Birmingham Water Works Tunnel

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North end of the Birmingham Water Works Tunnel in April 2007

The Birmingham Water Works Tunnel is a 2,126-foot-long1. by 12-foot diameter inclined tunnel bored through Red Mountain near Lone Pine Gap in 1888. The tunnel served to bring water from the Cahaba River into downtown Birmingham.

The tunnel was a project of the Birmingham Water Works Company, a subsidiary of the Elyton Land Company and predecessor to the public board that serves today as the Birmingham Water Works. It was designed by company engineers Willis Milner and William Merkel. After two contractors withdrew, it was built by Dunn & Deland, a railroad construction company that later relocated from Virginia to Birmingham.

The tunnel contains two massive water mains, one 42 inches and the other 36 inches in diameter. The water is drawn from the Cahaba at the Cahaba Pumping Station on Pump House Road, which forces it over the ridge of Shades Mountain to the Shades Mountain Water Treatment Plant on U. S. Highway 280. From there it is drawn into Homewood by the Rosedale Pump House (constructed in 1910) and then falls by gravity through the long tunnel into Birmingham.

As it approaches Lone Pine Gap, the tunnel lies roughly parallel to 18th Street. It continues beneath Vulcan Park and 16th Avenue South to a stone headwall in Valley View Park just below the street. A metal gate provides access to large cast-iron gate valves at that location. The interior of the tunnel is supported periodically by brick arches.

The Birmingham Water Works Tunnel figures prominently in the novel Threshold by Caitlín R. Kiernan.


  1. Various references give the tunnel's length at 2,126 feet, 2,167 feet, and 2,200 feet. The distance from the Rosedale Pump House to Valley View Park is closer to 3,300 feet.


  • Satterfield, Carolyn Green (1976) Historic Sites of Jefferson County, Alabama. Birmingham: Jefferson County Historical Commission/Gray Printing Company
  • Morris, Philip & Marjorie Longenecker White (1997) Birmingham Bound, An Atlas of the South's Premier Industrial Region. Birmingham, Alabama: Birmingham Historical Society. ISBN 0943994225
  • Badham, Tom (January 2014) "Willis J. Milner and the Water Works Tunnel." The Jefferson Journal