- This article is about the Birmingham park. For the proposed development in Mountain Brook, see Lane Parke.
Lane Park, originally called Red Mountain Park, is a large area on the southern slope of Red Mountain near the western terminus of Highway 280 which currently houses the Birmingham Zoo and Birmingham Botanical Gardens. The park is divided by Cahaba Road and bounded on the southeast by Lane Park Road.
The 200-acre site was purchased from the heirs of William Pullen by the city of Birmingham in a series of transactions dating from 1889 to 1902. The first purchase was made under mayor A. O. Lane, who described the property thus: " "This tract of land is known to carry a heavy vein of red ore deep under its surface. It is well watered, heavily timbered and picturesque. Its possibilities as Birmingham's greatest playground and beauty spot are manifold."
The park included a few burial sites, associated with "pest houses" in the area, and which dated to 1888. Subsequently, Lane had a section of the site, on the west side of Cahaba Road dedicated in February 1893 as a "Potter's field" or pauper's cemetery. The cemetery, known as Red Mountain Cemetery, "South-Side Cemetery" or "New Southside Cemetery", was used for Jefferson County burials until 1909. S. F. Cunningham, sexton of the cemetery reported in 1905 that it was kept confined to a 6-acre plot on the western edge of the property. Gary Gerlach's extensive documentary research indicates that the cemetery contains 4,711 graves. A smallpox hospital was also built on the park property, just south of a quarry where curb-stones for 1st Avenue North were being obtained.
In 1896 Mayor James Van Hoose proposed a reformatory and work farm be established on the rest of the property. In 1910 a tent city was erected in the area of the property near English Village by the Anti-Tuberculosis Society of Jefferson County for the treatment of tuberculosis patients with sunlight and fresh air.
On January 16, 1934, the entire 200-acre parcel was dedicated by the Birmingham City Commission, at the request of former Mayor George Ward, as a public park, named "Lane Park", to honor Ward's predecessor. His description of the area was published in a contemporary newspaper account: "This tract of land is known to carry a heavy vein of red ore deep under its surface. It is well watered, heavily timbered and picturesque. Its possibilities as Birmingham’s greatest playground and beauty spot are manifold."1.
The Works Progress Administration assisted the Birmingham Federation of Garden Clubs in the planting of 5,000 trees and shrubs to create the "Lane Park Arboretum" in 1935. The planting plan, featuring native mountain laurel, magnolias and wildflowers, was designed by Thomas Brooks. Under the direction of Conrad Myrick and James Parks, a number of pavilions were erected. The agency also constructed an Administration Building, designed to accommodate parties, along with seven picnic shelters with barbecue pits, several stone bridges, and a baseball field. The WPA also constructed the Allan Gray Fish Hatcheries, fed by Pullen Springs, which provided 325 gallons of water per minute. The hatcheries, a long-planned project of the Jefferson County Sportsmen's Association, provided stock for recreational lakes in the region. The Hartselle sandstone used to build these structures was quarried within the park's borders.
The Shades Valley Boys Club, Canterbury Methodist Church, and the city of Homewood all contributed to the park's early development. The park's new athletic facilities were utilized by the American Legion MacFadden Recreational Program to provide sports equipment and supervision for children in the surrounding area. Neighbor A. D. Griffin was appointed as the park's superintendent. For several years the WPA continued to provide funding for a group of black women to periodically cut down weeds. By 1940, however, many of the picnic tables, park structures and plantings had been damaged by vandals and careless picnickers.
The Isaak Walton League maintained a native wildlife exhibit in one area of the park. That section, including the fish hatcheries, was expanded in anticipation of the creation of a new Birmingham Zoo, which originally took up 50 acres. The zoo's first exhibit, "Monkey Island", opened to the public on April 2, 1955. The hatchery ponds were used for the display of waterfowl.
- Birmingham Post (January 17, 1934) quoted in Gerlach-2004
- "One-Time Lovely Lane Park Now Monument to Vandals" (August 27, 1940) The Birmingham News
- Gerlach, Gary G. (2004) "Red Mountain Cemetery, Record of Interments, 1888-1906". Birmingham Public Library Archives
- "Lane Park Becomes Recreation Center" (? 1934) Birmingham News--Age-Herald
- Red Mountain Cemetery Record of Interments, 1888-1906 searchable database at bplonline.org