Days Gone By - stories from the past

UPDATED WITH PODCAST The Birmingham Zoo & Botanical Gardens sits on top of over 4700 graves

The land beneath homes and shopping centers in the community of Mountain Brook in Jefferson County, Alabama includes many historic sites, including a Revolutionary War soldiers farm and 4700 graves. The area has been inhabited since the 1820s. Originally, the area was known as Watkins Branch.

After this story was published on Alabama Pioneers WIAT TV News   investigated and did a story on the graves.

Revolutionary War Soldier received the land where the Zoo and Gardens are located

Revolutionary War soldier, William Pullen, received the land, which later became Lane Park, the Birmingham Zoo and the Birmingham Botantical Gardens, from the federal government for his services in 1822.

Pullen served in the 14th Virginia Regiment and fought under George Washington’s command at the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown. He was among those encamped at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-78, and later fought at Monmouth and Guilford Court House. He was said to have been personally acquainted with General Washington and to have visited him at Mount Vernon after the war. Pullen also served in the War of 1812.


Sold to the city of Birmingham and became New Southside pauper’s cemetery in 1893

The land was a farm until 1889 when his heirs sold the land to the City of Birmingham in a series of transactions dating from 1889 to 1902.  The first purchase, located on the west side of Cahaba Road was made by Mayor A. O. Lane and was dedicated as New Southside pauper’s cemetery in February 1893 where it continued until 1906.Lane, A. O. mansion

Few gravestones still stand in the woods near where Shades Valley High School was located

The cemetery was later named Red Mountain Cemetery. Many of the 4,700 graves were unmarked, but a few gravestones are still standing in the woods near Hermosa Drive where the former Shades Valley High School was located.

Red Mountain Cemetery in red squareRedMtnCemeteryCloseup

SSmallpox hospital built on the park property  and tuberculosis treated where English Village is located

A smallpox hospital was also built on the park property south of a quarry where curb-stones for 1st Avenue North were being mined.

Tuberculosis was a major problem at the turn of the century so in 1910, a tent city to treat tuberculosis patients was erected where today’s English Village is located. It was the first tuberculosis treatment center in North Alabama.

Historic marker in English Village

first tuberculosis sanitorium2

Lane Park built during the Great Depression, park and zoo built over the graves

Finally, in 1934, Lane Park was built over the entire 200-acre site during the Great Depression as a Works Progress Administration project and named Lane Park in honor of Birmingham mayor A. O. Lane.

However, the original graves were never removed. The park and zoo were built over the graves.  “The Birmingham Zoo, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens along with Evson Inc. Lane Parke development was built on top of the cemetery’s graves. Today, new roads and buildings cover almost all of the cemetery and Pullen’s original farm.”1Lane_Park_Historical_Plaque_Birmingham_AL_2012-12-30


Park had a fish hatchery and picnic shelters

The park also had a fishery, a stone quarry, a baseball diamond and a golf driving range at various time.  Later a fish hatchery, lodge, and picnic shelters were built and remain at the Birmingham Zoo today.

The Red Mountain Cemetery interment book for those buried in the cemetery is preserved at the Birmingham Public Library.  “This database, compiled by Gary Gerlach, a former volunteer in the Archives, includes all information found in the original interment book, including names, dates of death, and causes of death. The original interment book (book guide) is fragile and it is not possible to make copies from this book. In addition to burials recorded in the book, there are several loose pages that also record burials. The asterisks indicate burials listed on those pages.i

The database of burials may be accessed at:



Other Sources

 Birmingham Public Library online

See author’s novels and Alabama historical books

ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Confrontation:: Lost & Forgotten Stories is a collection of lost and forgotten stories that reveals why and how the confrontation between the Native American population and settlers developed into the Creek-Indian War as well as stories of the bravery and heroism of participants from both sides.

Some stories include:

  • Tecumseh Causes Earthquake
  • Terrified Settlers Abandon Farms
  • Survivor Stories From Fort Mims Massacre
  • Hillabee Massacre
  • Threat of Starvation Men Turn To Mutiny
  • Red Eagle After The War


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  1. Every time I read similar stories it makes me wonder why we have cemeteries as man just builds over them 100 years later.

