Happy 100th Birthday Shades Cahaba Elementary School! Here is why this special place in Homewood matters.

Shades Cahaba Elementary School in Homewood turns 100 years ol on September 19th. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

Bring on the party hats, bake a cake and buy a LOT of candles – Shades Cahaba Elementary School in Homewood turns 100 years old on September 19th.

Unbeknownst to many locals, the Homewood school located on Independence Drive (Highway 31) across from the Piggly Wiggly has a rich history that has only recently been re-discovered by Shawn Wright, a lifelong resident in the community. 

Founder of the Shades Cahaba Oral History project, earlier this month Wright released a book about the school titled –  Shades Cahaba; The First 100 Years.

Why does a Shades Cahaba Elementary School matter?

Photo of the owl at the entrance of Shades Cahaba Elementary School. Photo fro the Shades Cahaba Oral History Project

According to Wright, Shades Cahaba Elementary School was originally the first consolidated high school in Jefferson County. 

“What that means is they took a whole bunch of smaller independent schools, brought them together and poured all of the resources into the one school,” said Wright. “At the time there was a Jefferson County high school in Tarrant, but Shades Cahaba was the only one one southside of Red Mountain.” 

In Shades Cahaba High School’s  first year, there were four high school grades, five teachers and 156 students. Students were drawn from all the areas between Birmingham and the Cahaba River and the Shelby County line. It went as far out as Oxmoor toward McAdory and all the way to Argo and the St. Clair County line.

In fact, the Shades Cahaba School District consisted of more than 100 square miles encompassing the cities of Homewood, Vestavia Hills, Mountain Brook and Hoover, before they were incorporated.

“This was the country,” added Wright. 

Time to Binge on Some Shades Cahaba Podcasts

Wright has unearthed Shades Cahaba’s rich history.  Before he wrote his book, Wright produced 23 podcasts following the growth of the school in the 1920s, the struggle to keep it open during the Great Depression, the war years of the 1940s, the transformation of the school from a high school to elementary school in the 40s and then the school’s entry into the present day Homewood School system. 

I highly recommend binge-listening to the Shades Cahaba Oral History podcasts.

Some of my favorite podcasts include:

All About the Shades Cahaba Owl”  – my favorite

Lunchroom Ladies Special Edition

“The Underpass”

Herman Maxwell – Integrating Shades Cahaba in the 1960s

Labor of Love

The book and the podcasts by Wright are a labor of love. A graduate of Shades Cahaba Elementary School (his brother and children are also graduates) he truly captures the 100 year history of this extraordinary place.

I can’t think of any better way to celebrate Shades Cahaba Elementary School’s 100th Birthday. 

Buy Wright’s book and immerse yourself in its history.

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Pat Byington
Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.
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