Days Gone By - stories from the past

My Grandparents life on Shades Mountain in 1940 was very different from today [vintage pictures]

Life on Shades Mountain in 1940 was very different from today. Shades Mountain is part of Hoover, Alabama. 

My Grandparents on Shades Mountain


Allen Langston, Jr.

Chilton County, Alabamachilton county map2

Trying to remember 50-60 years ago stretches the memory but here goes. My grandparents (Jesse and Ola Mae “Madie” Chandler) moved to Shades Mountain (Jefferson County) from Chilton County, Alabama sometime in the early 1940’s.

Jefferson County, Alabama

jefferson county map

They were farmers/ tenant farmers as they never owned any land. I lived, stayed and visited with them during those days until they could no longer farm and they eventually moved to the city of Birmingham.

Postcard of The Narrows, Across Shades Mountain ca. 1900

Shades mountain

They grew tomatoes, corn, turnip greens, collard greens, okra, and beans of all kinds and many other vegetables. I can remember many days of picking tomatoes when the green chlorophyll, I guess would stain your hands and clothes and be very difficult to clean in a wash pan. They did not have running water and all water had to carried from a well. They had only outdoor toilets.

Heating was from wood burning stove

Heating in the winter was a fireplace in the main room, wood burning cook stove in the kitchen and wood or coal burning pot bellied stoves in the bedrooms. A neighbor or perhaps the landowner (I don’t remember) would load up their truck with vegetables and take them to the market in Birmingham; hopefully they would all sell. My grandparents did not own a car and moved about the farm on foot or with a mule pulled wagon. Both grandparents would plow the fields with this mule.

Shades Mountain ca. 1900

Shades Mountain (Alabama's Grand Canyon) Postcard ca. 1950

Hog was place in a 55 gallon drum with boiling water

They were pretty self- sufficient. Their meat came from chickens and hogs they raised. My grandfather had a form of palsy and could not hold a rifle steady but my grandmother who would rather plow than cook was an excellent marksman. When hog butchering time came around she would take her single shot 22 caliber rifle and select the hog to be killed. She would wait for the right moment, shoot the hog behind the ear and bring it down with a single shot. The hog would be placed in a 55 gallon drum with boiling water and pine rosin from pine trees in the yard. Pine rosin was supposed to loosen the hair and make it easier to skin.

I don’t remember much about butchering but my grandmother and my father (Russell Allen Langston, Sr.) would immediately remove the intestines, clean them out with a broom handle, wash them out and cook up the “chitterlings”. As for me, that was their delicacy, not mine. The fat was then rendered in a heavy iron wash/cook pot for lard. A fire was built around this pot to do all the cooking. The skin from the fat portion of the hog became cracklings, used on the farm in crackling cornbread.

Shades Mountain ca. 2010

Shades Mountain Friends_home_large_03

She would sit on porch with her shotgun on her lap

My grandfather was gathering wood, wood chips and twigs or brush to start a fire under one of the steel wash pots at another time. He started the fire and shortly there afterwards came a minor explosion. It seems in gathering the brush for the fire someone picked up a dynamite cap left on the ground after using dynamite to drill a well. No one was seriously injured but my grandfather carried a piece of this steel pot in his leg the rest of his life.

As I mentioned my grandmother, Madie would rather plow a field than cook or keep house. However she loved to eat and one of her favorite birds was the dove. It seems that doves like turnip green seeds. She once planted a turnip green patch close to her house and closer proximity to her porch. She would sit on her porch during planting time with her shotgun on her lap. When enough doves bunched together digging up turnip green seeds she would open fire with her single shot shotgun, usually killing 3 or 4 at a time. This would drive them away for a time and then she would clean and cook these unlucky doves.

Fishing worms were never in short supply

My grandparents also loved to fish and as I previously stated they did not have running water. When one washed their hands or face it was done in a pan on the back porch. When finished with the pan of water it was thrown out close to the house. A small amount of cornmeal would be thrown on top of this muddy area ever so often. It seems that earthworms liked this condition and thus reproduced rapidly. Fishing worms were never in short supply.

Shades Mountain postmarked December 1912


Shades Mountain, Panorama looking North from Shades Mountain, four miles South of Birmingham, Ala

I was a part of all of the above happenings but don’t have clear memories of what I did as a young boy but I did have a “billy” goat and a “nanny” goat. My grandfather would hook up my “grey hound” wagon to the billy goat and I would ride around the yard with him pulling me in my wagon. I also remember going to a 3 or 4 room school somewhere on Shades Mountain. I did have to walk most of the time, as my grandparents didn’t own a car, my mother, (Lucille Chandler Langston) didn’t know how to drive and my father, and (Allen Russell Langston, Sr.) was usually away at work.

I look back on this part of my life and wouldn’t give up a moment of this memory, but I wouldn’t want to live that way. My sadness of this time is my children and grandchildren couldn’t experience the simplicity of this life.

Allen Langston, Jr.

May 12, 2004

Spring, Texas


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  1. What a beautiful story of the past. I was a part of all this story in the 1940’s. I agree, I would not like to live that way today. In fact, it would be impossible in this day and age. Always good to remember the past, good or bad, because it is possible we could have to re-live it!!!!

