King Spring, the centerpiece of Avondale Park, has a rich history. Native Americans frequented the spot to hunt game attracted to the spring and drink its cool, sweet waters. Later, people of European and African heritage traveling along the Georgia Road would stop to rest and water the horses and mules that carried them, their goods, and supplies.
King Spring is one of many springs that once bejeweled the floor of Jones Valley and helped attract settlers to the region. The springs provided water year round, even during droughts. More important, these waters were (at least initially) free of sediment, diseases, and other pollutants.
The tract surrounding the spring was eventually granted to Jefferson County Sheriff Abner Killough, in 1858. A few years later, during the Civil War, the spring was the site of a minor skirmish. Union army officers stopping by the spring to water their horses were fired upon by a unit of the local guard. The only casualty occurred when Union troops returned fire before speeding away. One of them wounded Abner Killough’s wife, who was a bystander.
First known as Big Spring, King Spring was renamed when the property surrounding it was sold in 1876 to Peyton King. In 1887, King sold the property to the businessmen who, soon thereafter, built a textile mill, known as Avondale Mills. As part of the deal, Peyton King insisted that the 40 acres surrounding the spring be dedicated as a park. The mill owners established Avondale as a company town and developed the park for recreation. Avondale Park attracted thousands of visitors a year. Many were weekenders visiting from nearby Birmingham to enjoy the beauty of the park and escape the noise and grime of the city. At its peak, the park was home to Birmingham’s first zoo, which included a famous elephant known as Miss Fancy.
The town of Avondale grew in the late 1880s and early 1890s, with Spring Street being its “main street.” The run flowing from the spring was known as Spring Branch, and it was diverted to flow on both sides of Spring Street. The stream flowed in this manner until August 1925, when Spring Street was paved and Spring Branch was piped underneath the street. Spring Street was renamed 41st Street South when Birmingham annexed Avondale and other outlying communities in 1910.
In the 1970s, the cave from which King Spring flowed was closed, and the top of Spring Branch was piped belowground. Afterwards, a visitor to the park might never have suspected that there was a spring at the heart of the park. During renovations to the park in 2011, the upper portion of Spring Branch was daylighted for the first time in more than three decades. Today, when the weather is warm, children play in the stream, just as they did more than one hundred years ago.
-R. Scot Duncan