with spring-fed swimming pool. Commentators through the first half of the 20th century never tired of remarking on the local pride found in Woodlawn - "a really great section of Birmingham...A section typical of the fine things in life." (according to one newspaper story from 1950)

Unfortunately, this pride did not prevent the spread of urban blight following the social turmoil of the 1960s and economic turmoil of the 1970s. Compounding the growing problems of aging housing stock and "white flight" was a crisis of joblessness and poverty that took hold in the community. The need to seriously address these problems was evident by the beginning of the 1980s and some efforts at revitalization were attempted.

Current status

Within the city of Birmingham, greater Woodlawn is characterized as one of 23 "Communities" that participate in the "Community Participation Program" that was drawn up to encourage local political activism and community development. The neighborhoods that make up the Woodlawn community are East Avondale, Oak Ridge Park, South Woodlawn, and the Woodlawn neighborhood itself.

In the last few years, residents of Woodlawn have worked with the City and Region 2020 to create a master plan as part of Birmingham's "Comprehensive Master Plan" process. An initial project to implement master plan goals in the central residential section of Woodlawn, north of 1st Avenue, has met with limited success. Several dilapidated houses were improved and an active community garden was started.

The business district of Woodlawn, and Woodlawn High School, both critical assets, remain at risk of not recovering from decline.


© John R. Taylor

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