Bluff Park and its history are unique in that this now primarily residential area was once a resort and vacation area that was called Hale Springs. Previously, we have gone back to the days of the Overseer's Home and its peach orchards, log cabins, and the Hale family that lived there.
We will pick up with Mrs. Sophronia Caroline Marable Hale who, as we discussed in the previous article “The Overseer’s Home”, swapped homes with relatives and moved to the Overseer‘s Home. After the family, consisting of William, Evan, Mattie Maud, Susie, and George Hale, Jr. became too large for the house, Sophornia decided to move her family again. She moved in with her brother-in-law Daniel Pratt Hale at what is now 685 Shades Crest Road. Brothers William and Evan, who became very successful with their lumber mill business, built their
mother (Sophronia) her own home in 1902 at what is now 645 Shades Crest Road.
After William and Evan married, they built homes for their large families on Shades Crest Road, as well. Mattie Maud married Will Tyler. Susie, went to Florence State Teacher's College for further education and met her future husband Harvey Hill Copeland there. Susie and Harvey were married in 1904 at 645 Shades Crest Road in Susie’s mother Sophronia's home. In 1908, Sophronia told her daughter, Susie, that if she would build a house next to hers, she would give her the land on which to build it. So with heart pine wood from his older brother's lumber mill, the younger brother, George Gardner Hale, Jr. built a cottage for his sister (Susie). George built the house with 12 foot walls, and the boards were stacked on top of the other...not lathe and plaster, but solid wood walls. It had only 3 rooms, a dog trot hallway, a porch and an outhouse. With a picket fence to separate the front porch from the road, it was quite a
summer cottage for the times. The home still sits at 641 Shades Crest Road which today is known by many names such as “The Cottage“ and “The Yellow Cottage“, but it is officially listed as The Ann Susan (Susie) Hale Copeland House on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage.
This house of many names is the only original Hale home still owned by a Hale descendant. Mrs. Susan Hale Copeland Kelley is the Granddaughter of Susie and Harvey Hill Copeland and Great Granddaughter of Sophronia Hale (her parents were Harvey Hill Copeland, Jr. 1905-1990 and Sarah Frances Matthews Copeland 1910-2001).
“For years 641 served as a summer cottage to my Grandparents“, Susan says. “Their primary residence was in Birmingham. That is why my Grandmother always referred to the house as "The Cottage”.
“In 1926 when my Grandfather Copeland died, it became the primary residence for my Grandmother until she died in 1970. The house then became my Father's primary residence until he died in 1990,” Susan says.
In that same year, Mrs. Kelley bought her sister’s share of the house from her and started to renovate it. At the time, Mrs. Vadie Honea was in the process of forming The Hoover Historical Society and was very influential to Mrs. Kelley in maintaining the original architecture of the 1908 home.
“Vadie Honea, Walter Bradley and Jim Adams were also an immense help in advising and helping me get the house renovated. I learned that ‘remodeling’ a house that old was a very wrong thing to do!”
After weeks of cleaning out and sorting through personal items at the cottage, Mrs. Kelley started the process of making the cottage livable again. “I primarily worked to make the house safe and livable, but always keeping it in the style of a 1908 Bungalow. I did a lot of research before I ever had anything done,” Susan says.
The original color of the home was green, but for years it was painted white and set back off the road partly covered by overgrowth. “I researched houses of that period and learned that they were always painted a "color" so that is when I decided to paint it yellow,” Susan says. “For me and my family, it will always be ‘Mama Sue's House’…but some people refer to it as ‘The Yellow Cottage’ which is okay with me.”
The cottage was vacant for many years and the roof had leaked during that time.
Much of the wood on the back of the house rotted through and had to be replaced. “One day while I was working in the house, I fell through the floor in the sunroom,” Susan says. The old sunroom is now an open back porch.
After all the re-roofing and esthetic work was underway, Mrs. Kelley started on the interior of the home. Old wallpaper was taken down to reveal the heart pine planks of the cottage‘s original walls. “I saved some pieces of this original wallpaper but, reluctantly, I had to cover the walls with sheetrock and cover a trap door in the back hall with vinyl flooring...for safety purposes,” Susan says. “I was always fascinated with that trap door, it led to the basement of the house from the inside.” Another period object in the house was a cut out shelf in the foyer wall for the telephone. “You just don’t see things like that anymore,” Susan says.
