One hundred years ago today, on September 19, 1920, Shades Cahaba High School opened its doors to the students in the Shades Cahaba School district. There were four high school grades, five teachers and 156 students.

School officials invited everyone in the area to help name the new school. They were given a ballot that read: “I suggest the following name for the new high school now being built in Shades Valley.” The winning suggestion was Shades Cahaba High School. Unfortunately, the name of the person who submitted the winning name has been lost to time.

The Shades Cahaba School District was huge and consisted of more than 100 square miles. The district was bound on the north by the Birmingham city limits and south by the Cahaba River and Shelby County lines. It went from Shannon on the southwest to Argo and the St. Claire County lines. Students came from all parts of Shades Valley, such as Vestavia Hills, Cahaba Heights, Crestline, Irondale, Patton’s Chapel, Edgewood, Grove Park, Oak Grove, Rosedale, and more. Children attended from surrounding farms as well. Elementary schools in the area became feeder schools for the new high school, which included Crestline, Edgewood, Irondale, McElwain, New Merkle, Oxmoor, Patton’s Chapel, Pleasant Valley, Rocky Ridge, Summit and Sulpher Springs. 

When the high school opened, Union Hill Elementary School students moved into a two-room wooden building on the school property. This building faced Hollywood Boulevard and is in the same location as the Homewood Chamber of Commerce today. 

Students traveled long distances to attend Shades Cahaba. To assist them, school officials provided transportation. Principal James Ward recalled, “early transportation consisted of open T-model trucks with roof and drop side curtains to keep out the cold and rain and plain boards up the sides for seats.” One of the drivers of these trucks was O.A. Lindsey, better known to everyone as Uncle Ode.

Shades Cahaba was a modern school with all the newest conveniences, but there was no electricity until 1921. As I write this 100 years later, it sounds like a huge inconvenience, as if things were not planned well enough. However, after conducting more research, I discovered that only half of the homes in America had electricity in 1925. They had to wait a year, but it was still modern for its time.

Shades Cahaba would be replaced as a high school by Shades Valley High School in the fall of 1949, and Shades Valley High School itself moved to the Irondale community in 1996. Shades Cahaba outlived the building that was built to replace it. 

Congratulations to everyone who passed through the halls of Shades Cahaba in the past 100 years. You have made the school what it is today. The next 100 years look bright for Shades Cahaba Elementary School.

The book Shades Cahaba: The First 100 Years is available for purchase on in print and Kindle versions.