There are numerous references, some fictional, some not, to an underground river flowing beneath downtown Birmingham. UAB geology instructor George Brockman attested to the presence of a below-ground stream downtown. The floor of Jones Valley, like much of the Birmingham District, consists primarily of limestone, a relatively soft sedimentary rock which is easily worn and shaped by eons of water flow. Slightly acidic runoff can accelerate the formation of caverns which become sinkholes when they collapse.
A writer named Joe Mulhatton visited Birmingham in 1883. He read an account of a small flowing stream discovered by a well-driller in the city and subsequently expanded it into a sensational report of a huge river flowing beneath the city and endangering the entire area. His fictional report first appeared in the Louisville Courier-Journal, but was picked up by other newspapers afterward. Among Mulhatton's claims were that the city rested on a "crust" of stone only a few feet thick which had been broken open during construction of a large building. He claimed that many buildings had collapsed and that City Hall had settled 4 feet on one corner into a widening fissure.
A fantastical report in the May 29, 1886 edition of the Birmingham Age, under the cryptic byline "H" tells the story of a covert voyage in a stolen boat under the city, the discovery of Steve Renfro's hidden counterfeiting operation, and of eventually surfacing into the Warrior River.
- Early settlers were supposedly informed by Native Americans that an underground stream ran the full length of the county.
- R. H. L. Wharton purchased the "water privilege" for the infant city in 1871 and dug wells on 2nd Avenue North at 20th and between 20th and 21st Streets. The latter well was reported to have struck an underground stream and to be inexhaustible. Wharton's wells were closed after the establishment of the Birmingham Water Works in 1872.
- An office in the vicinity of 5th Avenue North and 22nd Street advertised "Mystic Underground River" excursions during the 1880s and 1890s.
- Access to an underground stream near Highland Avenue and 12th Avenue South was sealed by the city in the early 1900s because it posed a danger to children.
- A spring surfaced at 5th Avenue South and 22nd Street and was utilized for drinking water, and later as the site of an ice manufactory, until it disappeared.
- Construction of the Tutwiler Hotel (1914) was delayed by the need to add steel beams to the foundation in order to span the river's cavern.
- The never-completed Roden Hotel at 5th Avenue North and 18th Street was limited to a single-story basement because of groundwater.
- The Florentine Building (1927), which was planned as a 10-story building, only went to 2 stories, partly because of the expense of shoring the foundation.
- The Federal Reserve building's 1957 annex was beset by foundation flooding. The excavation filled with clear water and was pumped out continuously during construction.
- Construction of the Daniel Building (1967) was delayed as engineers searched for areas of solid bedrock between limestone cavities on which to erect its caissons.
- Numerous downtown structures are said to use underground water, reached by wells, as part of their cooling systems.
- In 1881 the area of Southside near 18th Street South and 5th Avenue was attracting a "large number of new settlers around the big spring", attracted by the convenience of fresh water.
- Flooding in the basement of the Thomas Jefferson Hotel after it became vacant was blamed on an "underground stream".
- The Ideal Building is said to experience frequent basement flooding from subsurface water.
- A sinkhole, reportedly more than 100 feet deep, appeared near the intersection of 15th Street and 3rd Avenue South during construction of Regions Field.
- "The First White Family" (April 15, 1886) The Weekly Iron Age - via Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections
- Walsh, William S. (1892) Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: J. B. Lippincott Co., p. 473
- Bryant, Walter (November 27, 1975) "Underground river helped shape city." The Birmingham News
- Bryant, Joseph D. (January 31, 2013) "Birmingham baseball stadium sinkhole patched but problems, challenges could linger, say geologists." The Birmingham News