History Underfoot

Wood planks, Bricks, Rails
- Photo Credit: Francesca Gross
Crushed stone, soft rush
- Photo Credit: Francesca Gross
Graves Brick
- Photo Credit: Francesca Gross
Wood planks, bolt holes
- Photo Credit: Francesca Gross
Limestone filled gabions
- Photo Credit: Francesca Gross
Rails on the Plaza
- Photo Credit: Francesca Gross
Granite curb rescued for stream banks
- Photo Credit: Francesca Gross
Native sandstone boulder
- Photo Credit: Francesca Gross
Muhley grass, soft asphalt
- Photo Credit: Francesca Gross
Local Southern Clay brick
- Photo Credit: Francesca Gross

Part of Railroad Park’s charm is in its reuse of such materials as hand-cast bricks and granite cobble and curbs that date from Birmingham’s infancy. Look closely at the bricks and you’ll see imprints of local manufacturers Graves Bham and Southern Clay MFG Co. Large gabion baskets hold softer brick that might chip and break underfoot. Harder, durable bricks are used as pavers near the pavilion. Lenses of foundry sand also were found within the soil and were carefully removed during construction.

The park site originated as a springhead for Valley Creek, a source of water for farming. A break in the mountain ridges provided a perfect transport loop for rail crossing east-west and north-south through the valley – a rare geographic occurrence and a boon to industry. In 1871, the town of Elyton was located at the cross-section of the north-south and east-west railroad routes. That town grew up to be Birmingham. Late in the 19th century, the site, then called Railroad Reservation Park, was filled with rubble and discarded railroad materials to create dry space for warehouses.

You’ll see evidence of early Birmingham throughout the park. Hand-cast bricks form the bases for park benches, as well as the structured edges in the amphitheater grading. Steel gabions packed primarily with old bricks and limestone chunks create site walls. Granite once used as street cobble and curbs forms stable, scour-resistant stream edges, and limestone debris from the reservoir excavation fills gabions that line more structured edges of the lake. Native sandstone boulders, also found during excavation, have been used to provide terrain for the creek edges, as well as rustic seating. Cobbles make up the lake-edge aprons and create a large, shallow, paved bowl for the plaza’s birch grove.

Other park materials include a colored rubber-coated asphalt path called the Rail Trail. Gabions filled with native limestone or reclaimed brick are capped with a molded safety-yellow fiberglass grate to provide seating and arranged thematically according to source and time period. And steel rails that were excavated from the site are integrated into the walkway near the main plaza.

-Francesca Gross