Woodlawn was settled in the early 19th century by a group of farming families. The name of the area came from the prominent family in the group, known as the Wood family. Originally from Greenville, SC, the family chose a section of the Jones Valley that had plenty of water. As the settlement continued to grow, the town of Rockville was formed in 1832. At the time, it was small cluster of homes. Within a few decades, however, the railroad came through. Thus, the settlement was renamed for its founding family and began to grow.
Woodlawn – the farming history of now urban cultural center
By the 1880s, the growth had reached the point that a private school known as Woodlawn Academy was formed. In 1884, the Georgia-Pacific railroad offered access to Birmingham, just a few miles away. Thus, residents of Woodlawn had access to work and the other amenities of this fast growing city. The population exploded at this point, reaching 2,500 by 1895. This growth prompted the building of a jail and city hall. By the turn of the century, there was a larger city hall built, along with a vast array of other building projects. Throughout the first decades of the new century, schools, churches, a fire station and library were added to the community.
While 1910 marked the annexation of this spirited community into the city of Birmingham, the community ties with their founding family remained strong. In fact, the estate of the Wood family was turned into a public park, known as the Willow Wood Park. It enjoys one of the only spring-fed swimming pools in the area.
Unfortunately, urban blight infected this small section of Birmingham. By the 1980s, that joblessness and the flight to the suburbs had taken its toll. Efforts were made to revitalize this once vibrant section of the city. The result is that today the neighborhood has begun to see efforts attached to community development. In addition, there was a community participation program instituted by the city of Birmingham to encourage individual neighborhood to reinvest in themselves through development and political activism. A community garden has been started and several homes have been improved.
Sadly, these efforts have not been able to make significant changes in the commercial district of Woodlawn, which remains at risk of continued decline. Still, the community continues to contribute to Birmingham, including adding to the Comprehensive Master Plan of Birmingham.
However, it is important to remember that this area of the city started with just a small farming community and a family’s dream of building something for their children. One can only hope that the spirit of this community will be able to revive it to be a family neighborhood for the 21st century.