  2. I will that road through and around The Narrows

  3. That looks like the narrows

    1. Yes but it is “the narrows” that was near Brookwood Mall, now where 280 is today

  4. These memories bring back many of mine. How wonderful to grow up in Alabama with grandparents in Brookwood and Monroeville. Our father was an engineer with the Alabama State Highway Department during the 1930’s. We lived in all the small towns as they paved the highways across the state. We finally settled in Trussville for eight years before moving to Tennessee in 1948. The war had brought changes.

  5. Hum the narrows are not on shades mountain… try double oak mountain

    1. It actually is the Narrows going through Shades Mountain prior to 280 being built. It is around where the Cherokee Road/Brookwood Mall section of 280 is today.

    2. Thanks for the map! Do you know of any other websites with photos of old 280?

  6. Loved the story. My family moved to Vestavia in 1950 – 1st house on Beaumont Drive – the road off Shades Crest that goes to Vestavia Country Club. Our living was not like in 1940 – but we had to go “down the mountain” to Homewood to get to a grocery store, and Vestavia Elementary only had 6 grades, so we had “car pools” to Shades Cahaba for 7th and 8th grade. A wonderful place to grow up – and after years away, I’m back in the same house now!!

  7. Great story. I was going to say that the top picture is from Old 280 (probably still Highway 91 back then) but folks beat me to it. Still good pictures and story though.

    1. I thought it was the narrows in Shelby County as well at first, so I had to double check it. It is amazing how much things have change with 280 being built.

  8. This is an amazing story and taught me a lot and brought back lots of memories. The post cards are beautiful and meaningful, especially to one who has lived in this part of state for quite some time.

  9. that looks more like the “Narrows”

    1. It is the Narrows that is in Birmingham before the current 280 was built just SE of Mountain Brook Parkway/Lakeshore Drive.

  10. Many fond memories of my Great Aunts house on Shades Crest Mountain..

  11. My Aunt lives on this mountain ridge now. Her oldest daughter lives closer to the Bluff.

  12. The postcard says The Narrows at Shades Mountain, but it looks an awful lot like the Narrows that goes through Double Oak Mountain in Shelby County. Where would this be on Shades Mountain?

  13. Can you still drive through the narrows?

    1. The narrows on 280 you can, it still looks like this; but the wall is down in several places.

  14. Looks like going up 20th towards Vulcan

  15. Pass this spot on old Hwy.280 at least once a week. You can still drive a short distance through the Narrows where old Hwy. 280 parallels the present Hwy. 280. It begins at the intersection of Hwy. 41 and ends in Chelsea. In Chelsea, the old highway passes over the newer highway and continues for quite a few miles until it disappears close to Harpersville.

  16. It would not let me give my name and email!!!

  17. Many of the families who lived in the valley had homes on Shades Crest Mountain, in Hoover, where the families lived in the hot, humid summers.

  18. I have no idea where this is today.

    1. This was probably part of what later became Shades Crest Road on Shades Mountain. The area has changed considerably over the years.

  19. Think you will find thats the old Smyer Road pictured. It and what we now call US 31 were the way over the mountain. There was an old stagecoach rd that went to Bluff Park and there was an old wooden lodge (hotel of sorts) on Shades Crest Rd. On 31, which wound forever, there were two motor courts (motels.) One was Al’s Tourists Court, which was half way up, and I can’t remember the name of, but the one on top of Shades Mt. was next door to the old city hall. Both motor courts had multiple buildings, topically with two rooms per building.

    1. Thank you for your input, Lewis! You got my undivided attention at “old stagecoach road). So informative, & interesting!

  20. My parents, my sister and I moved to Shades Mountain in 1945 on Alford Ave. to the house on the rock. It was a dirt road then and dead ended. It was so peaceful there then with fewer roads and houses etc. I went to Vestavia Hills School its second year to be opened. The mountain was a wonderful place for a kid to grow up.

  21. Sure did enjoy reading this

  22. I have a Surry Thomas Langston who married my 1st cousin-2x removed Willie Pearl Wade in Alabama.

  23. Belinda Sims McDonald

  24. Jamie Smith, share with your Dad and Grandma

  25. Shades Mountain is between Homewood and Vestavia is it not?

  26. Same on ole 280 north of Shelby County of Chelsea

  27. Loved up on the mountain. My mother was from Bluff Park and I also lived there on Shades Crest when I was around 9. Many family members from there.

  28. I used to live on Shades Mountain in about 1947-48. We recently returned to the area and tried very hard to find the old road but I guess it now is a big highway. I lived across the road and just west of a two room school which I attended. I wonder if anyone remembers that, can help me find where the old road was, or has any pictures of the area and school. I have pictures of my house only and as we drove around nothing seemed quite right as to the area. I may have been in the wrong place.

  29. I bought the book on the history of Bluff Park! It is amazing! We have been here for 25 years and love it! 🙂

  30. There is a section of old 280 on south side of Double Oak Mtn called the narrows which looks very much better this. I rode through there many times on way to Auburn starting in the late ‘60s.

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