In the foothills of the Appalachian Chain, the City of Vestavia Hills is charmingly situated atop Shades Mountain. From this unique vantage point, Vestavia Hills overlooks beautiful Shades Valley to the north and has a breathtaking vista of the remaining Appalachian foothills to the south.
Located predominantly in southern Jefferson County with a few properties in extreme northern Shelby County, Alabama, the City of Vestavia Hills lies approximately five miles south of downtown Birmingham. It covers 18.27 square miles or 11,693.17 acres. Vestavia Hills is centered between the crest of Shades Mountain and the Cahaba River to the south and southeast of Birmingham. The major, regional routes that serve Vestavia Hills are I-65 to the east and southeast, I-459 generally to the south of Vestavia Hills continuing northeasterly, and Highway 280, which bisects Vestavia Hills in a southeast and northwest direction. I-65 connects Vestavia Hills to Huntsville (north) and to Montgomery (south). Both I-65 and Highway 280 are major arteries to downtown Birmingham and to I-20/59, which connects west to Tuscaloosa, north to Chattanooga, and east to Atlanta. I-459 is the southern beltway around the metro Birmingham area, also connecting to I-20 and I-59.
Other major roadways include: Columbiana Road and Highway 31, which run north and south through Vestavia Hills; Rocky Ridge Road, connecting Highway 280 and Highway 31, generally runs north and south through Vestavia Hills; Shades Crest Road, which generally follows the northwest boundary of Vestavia Hills connecting Columbiana Road and Highway 280; and Overton Road, a continuation of Shades Crest Road extending southwest and northeast between Highway 280 and I-459. Overton Road connects sections of Vestavia Hills, but is generally within Mountain Brook.
Vestavia Hills is bordered to the north by Homewood and, generally, to the north by Mountain Brook and Irondale. To the east, southeast and partially south, Vestavia Hills is bordered by unincorporated Jefferson County and Birmingham. To the south and west, Vestavia Hills is bordered by Hoover. The Location Map shows the extents of the City in relation to these neighboring cities and the major road network serving the Vestavia Hills area. The originally incorporated portion of Vestavia Hills lies between the extremes of Shades Mountain and the Cahaba River with ridges and streams intermittent within. The older portion of the city and its northern boundary was established along the crest of Shades Mountain. From the mountain crest the city developed southward along U.S. Highway 31 (also known as Montgomery Highway). Available flat site areas limited commercial development and the majority of land was developed as a residential community even along U. S. Highway 31. The City's varied topography is shown in The Topography Map. This shows not only the geographic contours in the Vestavia Hills area, but also depicts areas of "severe" slopes (15% and greater), which can be an impediment to land development.
A number of ridges such as Little Valley Mountain, Jones Ridge, Dolly Ridge and Rocky Ridge all run northeast to southwest. In between are two significant creeks and a river. These are Patton Creek, Little Shades Creek, and the Cahaba River. The significance of these topographic features is that there is an abundance of slopes 15% or greater, which have been developed over time. Areas of 15% or greater are usually considered undevelopable for larger projects such as retail, offices, institutional buildings, schools, etc. Therefore, smaller-scaled residential developments are in most of these steep slope areas. As a result, over 90% of the original Vestavia Hills area has developed for residential - leaving about 5% for commercial and 5% for all other development types. Whereas the vast elevation changes creates challenges, it does offer opportunities of great scenic views
Since its original incorporation, Vestavia Hills has annexed two significant land areas - Liberty Park and Cahaba Heights. Most of Liberty Park also has steep topography, but is balanced with open flat areas designated for commercial and residential development and stormwater management. Approximately 20% of Liberty Park can accommodate non-residential uses. Cahaba Heights is generally flatter, with very few areas with slopes of 15% or greater, though steeper areas exist close to I-459.
The History of Vestavia Hills
(Condensed from Vestavia Hills, Alabama: A Place Apart, by Marvin Yoemans Whiting)
As 19th century gave way to the 20th century the heavily wooded and mountainous area of Shades Mountain remained relatively undeveloped. The Shades Mountain region was difficult to develop because of its relative inaccessibility from the Birmingham area to the north. Access from Birmingham was limited by treacherous dirt roads that snaked up the mountain and became virtually impassible during rains and inclement weather. It was not until 1916, when Edgar Jones Smyer, the President of Title Guarantee Loan and Trust Company in Birmingham, completed the 3 1/2 mile stretch of road that ran from the present day Birmingham Water Works Filter Plant to the top of the mountain, that the area became accessible for development. Early settlement of the Shades Mountain region was given another boost in 1922 when a second portion of this road was completed creating the section of Shades Crest Road that runs between what is now Smyer Road and Highway 31.
Another of the early influential residents of the area was George Battey Ward, a former two-term Mayor of Birmingham who built his estate named “Vestavia Hills” atop Shades Mountain. Mr. Ward’s fascination of the classical Greco-Roman era inspired his construction of replicas of the ancient Roman Temple of Vesta and Temple of Sibyl, which currently serves as a historical gateway into Vestavia Hills from the north.
Between 1924 and the late 1940’s a number of adventurous settlers moved to the region and by 1950 the area population totaled 607 residents. From this point forward, Vestavia Hills grew at a rapid pace. In 1950, residents petitioned the Jefferson County Probate Judge to call an incorporation election to create the town whose name would reflect the influence of George Battey Ward. The incorporation election to create the Town of Vestavia Hills was held on October 24, 1950 and passed by a vote of 88 for and 8 against the proposition. The City was formally incorporated on November 8, 1950.
By late 1957 the population had grown by almost five times its size in 1950 to a total of 2,995 residents, and the Town of Vestavia Hills officially became a City. From the period 1956 to 1966 commercial development sprang up along the Montgomery Highway corridor. A series of annexations to the south of the city’s boundaries led to a period of continued growth and by 1970 the population of Vestavia Hills reached a total of 8,311 residents.
The opening of the Red Mountain Expressway in 1977 and the creation of Vestavia Hills' own school system in 1970 spurred continued growth and the population by 1980 numbered 15,729 residents. The significant annexations of the Rocky Ridge and Altadena areas in the 1980’s, Liberty Park in 1992 and Cahaba Heights in 2002 expanded both the population base, now numbering 30,400 residents, and the commercial base of the City of Vestavia Hills, Alabama.