One of the most heavily traveled roads in Bluff Park today, Shades Crest Road, was also an artery to the area around the 1820’s. Takeaway the cement and asphalt, the homes, and the street signs of today and imagine an old Indian Wagon trail leading to a hidden hideaway for Alabamians and others to escape and vacation.
In this edition to the Historical Journey Through Bluff Park, we will take an overview of the area at a time when Bluff Park was home to resorts and its first Hotel. The location is called the Historic Shades Crest Road District. Before we continue, readers might want to refresh their memory by checking out the article “Historical Journey through Bluff Park Part I :Take a Walk Down Historic Park Avenue”, at the end of
the article, there is a section with the timeline of names and owners of the land. This timeline will help readers follow the acquirement of land from the U.S. to the many sales from owner to owner.
We will start in 1855 when Octavious Spencer Jr. bought 400 acres of land from William Linthicum and was the first to utilize the area as a resort centered on natural underground springs. Renamed Spencer Springs, Octavious Spencer built 40 log cabins for guests to stay at and a pavilion for events and dancing. Jumping ahead to 1863, Gardner Hale bought Spencer Springs changing the name to Hale Springs. Hale continued to run the resort as its popularity grew. Hale’s son, Daniel Pratt Hale, ran an Inn/Bed and Breakfast type establishment called Liberty Hall and another building called Pinnacle House. Pinnacle House was on top of
the mountain and was used for lodging and boasted some great views.
In 1892, the Hale Lumber Company built an access road over the old wagon trail to transport lumber. Today, part of the trail is marked between two Hoover Historical Society Markers starting at the intersection of Shades Crest Road and Park Avenue and ending a few miles on the right. The road gave visitors to the resort a way to get up and down the mountain from the Oxmoor Valley. Liberty Hall and Pinnacle house were the main attractions at Hale Springs from 1890 till about 1907.
As time went on, visitors and landowners of Hale Springs became more interested in the view from the bluff rather than the springs (read more about the springs here A Journey Through Historic Bluff Park Part 4.1: The Shades Crest Road Historical District: The Springs). Residents of the area started digging wells, thus removing the need to take trips to the springs for water. This is around the time that the name Hale Springs changed to Bluff Park. After the death of Gardner Hale, part of the land was put up for sale in a public auction.
Most have heard of the Bluff Park Hotel but not many have seen photos of it or know much about it except the namesake. After part of the Hale Springs land was sold, the Bluff Park Hotel Company was formed in 1907. Under the leadership of J.A. Yates, the company bought 6 acres of land overlooking the bluff. The hotel consisted of only 20 rooms, and each room opened up to a porch where guests were able to take in the view of the bluff. The hotel also had a pavilion for entertaining, a dining room that could seat 25, and the best feature - a third floor observatory where guests could look out over the mountain. The kitchen was supplied with fresh vegetables from a garden located directly behind the hotel.
|Bluff Park Hotel - one of the only surviving photos of the Bluff Park Hotel - Photo by O. V. Hunt located in the William H. Brantley Collection, Samford University Library, Birmingham, Al.
||Bluff Park Hotel Front Door - A close up look at the front of the hotel
From 1911 through World War I to 1923, the hotel frequently changed ownership. After World War I, a local resident, Mrs. F.D. Gamble, and her family occupied the hotel building till 1923 at which time the building was boarded up. The Hotel changed hands again, this time to William Levi and C.P. Campbell who remodeled the building in preparation to reopen it to the public in 1925. Before the season started, the hotel caught fire and burned to the ground and that was the end of a historic building that was a quiet retreat for those who stayed there. Today the site where the Bluff Park Hotel once stood is now home to several private residences along Shades Crest Road.
|Bluff Park Hotel Observation Deck - a closeup of the observatory where guest could see the view
||Bluff Park Hotel Observation Deck (Far View) - another shot of the observatory
|A postcard showing the Bluff Park Hotel from the private collection of Mr. And Mrs. Thursby, On a Shoe String Antiques. Used with permission.
||A rarely seen photo of the Bluff Park Hotel from the collection of Susan Hale Copeland Kelley.
Books and Manuscripts
Hoover Library books may be checked out but some reference material can only be viewed at the library.
*Rikard, Marlene Hunt. Essays on the Bluff Park Community: Shades Mountain, Hoover, Alabama. [Birmingham, Ala.]: Marlene Hunt Rikard, 2005.
*Thompson, Gregory Evan. The Ancestors and Descendants of Gardner Cole Hale of Hale Springs, Alabama. [Branford, CT]: Gregory Evan Thompson, 2000.
*Barefield, Marilyn Davis. A History of Hoover, Alabama and Its People. Hoover, AL: Hoover Historical Society, 1992. Hoover Public Library http://catalog.jclc.org/record=b1096607
* James F. Sulzby. Historic Alabama Hotels and Resorts. University of Alabama press 1960. Hoover Public Library. http://catalog.jclc.org/record=b1409099
Please visit the Hoover Historical Society where more photos, ledgers, postcards and letters about the Bluff Park Hotel can be viewed.