    1. Because just letting them rot in the public would have been pretty gross? Its nothing more than organic material. We can’t save all the cemeteries eventully after so long we would run out of room.

    2. Just makes one ponder spending thousands on a plot and a coffin. What’s the point if future generations will not respect it.

    3. “Archeology” is really just grave robbing.

    4. No matter how much money you spend, how big the headstone. You will be forgotten & turn to dirt. If someone puts a zoo on top of you 100 years later. You would not have a clue. Imagine all the graves that have stuff built over them 100s of years later. Its not really disrespectful because you were at least decayed & long forgotten by the point something is built on top your grave. Mankind’s need to be immortalized via marble slabs with your name is futile. Bio urns is the way to go. At least you can fertilize a tree. Before its chopped down to build something 100 or so years later. Lol honestly at what point do you stop being human remains & just regular dirt?

      1. I agree and that’s just one more reason I’m going to be cremated!

      2. The logic of your comment is unassailable. Thanks.

  2. At some point in time the world will make in mandatory to be cremated.

    1. And perhaps a cap on number of children people can have vs people today that have 10+-children just to get help from the government and others to take care of. That model needs to be stopped as there are other resource shortages as well which will be depleted if something is not done soon.

    2. I have the solution: cremated remains packed into large mortars (big-boy fireworks) and the state or county or whatever fires off that week’s dead every Saturday night. Just imagine that becoming part of our culture.

  3. James it seems we can more than animals at the zoo!!

  4. That…mmmm. Idk . Seems wrong to me!

  5. What a shame that these lives will never sleep in peace (earthy speaking) and be remembered!

    1. Are you kidding? I would love to be under a zoo. To be able to sit back and watch the awe of little children and animals. I would love it. It would definitely be peaceful to me.

  6. Same thing happened in Trussville with their football stadium. Just no respect for the ancestors.

    1. They are pretty much dirt now. Eventually we will run out of room to bury the dead. Its like recycling!

    2. I’ve heard about some of the finds in Trussville which were hush hush so that the stadium could be built. No matter what was found progress would not be stopped. Same thing is happening now with $5 billion dollar northern Beltline with a indian shelter thousands of years old that is being destroyed for the sake of development.

      Watch some YouTube videos of what’s recently happened with memorial mound in Bessemer, al. Pretty much sums up how much people respect the dead.

      1. The building of the football stadium in Trussville was delayed over a year due to excavation. Numerous universities in the area were allowed to help properly excavate the site prior to building. What’s hush, hush about that? And how is that improperly handling? It’s my understanding all guidelines were followed.

  7. There are so many “forgotten” or abandoned cemeteries in Jefferson County. It is such a shame that we don’t have more respect for our dead.

  8. This area was inhabited for many hundreds of years before 1820. The north side of Red Mountain was a traditional burial ground for the original inhabitants.

    1. My recollection is hazy. I worked on an article (nearly 30 years ago) about the tribes that bordered Jones Valley. The valley was very fertile and was fought over for so long that the tribes came to an understanding that it would serve everybody’s best interest if they shared the valley. Part of the agreement was that the north side of Red Mountain would be reserved as a burial “area.” I seem to remember that it included more than one part of the mountainside. I grew up on the North side of the mountain, in Forest Park.

  9. People have no respect for the dead anymore.

  10. In parts of Europe families stack coffins on top of each other when loved ones die in order to preserve space and to assure that future generations maintain the cemetery. It’s actually a good idea.

  11. But think how much joy has shared their space over the years.

  12. Very interesting. Sad that the graves were not given the proper respect.


  13. Just glad my name i z not in the book! Yet!

  14. Hopefully those buried will be in glory and not mind that their decencents and children are enjoying the area and animals , flowers . Families of the future .

  15. I didn’t think that was legal to do that. Called “desecration” ?

  16. 4700 graves! Wow! A lot of people were buried there. I didn’t know anything about this.

  17. I think that they moved a lot of graves during last major renovation. By this I mean relocated them. I believe they hired a specialist to locate graves and capture all contents and reburied them somewhere. I know this does not always happen but I think it should. Most of the graves were unmarked.

  18. mountain brook is literally built on the graves of the poor. wow.

