Friday, May 1, 2015

Irondale, Alabama

October 5, 1887 saw the birth of a newly incorporated Irondale, Alabama.  At that time there were 29 residents.  The corporate limits extended 1/2 mile in every direction from the center between 3 oak trees standing about midway between Alabama Great Southern and The Georgia Pacific railroads.  Nearly in front of the Hotel Resort.

By 1912 the hotel no longer existed and the trees were gone but for many years there was a marker in that spot designating the center of town.  In 1887 Irondale consisted of 4 city blocks.  Now there is an intersection where the oak trees once stood with 3 flag poles standing in for the trees.

By January 1, 1888, there were around 50 residents and some 12 businesses. Today, according to, there are approximately 12,379 residents in the city limits. While its neighbor (Birmingham) has seen a steady decrease in population since 2000, Irondale has actually seen a 26.1% increase.  The median rent in Irondale is $973.

Like Birmingham, Avondale, Fairfield and many other towns in Alabama, the chief employer in Irondale were the iron/steel companies.  The furnace in Irondale was used to make pig iron which was hauled by oxcart to Montevallo and then delivered by railroad to the arsenal at Selma to be fashioned into munitions for the Confederate Army.

In mid-March, 1865, the furnace was destroyed by Wilson's raiders.  It has the distinction of being the first furnace to be rebuilt after the war but once again, was destroyed - this time by fire - in 1887.

The land that once housed the furnace is now a hiking trail and nature walk.

Perhaps the most famous business in Irondale is the Whistlestop cafe.  The actual name is the Irondale Cafe but thanks to Fannie Flagg, it will forever be called the Whistlestop.

The Whistlestop Cafe opened in 1928 by Emmett Montgomery as a hotdog stand.  In 1932, Miss Bess Fortenberry bought it.  By all accounts, Miss Bess was a free spirited, vivacious woman who loved people.  She was from a prominent local family and never married.

In the early 1940's, Miss Bess leased out the cafe and traveled to Florida to aid in the war efforts.  There she met a black lady named Lizzie Carmichael who was a wonderful cook, and Sue Lovelace.  After the war, Miss Bess talked both Ms. Carmichanel and Ms. Lovelace into coming back to Irondale and helping her run the cafe.

The great niece of Miss Bess, Fannie Flagg, wrote the book "Fried Green Tomatoes" about the life and times of Miss Bess and her cafe.

Every year the City of Irondale hosts the Whistlestop Festival which is a huge draw for the area and tourists alike.

Irondale also owns a boat launch called the Cahaba Landing which provides access for people to canoe on the Cahaba River.

With all the amenities and the fantastic location close to Birmingham, Anniston, Leeds, Moody, etc., what's not to love about Irondale?