Vestavia Hills is located primarily in Jefferson County, but portions of the city also lie within Shelby County. The city sits at the top of Shades Mountain, which is part of the southernmost reaches of the Appalachian Mountains. It is named for the estate of early resident George Battey Ward. The city limits also encompass the communities of Liberty Park and Cahaba Heights. Vestavia Hills has a mayor/council form of government.
The origins of Vestavia Hills lie in the establishment of several estates by wealthy Birmingham residents who sought to escape from the noise and pollution of the industrial city in the early twentieth century. In 1916, banker Edgar Jones Smyer built a road from the Birmingham Water Works filter plant at the base of Shades Mountain to its top to facilitate future development of the area. The road was extended in 1922, and a few people began to build estates along it. In 1924, former Birmingham mayor George Battey Ward built the home from which the town would gain its name: he named it Vestavia because it was modeled on the temple of the Roman goddess Vesta in Rome, Italy. The home also featured a gazebo, built in 1929, modeled after the temple of the Roman goddess Sybil in Tivoli, a town east of Rome.
Ward died in 1940, and the estate was purchased by developer Charles Byrd, who conceived of a planned community of 1,000 homes named Vestavia Hills atop the mountain. The home itself was taken over by the Vestavia Hills Baptist Church, and a portion of the original structure now makes up part of the modern church. The Temple of Sybil was moved in 1976 to an outcrop marking the entrance to the community, now known as Sibyl Temple Park. Byrd began constructing homes in 1946 in response to the housing boom that followed World War II, and the town soon hosted an elementary school and several churches. During that same period, the Montgomery Highway was constructed to connect the community with the state capital. The city was formally incorporated on November 8, 1950. Commercial development and additional residential areas continued to expand the city's boundaries into the late 1960s, and the city established its own school system in 1970. The sites for both the junior high school and the high school were donated by members of the Pizitz family, founders of Birmingham's Pizitz Department Store and residents of Vestavia Hills. Also in 1970, the Elton B. Stephens Expressway (locally known as the Red Mountain Expressway) opened, connecting Vestavia Hills with the Birmingham suburbs of Homewood and Mountain Brook. The road was blasted through a section of Red Mountain and became known as the Red Mountain Expressway cut. It was designated a National Natural Landmark in November 1987. The city of Vestavia Hills is part of the greater Birmingham Metropolitan Statistical Area.
Vestavia Hills is bisected by U.S. Highway 31, which runs north-south through the city and connects with Interstate 65 to the south. Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, located 11 miles to the north, is the closest airport.
According to the 2010 Census, the population of Vestavia Hills was 34,033. Of that number, 90.4 percent identified themselves as white, 3.8 percent as Asian, 3.8 percent as black, 2.5 percent as Hispanic, and 0.2 percent as Native American. The city's median household income was $82,049, and per capita income was $49,059.
The workforce in present-day Vestavia is divided among the following occupational categories:
· Educational services, and health care and social assistance (26.1 percent)
· Professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste management services (16.4 percent)
· Finance, insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (12.9 percent)
· Retail trade (8.9 percent)
· Arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, and food services (7.8 percent)
· Construction (7.6 percent)
· Other services, except public administration (5.1 percent)
· Manufacturing (4.7 percent)
· Wholesale trade (3.8 percent)
· Information (2.7 percent)
· Transportation and warehousing and utilities (2.2 percent)
· Public administration (1.1 percent)
· Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (0.8 percent)
Schools in the city are overseen by the Vestavia Hills City Schools system. The city employs approximately 445 teachers and enrolls approximately 6,400 students in five elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school.
Events and Places of Interest
Every spring, typically in February or March, the city hosts its Dogwood Festival, which features crafts and a beauty pageant. Vestavia Hills has three parks and two sports facilities that offer picnic areas, playgrounds, walking trails, and fields for various athletic activities.
Claire M. Wilson
Published July 11, 2011
Last updated February 28, 2013