George Ward, mayor of Birmingham in the early 1900s, 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 wooded property on the summit of Shades Mountain, commissioned an architect to design a home for him that resembled the Temple of Vesta. Construction of his home was completed in 1925. Mr. Ward called his home “Vestavia” – “Vesta” was the Roman goddess of hearth and “via” means “by the roadway.” The area around his home later developed into a thriving suburban city known today as Vestavia Hills.
Following construction of his home, Mr. Ward had a garden gazebo built that resembled the Temple of Sibyl at Tivoli (near Rome). This gazebo, now known as Sibyl Temple, overlooked the valley below and served as the entrance to his bird sanctuary. George Ward died in 1940 and, in 1958, Vestavia Hills Baptist Church purchased the property. Mr. Ward’s house was demolished in 1971, but the Temple was spared. In 1976, the Vestavia Hills Garden Club relocated the Temple to its current location near the intersection of U.S. Highway 31 and Shades Crest Road. This iconic landmark serves as a gateway to the northern entrance of the City and its image appears in the official seal of Vestavia Hills.
In addition to Sibyl Temple, Vestavia Hills has many historic homes. Click HERE for a guidebook of historic homes. For more information, contact the Vestavia Hills Historical Society via email (vhHistoricalSociety@gmail.com) or on Facebook (@VHhistoricalsociety).
Vestavia Hills Becomes a City
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.