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masthead edition

Leah Rawls Atkins to speak on the Warrior River

Jefferson County’s Expressway to the Sea


oted Alabama author Leah Rawls Atkins, a past president of the Alabama Historical Association, has been scheduled as the JCHA’s October 11th speaker.

Dr. Atkins, who retired from the Auburn University History Department in 1995, is author, co-author and editor of numerous works on Alabama history including The Valley and the Hills, an Illustrated History of Birmingham & Jefferson County, which was sponsored by the JCHA.

She holds a Ph.D. degree in history from Auburn University and taught at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Samford University and Auburn University. She is the historian and director emerita of the Auburn University Center for Arts and Humanities.

Dr. Atkins was also Alabama’s first world’s water skiing champion. She dominated the sport from 1951 to 1958. Her first year, at age 16, she won first place overall at the Ontario Championships in South Hampton, Canada. She went on to establish records and win championships, both nationally and internationally. She also became the first woman to be inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.

Next Meeting:

October 11

Mt. Brook Library

Reception at 6:30 p.m.

Meeting at 7:00 p.m.

Dr. Leah Rawls Atkins

Dr. Leah Rawls Atkins

hot fudge sundaes


Message From The Vice President


e have an excellent program coming up on October 11th. Leah Rawls Adkins will talk about the Warrior River, and its importance in the development of Jefferson County. As you know, Leah is one of Alabama’s foremost historians, author of many books, highly acclaimed as a speaker, academic leader, co-author of the leading history of modern Alabama; all this, as well as at one time the national champion in water ski board jumping. Leah has been involved with the Jefferson County Historical Association for many years. We are fortunate to have her as our speaker.

We are trying an experiment, which we hope will get your favorable attention. Thanks to the staff at Emmet O’Neal Library, we are starting to video record our programs. Our first try was at our last meeting in July. Steve Murray, then Assistant Director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, spoke on the Alabama governor who served in the early 1930’s, and about his courageous efforts to keep the state afloat. Steve was recently elected to succeed Ed Bridges as Director of the Department of Archives and History.

Tom Carruthers

Tom Carruthers

You will recall that Ed Bridges was our speaker several meetings ago. Congratulations to Steve Murray on his new position; he follows in great steps. Ed Bridges is regarded nationally as one of the outstanding archives directors.

Thanks to the great efforts of several of our members – Tommy West, George Jenkins, Jim Bennett, Alice Williams and others, we are making a strong effort to add to our membership rolls. During our October meeting we will bring you up to date and seek your views. I look forward to seeing you on October 11th.

Thank each of you for all that you do for the Association.

— Tom Carruthers
JCHA Vice President

Note: JCHA President Alice Williams was on a trip to Sicily at press time.


Murray Named New State Archives Director

Steve Murray

Steve Murray


he Board of Trustees of the Alabama Department of Archives and History has announced the selection of Steve Murray as the agency’s new director. Murray will become the sixth director in the Archives’ 111-year history, succeeding Ed Bridges who retired on September 30th after leading the institution for 30 years.

Murray has worked in Alabama history for 16 years and has involved himself in many historical research and preservation efforts. While at Auburn University he served as managing editor of the Alabama Review and the online Encyclopedia of Alabama.

In 2006, Murray joined the staff of the Alabama Department of Archives and History as assistant director for administration. At the Archives, he has handled a wide range of responsibilities ranging from capital projects and budgeting to fundraising and publication of the Alabama Guide.

A native of Louisiana, he received an undergraduate degree from Louisiana College and a Masters in history from Auburn, and is currently pursuing a PhD. He is past president of the Alabama Historical Association.

The Jefferson County Historical Association


This newsletter is published quarterly by and for the benefit of the membership of the Jefferson County Historical Association.

Copyright © 2012 by JCHA. All rights reserved.

Visit us on line and view back issues at


Jim Bennett, Editor

Editorial Board

Thomas M. West, jr.
Tom Badham
Judy Haise
Dr. Ed Stevenson

Please send letters and notices to the editor via Email:

or mail to:
112 Meadow Croft Circle, Birmingham, AL 35242


Buffalo Rock bottling Plant

The Buffalo Rock bottling Plant was located at 26th street and tenth avenue north in Birmingham, an area now under the interstate
or Red Mountain Expressway. The lighted sign was a landmark at night in the 1920’s and 30’s.

