William Reed residence
The core of the house, built as a log cabin, is believed to be the oldest surviving residence within the city of Birmingham and, along with the William Mudd residence in Elyton, one of the only two surviving antebellum houses in the present city limits. It was erected by William "Silver Dollar Billy" Reed, who traveled to the area from North Carolina with his parents, John and Elizabeth Reed, his wife, the former Ruth Evans and their eleven children.
The original 18-foot by 22-foot two-room cabin with two hearths and a storage loft was constructed between 1816 and 1820 from trees felled and hewn on site, near the spring which is the source of Five Mile Creek. The Reeds arrived as squatters, without title to the land they settled, but William Reed soon purchased 80 acres between Mount Pinson and Self Creek where his children eventually started their own farmsteads. He was able to buy another 1,040 acres, including the land his house stood on, at an auction in Tuscaloosa in August 1821. He outbid Williamson Hawkins for the parcel. Reed's older sons Robert and John, also purchased properties at that auction. In the 1830s or 1840s a wood-framed addition was made to the west side of the cabin. Another addition created an L-shaped shed around the northeast corner of the house.
When William Reed died in 1856, the house passed to Robert, and then, shortly after the Civil War, to Robert's youngest son, John Thomas Reed. He occupied the cabin with his wife, the former Betty Detuy of Elyton, and raised a family there. He sold the home and 185-acre property in 1885 to Thomas Riddle, who married Hallie Catherine Reed four years later, making him John Reed's son-in-law. The Riddles operated a dairy farm on the property and constructed a dam which created Spring Lake on the low-lying ground around the spring. He sold off all but 55 acres of the farm to the New South Land Company in 1914 and enlarged the house with two rooms and an entrance hall across the front, with two gables above. A covered porch wrapped the north and east sides. The house was further enlarged in the early 1920s, and a "bathing room" (with no running water), was added in 1922.
They raised seven children there before selling the house and remaining property in 1925. New South, in turn, sold the re-combined tract on June 1, 1925, to developer Robert Jemison Jr. Jemison dubbed the old homestead Spring Lake Farms and used it as a retreat. He removed the wall between the entrance hall and one of the front rooms to create a large living room on the southwest, and rebuilt its fireplace in brick. He also dug out a small basement to house a furnace, replaced the porch posts with larger square wood columns, and added a sunroom facing the spring-fed lake which inspired the name of the estate.
Jemison purchased neighboring lots to expand the estate to over 500 acres. His wife, Virginia brought cuttings of English boxwoods from Joe Wheeler's estate on the Tennessee River to ornament the landscape, the designs for which had been prepared by Boston landscape architect Warren Manning and William Kessler. Manning also prepared conceptual design for a mansion to be constructed on the property, but those plans were abandoned during the Great Depression.
During the 1930s the Jemison's spent most of their time on the working farm, raising Jersey cattle, Arabian and Percheron horses, and Shetland ponies. In the 1930s and '40s additional alterations were made to the house, adding a kitchen and breakfast room onto the rear and screening in two bays of the front porch.
In 1947 Jemison sold the house and 270 acres of the property to Emmett Ware, who developed a residential subdivision of 94 homes surrounding what was now called Twin Lakes. During Ware's ownership, the Living Room was expanded into the screened-in part of the porch. In 1958 he sold the house, now surrounded by brick veneered ranch-style homes, to Mr and Mrs James Burns.
Hugh Morrow Riddle, a son of Thomas Riddle, purchased the house, where he had been born, from Burns in 1976. He bought one of the newer houses nearby as his residence, leaving the historic building vacant. In the late 1970s Riddle added glazed openings to the gables and removed weatherboards from the east side of the original cabin, exposing the underlying log construction.
The property's condition deteriorated during Riddle's ownership, to the point that neighbors complained to the city. The Birmingham City Council placed the property on a condemnation list on August 8, 1986, beginning a series of public hearings expected to culminate with a demolition order. The Birmingham Historical Society and Alabama Historical Commission began working to secure the preservation of the house. They prepared surveys and preservation plans with a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
- Nelson, Linda and Bob Gamble (May 1987) "William Reed House / Reed-Riddle-Jemison House (Spring Lake Farm)" National Register of Historic Places Inventory - Nomination Form
- "Not Just Another Old House" (1987) Birmingham Historical Society newsletter
- "Polly Reed: Alabama’s First Traveling Saleslady" (August 2002)