Exploring Historical Birmingham at Tannehill State Park

Tannehill is a popular place for mountain bikers with diverse scenery and a variety of trails.
Tannehill is a popular place for mountain bikers with diverse scenery and a variety of trails. Natalie Cone
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Birmingham is city that’s steeped in rich and fascinating history. It’s a city known for major historical events such as Civil Rights Protests and being at the forefront of the iron ore industry. Known as the “Magic City” (because the city seemed to magically pop up overnight) and the “Pittsburgh of the South” (because like Pittsburgh, Birmingham’s major industries were iron and steel production), Birmingham has gone through quite a metamorphosis since its humble beginnings.

Because Birmingham was one of the two major railroad hubs of the South, many old railroad beds that have gone through a metamorphosis of their own and have been converted into parks and trail. You can find many echoes of Birmingham’s past at places like Sloss Furnaces, Vulcan Park and Museum, and Arlington Antebellum Home & Gardens.

Tannehill's office is just as charming as the park itself.
Tannehill's office is just as charming as the park itself. Natalie Cone

But Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park wins the award for the most history preserved in one single location with multiple ways to experience the park. The park, which started out as a bloomery forge on the banks of Roupes Creek in 1830, now has more than 1,500 acres sprawled across three counties where outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy hiking, camping and mountain biking . But those aren’t the only things that Tannehill has to offer.

The first thing you’ll notice as you enter the park is the cluster of old cabins that serve as the country store, office, sweet shoppe and craft cabins. On weekends in March through November, patrons can check out special events at these craft cabins where artisans of many mediums offer pottery, quilts, cane chairs, artwork and much more in true style of the 1800s.

A row of craft cabins where artisans sell their one-of-a-kind handmade treasures.
A row of craft cabins where artisans sell their one-of-a-kind handmade treasures. Natalie Cone

The museum is packed full of artifacts, tools and products of the iron industry. The museum also has exhibits that demonstrate how iron was made in the Civil War. Behind the museum is the May Plantation Cotton Gin House dating back to 1858, and the fascinating display building which has heavy industrial steel mill artifacts from the 1930s and 1950s in Birmingham.

Take a hike (or take a train ride) down to the Pioneer Farm, which runs alongside Mill Creek. Watch firsthand as a blacksmith demonstrates 19th century smithing, and if you’re lucky, Mrs. Tanalee Thigpen, an artisan wood carver, will be there to show you what a true craftsman can do with a blade and a block of wood.

One of Tannehill's blacksmith apprentices learning the trade and creating beautiful, original pieces.
One of Tannehill's blacksmith apprentices learning the trade and creating beautiful, original pieces. Natalie Cone

If the sun is a little too warm, follow the dirt trail down to Mill Creek and take a dip.

On Mill Creek is a working grist mill that grinds out corn meal sold in the country store. Wade into the water at the dam and splash around a bit, true southern style. Kids (both young and grown) will love the opportunity to cool off before exploring the grounds a little more. Or grab a fishing pole and try your luck at snagging a rainbow trout, stocked each year by Tannehill. If a single day at Tannehill isn’t enough, there are several options for sticking around longer. There are six rental cabins to choose from, five of which are rustic log cabins built in the 1800s. To make your stay more authentic, there aren’t any TVs, radios or phones in the cabins. Camping at Tannehill is popular because of the 195 improved campsites divided into three sections, each including water, electricity and the convenience of a bathhouse. There is also a separate area for primitive camping.

Pick your way down the trail by Mill Creek Bridge and wade in the crisp, cool water.
Pick your way down the trail by Mill Creek Bridge and wade in the crisp, cool water. Natalie Cone

Besides the wealth of history that makes up Tannehill’s foundations, there are so many outdoor excursions that make Tannehill a worthy visit. The BUMP ( Birmingham Urban Mountain Pedalers ) trail, perfect for biking or hiking, and the chilly streams for cooling off make Tannehill State Park a favorite for outdoor enthusiasts.

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