Birmingham’s Buffalo Rock

—by: Tom Badham


r. Sidney Word Lee moved from Aberdeen, Mississippi, to Birmingham in 1888. He and W.C. McMillan started a wholesale grocery business, the McMillan-Lee Grocery Company in 1889. It provided a complete line of grocery products to small corner groceries and mining camp commissaries which were springing up in the area as Birmingham and the number of mining camps in Jefferson and surrounding counties grew. Mr. Lee was both a good salesman and an astute businessman. His company prospered and he loved the personal contacts he made with numerous country store owners around a goodly part of the state, not just Jefferson County. By 1901 his company had merged with the Simmons-Durham Grocery Company to become the Alabama Grocery Company.

The business marketed its own brands of merchandise. It had become one of the largest grocery concerns in Alabama. Its board of directors included business and industry leaders such as Erskine Ramsay and George B. McCormack (coal mining), Edward M. Tutwiler (mining and real estate), Frederick Johnson and Henry L. Badham (banking).

According to my father’s family history, my grandfather and Mr. Lee were the best of friends and were, at times, mutually helpful to each other in a business way. Mr. Lee was justly proud of his wholesale grocery business, but the enterprise had become very competitive and the company’s profits started to seriously decline.

With the invention of the air tight crown cap in 1892, automated glass bottle blowing in 1899, the beginnings of both refrigeration and automated bottling machinery, bottled carbonated soft drinks began to be developed. In the South a huge soft drink market almost instantly appeared. Entrepreneurs developed iced root beer, sarsaparilla, and cola drinks. The one coming out of Atlanta by the name of Coca Cola was becoming a huge success.

During the Civil War, Mr. Lee’s father-in-law, Ashby Coleman, a Selma pharmacist, had concocted a ginger mixture used to combat post-surgical nausea experienced by wounded Confederate soldiers. Experimenting with the mixture formula, Lee created a new soft drink he named Buffalo Rock Ginger Ale by adding carbonation. According to Lee family legend, he chose the name "Buffalo Rock" after a trip out West where he had seen a buffalo standing on a rock, an image he associated with America’s expanding frontier.

My father wrote that grandfather pressed Mr. Lee to drop the grocery end of his business and concentrate on Buffalo Rock which both believed had a great future. He and Mr. Lee interested Erskine Ramsay and George B. McCormack to join them in putting up $25,000 for the necessary capital to incorporate and promote the Buffalo Rock Company. After all, the rivalry between Atlanta and Birmingham almost demanded that Birmingham invent its own profitable soft drink.

Starting with two employees in a small bottling plant on First Avenue North, Lee began marketing Buffalo Rock Ginger Ale in grocery stores as a new product line of the Alabama Grocery Company. Using returnable bottles which were washed and refilled at the plant, the ginger ale became popular in Birmingham. Soda shops began to create floats and other concoctions by pouring it over ice cream or sherbet. Never mentioned in advertising, it was quite robust enough to be used as a popular mixer with alcohol.

By 1916, Alabama’s roads and the trucks on them improved enough that the company began to distribute the ginger ale outside of Jefferson County. Outgrowing his old plant, Lee moved the bottling works to Tenth Avenue and 26th Street in 1922. With a huge electric sign on the roof depicting a Buffalo Rock bottle pouring its ginger ale into a glass, the plant became a Birmingham landmark.

By 1927, Buffalo Rock’s sales and profitability had grown much greater than the other products of Alabama Grocery Company. Mr. Lee moved out of the grocery business entirely, renaming his company the Buffalo Rock Company and solely concentrating on the soft drink’s sales and distribution.

Through the decades Sydney Lee’s son, grandson and great-grandson: James Coleman Lee, James C. Lee, Jr., and James C. Lee, III, kept expanding the company with more profitable soft drink lines. Perhaps having the "Coleman" in their names not only honored Ashby Coleman, but also brought a little good luck. In 1951 James C. Lee, Jr. bought the Pepsi-Cola franchise in Birmingham while adding Dr. Pepper and Seven-Up. This made Buffalo Rock’s Birmingham bottling plant the first in the United States to bottle three major national brands under one roof.

Today, Buffalo Rock operates 14 distribution centers across Alabama, the Florida panhandle and northwest Georgia. Its Birmingham operations are spread over a 50-acre campus in seven different buildings. And, Buffalo Rock is still the best ginger ale on the market.