    1. Sorry! This area is not in the City of Mountain Brook, but the City of Birmingham…

      1. I agree, the Zoo and Botanical Garden are where the graves are as it states in the headline. However, the tuberculosis sanatorium is not. The historical sign is in English Village. See the article Historic sites of Mountain Brook by SYDNEY CROMWELL August 25, 2014 in Village Living
        Below is what the article states:

        The remnants of nearly two centuries of history lie beneath Mountain Brook’s homes and shopping centers. Every day, residents walk and drive over a Revolutionary War veteran’s farm and the foundations of the original city, among other historic locations. Many of these sites are no longer visible, but roadside markers have been placed throughout the city to preserve their memory. Use these historic markers as a starting point to explore Mountain Brook’s rich past.
        First Tuberculosis Sanatorium
        Fairway Drive (across from Tonya Jones SalonSpa)
        Very little is known about this tuberculosis sanatorium, the first of its kind in northern Alabama. In May of 1910, the Anti-Tuberculosis Association of Jefferson County set up a cluster of tents near present-day Cahaba Road and Fairway Drive to treat victims of tuberculosis. George R. Eaves, originally from Stratford-upon-Avon, England, started the association after his own struggle with the disease.
        The sanatorium was moved to a larger site on Red Mountain sometime in 1912. Today, the shops and restaurants of English Village have replaced the sanatorium’s original site.

  19. You’re all looking at this wrong. First of all most of these were pauper graves that no one visited or put flowers on or knew they were there. If that had been a large wooded area with lonely graves (many of them unmarked) would you ever visit there? Nope. Instead though people are there every day. Happy families and animals and gardens and its a place people enjoy. So if you believe that our shells of a body somehow have a conscious or appreciate what is going on around them after death, wouldn’t you rather have a botanical garden and zoo with happy people around your final resting place than a lonely unmarked grave in a an unkept area?

  20. It was originally the site of the areas first prison. Where the worst of the worst was sent. I’ve talked to several people that work there and seen some of the graves first hand.

  21. Most of the graves that I have seen. Clearly states what the people where charged with. And I’ve been told the reason for the zoo and botanical gardens choice for location was for the protection of the buried from desicration.

  22. I use to cut grass and do landscaping there. Most of the areas that can still be seen are closed off to the public

  23. Such a shame, looking under the zoo for your kin!!!

  24. How nice to see comments from one of the few wise comments noted. Her name: Jessica Tarwater!

    Wise young lady. VERY WISE, indeed! Not much more can be added by me.

  25. Above and beyond all the comments presented, ONE stands atop the pyramid of WISDOM :

    JESSICA TARWATER ! I can add nothing to her short thesis. Jessica is an area native?

    Can’t be…

  26. Gives a whole new meaning to Boo at the Zoo. Seen Poltergeist?

  27. Kinda gives “Boo at the Zoo” a whole new meaning.

  28. Is there a book about the Alabama coalminers from Birmingham and Walker counties?

  29. The author of that website takes lots of liberties with her statements, such as this quote, with no citation of its source, “The Birmingham Zoo, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens along with Evson Inc. Lane Parke development was built on top of the cemetery’s graves.” In searching Gary G. Gerlach’s book description I can’t find where he made that statement.

    The large part of the cemetery was on the west side of Cahaba Road, and while some few burial sites have been found on the upper part of the Botanical Gardens, very very few have been found east of Park Lane. Again, there’s no citation for that statement, and very little evidence of truth.

    I’ve found other posts by Ms. Causey to be more of what I’d call “click attractions”, somewhat interesting for sure, but very little citation for some of her claims.

    1. quote is from Historic sites of Mountain Brook by SYDNEY CROMWELL August 25, 2014 – (see quote under Lane Park)No source were listed with the article but it was in quotes as you can see on the page. Village Living is published by Starnes Publishing LLC and states that it is Mountain Brook Alabama’s community newspaper.

      The story about the graves was also written in the article Birmingham Zoo Built Over Paupers’ Cemetery by Beverly Crider for in 2012.

