The mountain was intensively mined and quarried by the Sloss-Sheffield Steel & Iron Company until the early 1950s. In 1941 the Civilian Conservation Corps erected the Wharton Lookout Tower, a fire tower, on the part of the ridge that is currently the highest point inside the Birmingham city limits. Other industrial companies and public utilities have also maintained facilities on the mountain, including Alagasco and Southern Packaging, which stored mining explosives in former mine structures in the area. One storehouse caught fire, causing a massive explosion that damaged homes and businesses in Roebuck on July 25, 1971
Developmental pressures spurred area residents to organize and secure the preservation of the ridge as the Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve in 1977. The preserve now encompasses 1,040 acres of forest, which it manages for recreation, environmental education and wildlife conservation.