Hedona mine

The old drift mine, one of several original cuts, is located east of the intersection of Montrose Place South and Berwick Road South. It is at end of Berwick Road where it dead ends into the end of a ravine. It is located directly into the woods at the end of the street. Remains of a tramway can be seen in the bottom of the ravine, to the right of Berwick Road and connected to the L&N railroad (Jeff Newman).

Hedona mine house

This old house was discovered about 1500 feet east of the Hedona Mine. The 1897 Alabama Geological Survey describes it as being on the Milner Iron Company property. John Milner was the mine owner so it is likely the house was used by mine workers (Jeff Newman).


Old Hedona Mine in Redmont Park Now Just a Memory

—by: Jeff Newman


ou may have heard the phrase, "Here today and gone tomorrow". For many communities trying to gain a foothold in Jefferson County in the late 1800’s, that is an accurate description of the old Hedona Mine along Berwick Road.

Hedona was one of many mining communities developed when the Birmingham Mineral Railroad began construction in 1884. Some managed to survive and still exist today, but as the mines played out others have all but been forgotten. The L&N Red Gap Branch was constructed in 1890 and it was along this branch that the Hedona area was established and lived out its 60-year existence.

Hedona was not a major goal of John T. Milner when he began to acquire the property on Red Mountain. Milner was a primary figure in the formation of the Oxmoor Furnace in 1862, in determining the location of Birmingham and its founding in 1871. He also helped develop the Newcastle Coal Company. Somewhere along the way he got involved in the red ore mine at Hedona.

According to the Alabama State Department Tract Book and US Department of Interior, John T. Milner and his brother, Willis J. Milner, made a homestead entry into Section 6, Township 18 South and Range 2 West in 1869. John Milner was granted a land patent in 1873 and Willis received one in 1870. These two land grants became the site of the Hedona Mine.

Willis Milner, on October 27, 1873, sold 1/4 interest in his property to George McLaughlin and on March  10, 1874 sold 3/4 interest to Charles Linn, the developer of Linn Iron Works in 1877. It was in 1886 that John Milner and George McLaughlin incorporated the Red Mountain Mining & Manufacturing Co., but US District Court records show Milner had mined at Hedona prior to 1883.

In 1890 the Birmingham Mineral Railroad, Red Gap Branch, reached the mine and Hedona became an actual location on the map. A tramway was then built from the drift mine to deliver ore to the L&N. Although Hedona never became a major supplier, mining was done intermittently between the 1870’s and 1905.

John Milner died in 1898 and in 1912 Willis Milner and the remaining co-owners decided to dissolve the Red Mountain Mining & Manufacturing Co. and sell the property for residential development. On November 11, 1912 the property was sold at auction with Willis Milner and Lillian Orr as high bidders. On November 15, 1912 the Milner Land Company was organized to handle development and sale of the Milner Heights properties.

Although the Hedona Mine had ended its mining activity, Hedona as a rail community still existed as a stop along the Mineral Railroad. In 1888 Willis Milner was directing construction of the new Cahaba River Pumping Station. It was from the Hedona rail spur that equipment was unloaded and hauled on oak carts by teams of oxen to the site on the Cahaba River.

Development occurred slowly at Hedona until the 1920’s when the Milner Heights and Redmont Park communities began to appear. By 1928, the Hedona rail connection was serving several businesses in the area as well as others in nearby Homewood and coal mines to the south.

Robert Jemison’s Redmont Park was advertised as "high class" real estate, so having a railroad dividing it in half did not sit well with the property owners. In 1946 a lawsuit, "McClung vs. the L&N", was filed labeling the Hedona spur a nuisance and asking that the railroad be closed. The suit went all the way to the Alabama Supreme Court where a ruling was handed down in 1951. The court did not require the railroad to be abandoned but did place heavy restrictions on companies operating there to reduce the noise, dust and foul odors.

As a result operators found it ever more difficult to continue to conduct business. Within two years as commerce began to fade, rail traffic at the Hedona spur had declined to the point where in April of 1953 the L&N requested permission from the Interstate Commerce Commission to abandon the Red Gap Branch from Hedona to the Red Gap Junction at Irondale. With the ICC decision to grant abandonment, this brought a quiet end to the old Hedona operation.

Although the name Hedona has been removed from all of our maps, the community still thrives today. You may know it better as English Village.

Pizitz camera ad 1957

Birmingham News, May, 1957.



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