Birmingport, the secret port of Birmingham

Mile marker on Birmingport Road. Photo by Nathan Watson for Bham Now.

Did you know Birmingham is technically a port city? I took a short drive to discover Birmingport, one of Birmingham’s best kept secrets.

Birmingham’s best kept secret

Though few people are familiar with it, Birmingham is home to a unique port. Birmingport is located along the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River, just 20 miles west of downtown. Several shipping companies operate along a 2 mile stretch of the Locust Fork. The port is capable of handling both river and railway traffic. However, Birmingport is not utilized to its full potential.

Barges at Birmingport. Photo via Nelson Brooke, Black Warrior Riverkeeper.

A short history

Birmingport was developed in 1920 by the Port of Birmingham Company. The port allowed barges from Birmingham to reach Mobile and New Orleans. In 1977, officials planned to modernize the port with a riverside industrial park to draw in new businesses. The plan’s first step was to create a public location for industry along the waterway. However, the plan fell through after it was determined that the area would not benefit from a public terminal.


City limits of Birmingham. Map via https://data.birminghamal.gov

Joining Birmingham

In the 1980s, Birmingham annexed a number of unincorporated counties. One of these annexations was Birmingport, which officially became part of Birmingham in 1986. A 20 mile stretch of highway 269 connects Birmingport to downtown. The unique relationship between Birmingham and Birmingport forms the thin, snaky section of the city limits seen above.

Loading crane at Birmingport. Photo via Nelson Brooke, Black Warrior Riverkeeper.

Recent developments

Over the years, Birmingport’s infrastructure has been in a state of decline. Though the port is within city limits, operations and infrastructure are crumbling. Port traffic is a fraction of its 1990s capacity. At the time, as much as 14 million tons of materials came through the port each year.

Lately, public and private interests are making the effort to show the world that Birmingport can be an important commercial hub. In 2016, city officials set aside $675,000 to look into modernizing Birmingport.


How important is Birmingport?

If you’re like me, you probably take America’s inland waterways and rivers for granted. In fact, these waterways and ports provide important transportation for many of the country’s shipping needs.

  • Without proper water transportation, our highways would be congested with business traffic. Surprisingly, a standard barge handles enough cargo to fill 70 semi-trucks!
  • Water transportation is much cheaper than hauling by truck or airplane.
  • Barges have the lowest carbon footprint among competing modes of transportation.

Birmingport is an asset that Birmingham really needs to take advantage of. In a 1999 article in the Birmingham Business Journal, Lee Cooper of Liberty Stevedoring commented on Birmingport.

“There are still too many people in Birmingham who don’t realize that no one is too large or too small to look into saving money by moving their product on the water”

Lee Cooper, Vice President of Liberty Stevedoring

Just when you think you know everything about Birmingham, the city continues to surprise you! Tag us @BhamNow and tell us what parts of Birmingham have surprised you lately!

Author: Nathan Watson

Tennessee native who fell in love with Birmingham during college. Graduated from Birmingham-Southern College in 2019. Passionate about Birmingham and its continued growth.