  30. It’s my family they are talking about. It feels good to walk where they walked.

  31. Most of the world is built on top of someone else’s gravesite. Shocking, I know.

  32. I wonder how deep the graves are. To show respect, just having a rose garden tilled could be an adventure.

  33. Interesting historical facts, Mike

  34. I lived about 200yards from the Commissary in the photos (Mulga), at one time it was a skating rink. (1968-69).

  35. I will have to look at my 1900 map and see what else I can find.

  36. This is crazy. It’s wrong!

  37. My son used to work security at night at the zoo. This would explain why he used to be scared shitless and so many nights he would come home just freaked. I can’t wait to tell him 🙂

  38. There is a partial list of who is buried there. Saw the list about 10 years ago. I had wondered why no one ever talked about this.

  39. I would love to have a zoo on top of my bones.

  40. Tatum Harrell Schroeder here’s exactly what I was talking about!!

  41. Wow !!!! I would love to stay there and hunt ghost with Barbara Morgan !!! How bout it sis ?? LoL

  42. Hey I could also take Judy Dobbs ghost hunting with me !!!

  43. How does someone ever justify building on top of an existing cemetery? That is just wrong.

  44. Lol Peggy Johnson not me, just send me a message.

  45. Think there’s a law on the books that states after 99 years after the last person in buried on property that it can be built over. So just how long was it before the build there cause I know the zoo has been there for many many years

  46. Well, this brings a whole new meaning to “boo at the zoo”. So disrespectful!

  47. It mentions it was a “paupers cemetary” with mostly unmarked graves. I wonder if that’s how they justified it. I think it’s awful. I’d be curious to look at the register at the Birmingham library.

    1. You can actually search it online. It’s fasinating. You can search by cause of death…it will break your heart how some of the children died.

  48. I had no idea that Alabama was part of the Revolutionary War!

  49. This is so very sad! How could any human being witha soul allow this to happen.

  50. It was the help from Mountain Brook.

  51. Scott Sands Sandi Harrell Peter Bergeron

  52. I will not go there and walk over graves

  53. We took my granny there when we were kids, she couldn’t help but break off stems of plants and put them in her purse, when we visited her that next summer she had those growing all in her yard, it was cool

  54. I hear strange things happen at night too at the zoo

  55. We got married at the Botanical Gardens. Guess we had more wedding guests than we realized. There were a few pictures that were odd l will have to look closer. lol! l would have liked to know this, so l could have had a choice. smh.

    1. Makes a good story for your 75 th wedding anniversary with your great grandkids.
      Best wishes and a long, happy life.

  56. I think after 100 years the land can be reused

  57. I had been searching for my Ancestors and Ancestresses for many years after discovering they were from Birmingham Alabama. I just discovered my great grandfather Robert Smith is interred here and possibly other kin as well. I have not had any other success in locating additional information about Robert Smith died May 8, 1898. I wonder where I could look as I don’t live in the state and I have not found anything on any of the gen sites. Any lead is welcomed.~Donna

    1. Try contacting the Birmingham Public Library here. They have wonderful genealogy records and could probably connect you with someone to assist you. Samford University in Birmingham at this link could probably helps as well. Good luck!

  58. Dwight Yates, was that you I was telling about this

    1. Wow. I can’t believe they did that

  59. It always makes me sad to think about this when we are there

  60. Why and how were they allowed to build over this graves no respect what so ever for historical grave sites

    1. That is what I want to know….remembering some projects from before my husband retired!

  61. You all would be surprised at what was once below the streets you drive on, your home was built on, or the businesses you frequent in years past… Get over it

    1. Umkay, nothing to “get over”, just a commentary on the true value system of commerce and capitalism. Land more valuable in another way.

  62. Meredith Harrell way too interesting…

  63. Why did they build on top of graves??? That’s disrespectful!

  64. Jo Dale! Your old house probably had haints!

  65. Bryce Oglesby this soldier in this article is your 5th great grandfather. You need to read this.

  66. I am a douser if anyone wants to know.

  67. Did not know that went they want thy take

  68. How sad people did not honor or respect the graves

  69. What I don’t understand is how do you build a business, a house or even a flower garden without digging up body parts?? I have a garden in my yard (I live in Gardendale) that I used a tiller on and I would hate to know that if I lived in the zoo area that I could be digging up a grave. The bottom line is that money is stronger than respect for the dead. Dead is dead and I dont care if you can build over a cemetery after 99 years it’s still wrong and not having respect for people that have passed on. I believe this world will come to an end long before we run out of cemetery plots.

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