The city of Irondale is located in Jefferson County just east of Birmingham. The hometown of author Fannie Flagg, the city was the inspiration for her best-selling novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle-Stop Cafe, which was also made into a successful film. It is also the headquarters for the Eternal Word Television Network, founded by Catholic nun Mother Angelica (Rita Rizzo). It has a mayor/council form of government.
Before the arrival of the first white settlers, the area that now encompasses Irondale was inhabited by Creek Indians, who used the numerous sources of iron ore there as red pigment in ritual decoration and body painting. Prior to the Civil War, several furnaces, including the Cahaba Ironworks were established in the area to process the local iron ore for the burgeoning iron industry. W. S. McElwain constructed the Irondale Furnace on what would become the town site, and the area was known as Irondale by local residents. The furnace was destroyed during the war in a raid by Union forces under James H. Wilson. After the war, McElwain and several other men pooled resources and reopened the furnace, which soon employed more than 500 men. Despite the presence of the iron industry, the community remained sparsely populated until the opening of a post office in 1872, but it was closed in 1875. In 1876, future Alabama governor Joseph F. Johnston purchased Irondale Furnace. In 1883, a second post office opened, and the town was christened Brevard. That same year, the Georgia and Pacific Railway laid a line to the town.
On October 5 1887, the town name was changed to Irondale (after Irondale Furnace), and it was incorporated. The Ruffner Mines, which opened that year, brought increased growth to the town, which at the time consisted of a four-block square featuring a number of stores as well as a lumber company. In 1905, the Seaboard Railroad ran a line from Irondale to Birmingham, and telephone lines also reached the town around this time. Street car service arrived in 1913 and electricity in 1919. For many years, Irondale was an important railroad center for the Birmingham iron and steel industry, but the town's fortunes fell with the industry's decline during the Great Depression. The region's economy revived again during the industrial boom of the World War II years and afterward, with the Norfolk Southern Railroad constructing its Norris Yard in the town in 1951.
According to the 2010 Census, Irondale had a population of 12,349. Of that number, 56.3 percent of respondents identified themselves as white, 35.4 percent as black, 7.8 percent as Hispanic, 1.4 percent as two or more races, 1.4 percent as Asian, and 0.3 percent as Native American. The town's median household income was $50,057, and the per capita income was $26,752.
According to 2010 Census estimates, the work force in Irondale was divided among the following industrial categories:
· Educational services, and health care and social assistance (21.0 percent)
· Professional, scientific, and administrative and waste management services (13.1 percent)
· Construction (10.1 percent)
· Retail trade (9.4 percent)
· Manufacturing (7.3 percent)
· Transportation, warehousing, and utilities (6.6 percent)
· Finance and insurance, real estate, and rental and leasing (6.6 percent)
· Arts, entertainment, recreation and accommodation and food services (6.6 percent)
· Wholesale trade (5.7 percent)
· Other services, except public administration (5.4 percent)
· Public administration (5.2 percent)
· Information (3.0 percent)
· Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (0.1 percent)
Top employers in Irondale include UAB Health System, Brookwood Medical Center, Baptist Health System, CVS Pharmacies, and Yum! Brands Inc.
Irondale schools are part of the Jefferson County School System. They serve approximately 1,470 students and employ 90 teachers in two elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school.
Irondale is served by Interstate 20, which runs east-west at the southern border of the city. U.S. Highway 78 also runs east-west on the south side. Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport is located four miles to the northwest.
Events and Places of Interest
Each autumn, the city holds its annual Whistle-Stop Festival, a celebration of the town's history that includes live music, demonstrations of arts and crafts, games for children, and food.
Irondale has numerous outdoor activities for visitors and residents. The city's four parks offer sports facilities, playgrounds, picnic areas, and public restrooms, as does the Old YMCA Pavilion. Grantswood Soccer Field has three lighted fields. Cahaba Landing, a city-owned canoe launch, provides access to the Cahaba River and to several canoe routes through scenic areas. Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve, which features hiking trails, a wildlife interpretation and rehabilitation center, and educational facilities, is located at the northern border of the town.
Claire M. Wilson
Published February 6, 2012
Last updated March 9, 2012