The small community of Merkel grew around the Birmingham Water Works' Cahaba Pumping Station beginning in 1887. It was named for the engineer in charge of the project, William Merkel. After a few years the settlement relocated a half mile west to reduce the risk of flood, and became "New Merkel". The community gained a reputation for roughness and was considered a center for moonshine production and bootlegging during prohibition.
A New Merkel School opened in 1906 with 113 pupils. Its principal from 1947 to 1967, E. A. Hollis, suggested that changing the name of the community to Cahaba Heights could help it overcome its rough reputation.
As development spread along U.S. Highway 280 in the mid-1990s, many citizens of Cahaba Heights began considering the issue of being annexed by one of their incorporated neighbors (Homewood, Irondale, Mountain Brook, and Vestavia Hills), although others considered the idea of incorporating on their own. As people became set in their opinions, they formed two groups: the pro-annexation Cahaba Heights Citizens Association and the pro-incorporation Cahaba Heights Neighborhood Association.
The Citizens Association was considering what they could be expected to receive in return for being annexed. In May 1997, the Mountain Brook City Council and mayor Terry Oden said it would not pay to annex the community. As both Vestavia Hills and Homewood examined the issue of annexing Cahaba Heights, the Neighborhood Association began collecting signatures for incorporation in June 1998. Concurrent with talks of annexation and incorporation, growth in the community meant it needed a new post office. Efforts to be annexed by Vestavia Hills were interrupted when, in August 1998, Mountain Brook annexed property off Interstate 459 between Cahaba Heights and Vestavia's Liberty Park. With the two no longer in contact, a requirement for annexation in Alabama, Vestavia Hills Mayor C. Pat Reynolds said the issue was moot.
In early 1999, Mountain Brook began investigating annexing Cahaba Heights residents near its border as a way to expand and possibly access valuable commercial real estate. The city was still considering it in November 2000 when a Jefferson County probate court ruled the community could not incorporate because it was too close to Birmingham. In June 2001, Vestavia Hills sought the opinion of the state attorney general on how much of Cahaba Heights it could legally annex. Meanwhile, Mountain Brook was making plans to annex just enough of Cahaba Heights to take the community's commercial district. Cahaba Heights residents vocally opposed this move and Mountain Brook backed down.
Just as the issue seemed to be settled in favor of Vestavia Hills, that city's school superintendent, Jamie Blair, said in August 2001 that the city's school system would be unable, financially, to support the influx of students annexation would bring. The city council decided to wait for a report from the school system before voting on annexation. The report was delivered in November and was mixed. The city council finally voted on December 17, 2001 to pursue annexation.
On February 19, 2002, the Vestavia City Council voted unanimously to ask the Alabama Legislature for a Cahaba Heights annexation referendum. Bills were introduced by Vestavia Hills representatives into both the Alabama State Senate, by Senator Jabo Waggoner, and the Alabama House of Representatives, by Representative John Hawkins. However, a competing measure sponsored by Representative Jim Carns of Mountain Brook allowing Cahaba Heights to incorporate was already awaiting approval. The annexation bills passed both houses and a vote was set for May 14, 2002.
As the vote approached, both the Cahaba Heights Citizens Association and the Cahaba Heights Incorporation Committee set up headquarters to try to sway voters. The former was at 3138 Heights Village between the Heights Cafe and Yankee Pizzeria while the latter set up in The Briarwood Thrift Store on Dolly Ridge Road. The election resulted in a 66% voter turnout, a Jefferson County record, with 1,1618 vote for annexation and 862 against. The election results were certified by Jefferson County Probate Judge Mike Bolin the following Monday, May 20. Upon certification, Vestavia Hills began providing city services to the community. Vestavia Hills population immediately grew to 31,829 residents, making it the third largest city in the county.
- "Cahaba Heights Now Flirting With 3 Cities Over Annexation." (November 13, 1996). The Birmingham News.
- "Cahaba Heights Residents Weigh Starting City." (December 4, 1996). The Birmingham News.
- "Cahaba Heights Needs Post Office." (February 5, 1997). The Birmingham News.
- "Annexation Law Worries Cahaba Heights." (April 2, 1997). The Birmingham News.
- "Homewood Latest To Review Cahaba Heights Annexation." (May 13, 1998). The Birmingham News.
- "Vestavia Hills Continues To Mull Annexation Of Cahaba Heights." (April 29, 1998). The Birmingham News.
- "Cahaba Heights Group Moves On Incorporation Plans." (June 10, 1998). The Birmingham News.
- "Mountain Brook Studies Possibility Of Annexing Cahaba Heights Land." (April 13, 1999). The Birmingham News.
- "Vestavia Seeks Annexation Opinion." (June 19, 2001). The Birmingham News.
- "Cahaba Heights Meeting Favors Full Annexation." (June 26, 2001). The Birmingham News.
- "Dueling Annexations: Mtn. Brook Expected To Leapfrog Vestavia In Bid For Cahaba Heights." (July 27, 2001). The Birmingham News.
- "Cahaba Heights Plans Strategy: Anti-Annexation Rally Rained Out, But Residents Still Ready For Battle." (July 30, 2001). The Birmingham News.
- "Mountain Brook Shows Predatory Streak In Annexation." (August 1, 2001). The Birmingham News.
- "Fighting City Hall: Cahaba Heights Residents Show How It's Done." (August 8, 2001). The Birmingham News.
- "The Cahaba Heights Question: Schools Cloud Annex Issue -- Vestavia Superintendent Warns New Students Would Overtax System." (August 9, 2001). The Birmingham News.
- "Annexation Decision Awaits Details: Vestavia Council Won't Vote Without Cahaba Heights Student Data." (August 10, 2001). The Birmingham News.
- "Vestavia Study: Benefits, Risks In Cahaba Heights Annexation." (November 28, 2001). The Birmingham News.
- "Vestavia Wants To Annex: School Negotiations, Legislative Ok, Cahaba Heights Vote Still Lie Ahead." (December 18, 2001). The Birmingham News.
- "Vestavia Council Votes To Pursue Referendum On Cahaba Heights." (February 20, 2002). The Birmingham News.
- "Cahaba Heights To Vote In May." (April 3, 2002). The Birmingham News.
- "Cahaba Heights Oks Annex: Vestavia Will Be County's Third-Largest City." (May 15, 2002). The Birmingham News.
- "Cahaba Heights Now Part Of Vestavia Hills." (May 21, 2002). The Birmingham News.