|Elevation||640 ft (195 m)|
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Present-day Woodlawn was settled by a group of farming families who entered the area in 1815, just as it was opened to settlement by the Treaty of Fort Jackson. The community took its name from the Wood family, headed by Obadiah Wood (1753-1849) and his son Edmond Wood (1791-1865), from Greenville, South Carolina. The site they chose was a well-watered section of Jones Valley along the Georgia Road which extended deep into what was then still part of the Mississippi Territory.
Edmund was granted 1200 acres (5 km²) of Obadiah's holdings on which to raise his family. It was on that property that the town of Rockville was formed in 1832 - a small cluster of houses near the roadside. The first railway came through the valley in 1870, at which point the settlement was renamed Wood Station and began to grow. By the end of that decade a private "Woodlawn Academy" had been founded to educate the children of the communities 89 residents. In 1884 the Georgia-Pacific Railroad began offering service into the rapidly growing city of Birmingham, about 4 miles to the west.
In 1891 the State of Alabama granted a municipal corporation to the "City of Woodlawn," the name chosen by its first citizens to honor the Wood family, who remained active in civic affairs. In 1895 the first City Hall and Jail were built and by the end of the century the population was 2,500. A second, larger City Hall was built at the turn of the century, along with schools, churches, a fire station, and library. The grand gothic-inspired Woodlawn High School opened in 1922.
In 1910 the City of Woodlawn was annexed into Birmingham, but maintained a strong community spirit that was bound up with the Wood family, who had turned their estate into a public park (now "Willow Wood Park"), complete with spring-fed swimming pool. Commentators through the first half of the 20th century never tired of remarking on the local pride found in Woodlawn - "a really great section of Birmingham...A section typical of the fine things in life." (according to one newspaper story from 1950)
Unfortunately, this pride did not prevent the spread of urban blight following the social turmoil of the 1960s and economic turmoil of the 1970s. Compounding the growing problems of aging housing stock and "white flight" was a crisis of joblessness and poverty that took hold in the community. The need to seriously address these problems was evident by the beginning of the 1980s and some efforts at revitalization were attempted.
Within the city of Birmingham, greater Woodlawn is characterized as one of 23 "Communities" that participate in the "Community Participation Program" that was drawn up to encourage local political activism and community development. The neighborhoods that make up the Woodlawn community are East Avondale, Oak Ridge Park, South Woodlawn, and the Woodlawn neighborhood itself.
In the last few years, residents of Woodlawn have worked with the City and Region 2020 to create a master plan as part of Birmingham's "Comprehensive Master Plan" process. An initial project to implement master plan goals in the central residential section of Woodlawn, north of 1st Avenue, has met with limited success. Several dilapidated houses were improved and an active community garden was started.
The business district of Woodlawn, and Woodlawn High School, both critical assets, remain at risk of not recovering from decline.
Recently, attention has turned back to the business district of Woodlawn. Rev Birmingham and the Woodlawn Foundation have taken center stage revitalizing businesses and housing, making this the new hot neighborhood in Birmingham. Recently opened high end boutique businesses such as Open Shop, Public Office & Club Duquette, along with Bayles Catering, the Cycle Café and the artisan tea shop Piper and Leaf are calling this neighborhood home. All of this growth, combined with three new public murals is making Woodlawn the Magazine Street of Birmingham.
- Bobby Bowden was a star quarterback at Woodlawn High School before going on to coach football at Howard (now Samford) University and Florida State University.
- Miami Dolphins superstar running back Tony Nathans attended Woodlawn High School and became a model student and the first black football superstar in history and played under coach Tandy Gerelds at a time when racial tensions were high. He was credited with helping to unify the team which went on to play the biggest high school game in Alabama history. Nathans went on to play for Paul "Bear" Bryant at the University of Alabama. He played under coach Don Shula with the Dolphins and was a starter in two Super Bowls. The 2016 film Woodlawn starring Caleb Castille as Nathan and Nic Bishop as Coach Gerelds, with Jon Voight as Bear Bryant is based on his high school years.
- Actress Lili Gentle, wife of Richard D. Zanuck from 1958 to 1968.
- Author Paul Hemphill ("Leaving Birmingham")
- Actress Dorothy Sabastion, wife of William Boyd (Hop-a-long Cassidy) lived at 801 No. 49th Street at one time.
- Jason Avery Inventor, Public Health and Community Advocate, Author - Adult Identity Mentoring (International Sexual Behavior Intervention)