The city of Leeds is located in north-central Alabama largely in Jefferson County; in recent years, it has expanded into both Shelby and St. Clair counties. A suburb of Birmingham in the Cahaba Valley, the city has a mayor/council form of government and was incorporated in 1887. Former Auburn University and National Basketball Association star Charles Barkley is from Leeds, and baseball great Harry Walker is buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery.
Leeds arose along an Indian trail in an area that was settled largely by veterans of the War of 1812 and the Creek War of 1813-14. The trail would evolve into a substantial stage coach route and prompt the growth of a community named Cedar Grove, with a post office being established in the late 1820s or early 1830s. That town was renamed Oak Ridge in 1869.
The area gained the notice of industrialists when iron ore and minerals, including limestone, chalk, and clay, were discovered which in turn brought railroads, connecting the area with Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia. One version of the folk tale about the contest between legendary railroad worker John Henry and a steam-powered driver places it near the Leeds area in the late 1880s, whereas others say it took place in West Virginia in the 1870s. In 1884, the town was renamed Leeds for the industrial city in Yorkshire, England, and incorporated on April 27, 1887.
The city grew along with the Birmingham iron industry, other local manufacturing, and agriculture, principally farming and the dairy industry, in the surrounding area. The area's substantial deposits of minerals and ores led Maj. Frederick Lewis and Col. J. Ross Hanahan to establish in 1906 the Standard Portland Cement Company, which brought additional economic and population growth. Standard was later acquired by the Lehigh Cement Company of Allentown, Pennsylvania, in the mid-1980s. Lehigh also operated a large plant in Birmingham from the early 1920s until the late 1960s. The Leeds plant has made numerous upgrades over the years, such as employing used tires in place of coal in its high temperature processing, and remains in operation.
Leeds's population at the time of the 2010 Census was 11,773. Of that number, approximately 78.7 percent identified themselves as white, 13.3 percent as African American, 6.6 percent as Hispanic or Latino, 0.6 percent as Asian, and 0.1 percent as American Indian or Alaska Native. Approximately 4.4 percent identified themselves as some other race. The city's median household income was $41,755, and per capita income was $22,513.
The workforce in present-day Leeds is divided among the following occupational categories:
· Educational services, and health care and social assistance (16.0 percent)
· Manufacturing (14.3 percent)
· Professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste management services (13.7 percent)
· Retail trade (13.6 percent)
· Construction (8.8 percent)
· Arts, entertainment, recreation, and accommodation and food services (8.4 percent)
· Finance, insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (7.3 percent)
· Wholesale trade (5.4 percent)
· Transportation and warehousing and utilities (3.8 percent)
· Other services, except public administration (3.3 percent)
· Public administration (2.4 percent)
· Information (2.4 percent)
· Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (0.6 percent)
Major employers in the Leeds area include Wal-Mart, Anderson Electrical Products Inc., Lowe's, Blue Springs Hatchery, and Lehigh Cement Company.
Public education is administered by the Leeds City Schools, which oversees one K-5 elementary school, one 6-8 middle school, and one 9-12 high school. Collectively, they serve approximately 1,400 students and employ 90 teachers. As a suburb of Birmingham, Leeds is close to several major institutions of higher learning: the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Samford University, and Birmingham-Southern College. In addition, the historically black Miles College and Miles Law School, Birmingham School of Law, Jefferson State Community College, and Lawson State Community College provide other educational opportunities in the Leeds vicinity. Southeastern Bible College, a nondenominational four-year college is located in the region as well.
Leeds is located a few miles south of Interstate 20, which runs east-west connecting Birmingham and Atlanta. That road is accessed by U.S. route 78 and 411 and state roads 4 and 25. The Norfolk Southern Railroad operates a rail line through Leeds. The city lies almost equidistant between the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport and the Saint Clair County Airport.
Events and Places of Interest
The Jonathan Bass House Museum (ca. 1865) is owned by the Leeds Historical Society and features local memorabilia; the Bass
family arrived in Jefferson County around 1816. The Bass House, along with the Southern Railroad Depot (ca. 1875) and the Leeds Downtown Historic District are on the National
Register of Historic Places while the Rowan Oaks Historic Home (ca. 1904) is also an important landmark. Veterans Memorial
Park honors all individuals in the area who served in the nation's armed forces, and the Leeds City Park features a swimming
pool and a civic center with an indoor basketball court. Nearby is the Terry Walker Country Club, an 18-hole public golf course.
Beginning in the late spring, the city hosts a farmer's market every Friday that lasts through the summer. For 17 years, the
city has held the Creek Bank Festival, which features entertainment, arts and crafts, and food vendors, at the end of April.
Since 2008, the city has sponsored the Leeds Folk Festival in mid-September in the downtown area, which features folk music,
food vendors, and arts and crafts and also honors the legend of John Henry. Residents also support an arts council and a historical
Jefferson County Heritage Book Committee. The Heritage of Jefferson County. Clanton, Ala.: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 2002.
Published August 16, 2011
Last updated March 15, 2013