A renovation of this size was quite daunting, even some construction workers saw it as a lost cause. “When I was first recruiting electricians, plumbers, floor and sheetrock people, I would have some that would come in the front door and just turn around and leave when they saw the house without ever talking with me. The house looked that hopeless to them. But they underestimated the adoration I had for my Grandmother, and I was determined that I would get her house back in a beautiful, livable condition to honor her memory,” Susan says. Two years later, after the cottage was finished, one of the workers returned and told Mrs. Kelley, "Lady, what you've done to this house is a miracle.”
Mrs. Kelley took many before and after pictures during the renovation. “I quickly learned that a picture was worth a thousand words, and those pictures really came in handy whenever a workman had a question,” Susan says.
Because Mrs. Kelley’s Grandmother (Susie) was the first school teacher in the area, and because the original architecture of the 1908 house had been maintained in the renovation, the house was deemed a "significant landmark” by The Alabama Historical Commission and was added to the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage on August 25, 1994.
“I purposely only wanted her name on the title of the house as a tribute to her and the Hale family that made it possible,” Susan says.
The brass plaque adorning the front porch gives credit to Susie’s mother for the land, her older brothers for the heart pine from their lumber mill, and her younger brother, George, for actually building the house in 1908.
Not only does Mrs. Kelley hold the distinction of being the only Hale to still own a Hale built home, she also shares priceless memories of her own times at the “Yellow Cottage”. Mrs. Kelley has been kind enough to share her personal memories and stories of her time growing up with Bluffparkal.org
“I have fond memories of visiting my Grandmother on Shades Crest Road until we moved back to Bluff Park in 1945 where I attended 1st grade at Bluff Park School. My teacher was Mrs. Ethel Hale who was also my Dad's 1st Cousin. I was surrounded by Hale relatives on the mountain. It was a wonderful time.
I remember playing with my dolls in a cozy setting between the two giant trees in the front yard. (Both of those trees have fallen just within the last few years.) I remember walking along Valley Street with my Grandmother, on the way to the Methodist church and seeing the women washing clothes - big iron pots over fire in the side yard. I remember hiking down the crest of the mountain to Hale Springs, (which is in a rock cave there). I remember the mystery of Lovers' Leap and Sunset Rock, the Fire Tower (which is gone now), and the beautiful views of the valley from Shades Crest Road. You could hear the train whistles of the trains passing in Oxmoor Valley below. My sister and I used to play on the big rocks next door, in front of where our Great Grandmother used to live. At the top of the rocks was a ‘throne’ where we would sit and watch the traffic below.....such fun!
Grandmother used to tell me how my Grandfather, after working in Birmingham at Copeland's Drug Store during the day, would catch the train to Oxmoor and walk up the crest of the mountain to their summer cottage. He would pick blackberries as he walked up the mountain. Sometimes he would make that trip riding a mule to the mountain from Oxmoor.
By the 1940's my cousins and I remember riding up the mountain in our standard shift 1938 Chevrolet and how scary it was climbing up those steep hairpin curves. Now you can barely see on Oxmoor Road where the old road went down the mountain.
I remember going to and from Birmingham on the Shades Mountain Bus Line, owned by Mr. Caldwell. My Grandmother and I would catch the bus at the bus station in Birmingham at 1900 4th Ave. N. (in 1949) and at 516 North 18th Street (in 1953). The bus would go all along the Crest until the Crawford Fire Tower, picking up and letting off people all along the way. My Grandmother and I were let off right at her front door. What a convenience!
To this day, I have had wonderful renters in the house who usually love the old house almost as much as I do. For several years I had female graduate students from UAB. So many of them became engaged either on the front porch or the back porch. Some told me that they told friends at school that this was the house to rent if you wanted to get married!!!! Many renters have offered to buy the house but I tell them that the house is my heart and my ‘shrine’ to my precious grandmother....not for sale”, Susan Says. ____________________________________________________
Here is more information on 645 Shades Crest Road - Sophronia’s Home (next to the Yellow Cottage). Years ago, this house was the home of Frances Armstrong and held “Frances Dance Studio”. The dance school was later known as “The Dance Center” and was located on Valley Street where the Bluff Park Masonic Lodge is now located. Former dancers of this school are still living in and around Bluff Park. Some of those former dancers have also opened a new dance studio in Shades Mountain Shopping Center called “Studio 1 Dance at Bluff Park”. The house and studio are also home to “USA Martial Arts” under the direction of Sensei Van Bushnell.
* Bluffparkal.org exclusive email interview with Susan Hale Copeland Kelley
Owner of The Ann Susan (Susie) Hale Copeland House (The Yellow Cottage)