George Ward, a former mayor of Birmingham (1905-1909, 1913-1914), was an idealist, a sentimentalist, a naturalist, a floriculturalist and a lover of the classics. He made frequent trips to Italy and Greece and was particularly impressed by the Temple of Vesta in Rome. Mr. Ward, who had purchased 20 acres of beautifully wooded property on the summit of Shades Mountain, commissioned an architect to design a home for him after the Temple of Vesta. The Temple, as it was known, was built of dark pink sandstone with 20 massive columns which were frieze carved and painted with garlands of flowers and fruit. Construction was completed in 1925.
The garden Gazebo was built later and stood across from the Temple overlooking the valley below, serving as the entrance to a bird sanctuary. It is a replica of the Temple of Sibyl at Tivoli, near Rome.
Mr. Ward called his Temple “Vestavia.” “Vesta” was the Roman goddess of hearth and “via” means “by the roadway.” The area around the Temple later developed into a thriving suburban city known today as Vestavia Hills.
In the years following George Ward’s death, the Temple served as a restaurant and later as a part of a church. After the Vestavia Temple was unfortunately destroyed, the Vestavia Hills Garden Club assumed the responsibility of relocating the Temple of Sibyl to its present site at the northern gateway to the City, where the majestic panorama it once overlooked is still available.
In 1946, Charles Byrd planned and initiated the development of Vestavia Hills as a subdivision. It was originally designed to accommodate approximately 1,000 persons. The City was incorporated on November 8, 1950. By late 1957, the population had grown from just over 600 residents in 1950, to a total of 2,995 residents. The town of Vestavia Hills officially became a city. From 1956 to 1966, commercial development sprang up along the Montgomery Highway corridor and annexations were made to the south of the City’s boundaries. By 1970, the City of Vestavia Hills had reached a total of 8,311 residents.
The opening of the Red Mountain Expressway in 1977 and the creation of Vestavia Hill’s own school system in 1970 spurred continued growth, and the population by 1980 numbered 15,729 residents. The significant annexation of the Rocky Ridge and Altadena areas in the 1980’s, Liberty Park in 1992, and Cahaba Heights in 2002 expanded both the population base, now numbering approximately 35,000 residents, and the commercial base of the City of Vestavia Hills, Alabama.