Why We Started
Citizens’ concern for the preservation of Jemison Park galvanized in 1973 after the City of Birmingham made a formal request to the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers to channelize Shades Creek. The preliminary study by the Corps was in progress. At the same time a bitter lawsuit, which Birmingham Audubon Society joined, was evolving over the Corps’ Tenn/Tom Waterway project. It was the opinion of interested citizens, including the Reid, Maynard and Carruthers families, that an organized group of people who believed in Mr. Jemison’s concept should be in place to deal with whatever followed.
The initial meeting was called by Isabel Maynard, and from that came the official organizational meeting on March 27, 1973, at the Mountain Brook City Hall. Elected to the first Board of Directors were Thomas N. Carruthers, Ed M. Friend, Jr., George F. Maynard, Henry D. McHenry, M. Camper O’Neal, Mrs. Robert R. Reid, Jr., and Mrs. Lindsay C. Smith. The board elected as its first officers Tom Carruthers, President; George Maynard, Vice-President; Beverly Goff, Secretary; Lowell S. Hamilton, Treasurer; and Elberta Reid, Assistant Treasurer. After one or possibly two more annual meetings at the city hall, it became apparent from the decline in attendance that the membership was ready for a change. Elberta Reid proposed that we meet instead during the late afternoon on a weekend at someone’s home in the neighborhood and offered to be in charge of such a meeting.
After some discussion, Dale Carruthers and Elberta called on Elna Shugerman to ask if she and Al would be our hosts. Since we had no idea how many or who would come, this being an open organization, it was a major request, but the Shugermans rose to the occasion and invited us in. The new format was a great success and became quite a neighborhood tradition.
In March of 1978, this same group of Friends pioneers, led by Tom Carruthers, prepared a booklet covering the history and natural history of Jemison Park, which served as the basis for this current version. Following a long study period and much interaction with the Friends group, the Corps of Engineers eventually reported a negative cost/benefit ratio and therefore dropped the channelization project.
Where the Trail Began
The next cause for concern for Jemison Park came when Jefferson County announced that a new and enlarged sewer line would be constructed along Shades Creek. Initial plans called for clearcutting 100 feet on either side of the center line of the sewer, thus virtually eliminating all the trees between the creek and Mountain Brook Parkway. During the channelization study process, Mayor Allen Rushton had appointed Bob Reid to serve as Mountain Brook’s representative on the newly formed Shades Creek Maintenance Committee. This committee actually never met, but the appointment afforded some credibility and standing in later negotiations with the county and its contractors. City Manager Axel Bolvig eventually turned over these negotiations to the Friends’ ad hoc committee consisting of Bob and Elberta Reid, Dale Carruthers, and Weesie Smith. This group met many afternoons with contractor Robert Morris over details of the construction. What resulted is the park as we know it today, with trails in place. Dale and Weesie produced a landscape plan designating the planting of native plants, and Mr. Morris turned over to the Friends the funds allocated for replanting.
Stone Bridges Leading to Villages
Establishment of Jemison Park’s trail following the sewer project led next, in the early 1990s, to restoration of the three stone bridges on Mountain Brook Parkway. These bridges were too narrow as originally built for the heavy traffic that developed later and had been widened in the early 1950s, with painted iron pipe railings instead of stone. Robin O’Neal was president of the Friends at the time, and Nimrod Long offered the services of his landscape architecture firm to design the stone restoration based on original bridge plans. Nim requested that Jefferson County install the bridges using their labor if the Friends of Jemison Park donated the materials. County Commissioner Gary White agreed, noting that this was a rare request from the City of Mountain Brook and he was happy to assist. Next, the Friends approached the City of Mountain Brook to ask them to match dollar for dollar the money the Friends could raise. City leaders led by Council members Margaret Porter and Helene Elkus supported the Friends, and the project moved forward.
The Friends of Jemison Park was able to raise $55,000 for a project total of $110,000 to pay for construction materials. Bill and Bit McDonald and the O’Neal Foundation provided key leadership gifts that made the fundraising effort a success. The Friends discovered with this experience that fundraising for the Park could be a successful undertaking for a project so well supported by the entire community.
The early 1990s continued to be a time of dynamic changes to the Jemison Park trail system. It again began with a Jefferson County sewer project, this time to replace the sewer line along Watkins Brook. After the County’s previous experience working closely with the Friends of Jemison Park, this time they came to our group to gather input prior to the beginning of the design work. The Friends, led by president Nimrod Long and Bob Reid, negotiated with the County and Rast Construction to install tree protection and create a trail along Watkins Brook from Mountain Brook Parkway to Watkins Road. After this was accomplished, our goal became the extension of the trail along Cahaba Road to Mountain Brook Village.
This was such an appealing notion that Isabel Maynard wondered why we shouldn’t “connect the trail to all the villages.” This comment became the seed of the Trail System for Mountain Brook. The City Council, led by Helene Elkus, formed a committee of citizens representing all the schools and the neighborhoods. Landscape Architect Nimrod Long worked with the City to design the plan, and Southern Living magazine’s Philip Morris co-chaired the committee with Helene Elkus. The result is a series of pathways and sidewalks that have connected Jemison Park with the rest of Mountain Brook. As of 2005, 36 of the 50 planned miles of paths and sidewalks linking the city’s three villages, schools, parks, churches and neighborhoods have been completed.
Other notable, if less complex, projects that the Friends group has implemented over the years have been the result of enthusiastic conversations at the biennial neighborhood “annual meetings.” Since 1999 under Sally Worthen’s leadership, the Friends have funded improved drainage projects for the trail, put in brick-edged parking spaces to restrict haphazard parking along the edge of the park, had bird lists placed in weatherproof boxes at the edge of the trail (built and donated by Mayor Terry Oden), and installed memorial benches along the stream. Eagle Scout projects and generous individual donations to the park have been organized and coordinated by the Friends. Remembering Mr. Jemison’s goal of “preserving the alluring native beauty of this woodland scene,” the Friends of Jemison Park began funding yearly maintenance to keep aggressive nonnative plant species out of the park. Following a three-year contract to remove such invasive species as privet, kudzu and English ivy, many native plants and wildflowers that had been suppressed have now begun to thrive again. See page 27 for a more inclusive list of exotics.
Trails Throughout the County
Jemison Park has become a model for streamside preservation and community green space. Friends of Jemison Park was pleased to be able to provide seed money for a wooded trail undertaken by a church/city/ neighborhood partnership in the Brookwood Road area of Mountain Brook. When Friends of Shades Creek was formed in 1998, Michelle Blackwood recalls using the original Jemison Park booklet, pictures and maps in promoting a similar citizens group downstream in Homewood, with a streamside trail through forest lands as its goal. Homewood Trail planner Jane Reed Ross cites Jemison Park as the major reference for that project, and Flora Johnston presented Jemison Park as a model in proposing what has become the Flora Johnston Park upstream from Jemison Park, near Elder Street in Birmingham.
We are seeing a renewed interest in the 1925 Olmsted vision of a Birmingham region connected through a series of linear parks and greenways. Recently Cathy Sloss Crenshaw, one of the city’s best-known advocates for wise urban land use, stated that the prospect of a linear park along Birmingham’s Village Creek is a natural extension of the streamside preservation model. As a part of this regional vision of connected greenways, Jemison Park remains a work in progress to recover the original picture painted by Robert Jemison when he wrote, “The unspoiled beauty of Mountain Brook lends itself naturally to graciously living.”
Elberta G. Reid
Nancy M. Long
Nimrod W. E. Long III