On October 5, 1887, twenty-nine residents of a small mining/railroad community outside Birmingham, Alabama petitioned for incorporation. On October 19, 1887, the town of Irondale was incorporated following a vote on October 17, (32 for and 6 against). Corporate limits extended one-half mile in every direction from the center, between three oaks standing in said town about midway between the Alabama Great Southern and the Georgia Pacific Railroads and nearly in front of the Hotel Resort (by 1912 the hotel no longer existed, but for many years and long after the trees were gone, there was a marker designating the center of the town). Irondale, consisting of only four blocks in 1887, was ready to begin the growth that has made it what it is today.
The name of the small community was taken from a furnace located just west of what is now the city limits of Irondale. The furnace was first known as the Cahaba Iron Works. Mr. W. S. McElwain of Holly Springs, Mississippi, built the furnace in 1863 giving it the name Cahaba Iron Works, but the local folks always called the place Irondale. (From Armes, Ethel: Story of Coal and Iron in Alabama). This explains why it was later known as Irondale Furnace.
The furnace was used to make pig iron which was hauled by oxcart to Montevallo and delivered by railroad
to the arsenal at Selma to be fashioned into munitions for the Confederate Army. The ore used for the furnace came from Red Mountain. The furnace was destroyed by Wilson’s Raiders in mid-March of 1865, during the latter part of the War Between the States. In November of that year Mr. McElwain had secured capital from the North and was back in business producing agricultural implements and equipment for the railroads advancing into the area. The panic of 1873 caused the blowing out of the furnace.
Irondale sits in a valley with Red Mountain to its north and Cahaba Mountain or Shades Mountain to its south and southeast. The pioneers and Indians made use of Red Mountain long before the town was incorporated. The red rock found in this area was used to dye the clothes of the pioneers and to paint the faces of the Indians. Besides large deposits of iron ore, coal and limestone, Red Mountain has an abundance of springs and clear streams, the land of which was once used by the Indians as a ceremonial park.
Settlers began to move into Jones Valley as early as 1816. As the town of Irondale began to grow, history began to be made. The first land purchased in Irondale’s incorporated area was in 1821, others followed in 1822, 1834, 1851, 1852 and 1855. In 1877 William Ellard, a farmer, hunter, timberman and Confederate soldier, built a house, barn, tool house and smoke house (it is believed that Mr. Ellard’s property was just outside the confines of the 1887 corporate limits). By April/December 1887, E. N. Montgomery owned much of the land in the incorporated area and lived in a log house on what is now 2nd Avenue northeast of 21st Street in Irondale.
By January 1, 1888 there were around fifty town residents and some twelve businesses. Irondale’s first post office was established June 3, 1872 and discontinued December 3, 1875. Then it was reestablished as Brevard on January 16, 1883 and was renamed, Irondale on February 28, 1887, some eight months prior to incorporation. Early records show the first post office operated in various business establishments, maybe even a home. In 1884, J. C. McCain, A. B. Moore and J. C. Windham were operating general merchandise stores. In 1888 there were 6 stores, a meat market, 3 restaurants, a planing/grist mill and the Hood Lumber Company opened for business.
Four churches were established in the 1800’s:
Cumberland Presbyterian – 1885/86
United Methodist – 1887
Mt. Hebron Baptist – 1891
First Baptist Irondale – 1892
The 1900 Federal Census of Irondale shows the population was 525. The 1910 Census shows the population was 572.
For more historical information about Irondale please visit the Irondale Historical Society website. Also feel free to contact the City Clerk or the Mayor. Both are located at City Hall (101 South 20th Street). Another great source for historical information about Irondale is the Irondale Public Library located next door to the City Hall.