Shades Cahaba and Homewood City Schools
Around 1916, Zelosophian Academy graduates Will Franke and William Acton led a successful campaign convincing the Jefferson County Board of Education that a high school was needed south of Birmingham. With the board’s permission, the Shades Valley School District was formed and the residents passed a three-mill tax in 1916 to build a new high school. County school officials selected ten acres costing $3,000 at the intersection of Montgomery Highway and the juncture of Oxmoor and Old Montevallo Roads as the site for the school.
The Zelosophian Academy was a coeducational private school founded in September 1892 by James Hugh Blair Hall in connection with the Oak Grove Cumberland Presbyterian Church in the Shades Valley community of Oak Grove. Read more about the academy at Bham Wiki.
Construction of the three-wing, brick building began in 1919 and cost $52,000.
The school, Jefferson County’s first consolidated high school, opened with four high school grades, five teachers and 156 students on September 19, 1920. As the new high school opened, elementary school students from nearby Union Hill Methodist Episcopal School moved into a wooden, two-room building on the high school’s property, just east of it.
Electricity was not run to the school until its second year.
An unfinished, unpainted, wood-frame building was built behind the school to serve as both lunchroom and wood shop.
The first class graduated in 1923.
The first addition was built in the summer of 1926 to help relieve overcrowding
Edgewood Elementary School Opens
A second addition was completed that included a new lunchroom. The addition also allowed the 3rd through 6th grade students to be moved to the main building. Union Hill Methodist Episcopal School and Shades Cahaba combined and were called Shades Cahaba.
The elementary and high schools were placed under the same administration, although it was grades 7th through 12th that were considered the high school.
Hall Kent Elementary School opens.
Shades Cahaba always fielded exceptional sports teams. In the 1920s, the football and baseball teams were coached by Arthur Acton, W.A. Reeves, Sump Clarke, Aubrey Miller, Sidney Malloy and then R.R. Hardy in 1929.
The grammar school wing was completed on the east side of the school, connected by a enclosed hallway.
By 1932, the school had expanded to 22 teachers, plus an associate principal.
Shades Cahaba had an active sports program featuring boys and girls basketball teams and boys football and baseball teams. The teams were known as the Mountaineers, or “Mounties” for short.
The yearbook was “The Owl,” and the school newspaper was “The Owlet.” The yearbook and newspaper were both named for the 900-pound, cast-concrete owl perched on the roof, above what was the original main entrance, now known as the owl door.
Oren “Piggy” Mitchell became the coach at Shades Cahaba until he moved to the new Shades Valley High School in 1949. He brought basketball to the county schools that didn’t have gyms by starting a dirt court basketball league.
Due to the Great Depression, Jefferson County Schools decided to close their schools early. Homewood provided funds to keep Shades Cahaba, Edgewood Elementary, and Rosedale Schools open nine months a year. Shades Cahaba was the only high school in Alabama to keep its Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools accreditation throughout the Depression.
Shades Cahaba was the only school in the state that had an athletic field with lights, speakers and an electronic scoreboard. Throughout the ’40s, the school achieved high academic and athletic successes.
After the neglect of the Depression, the school was completely repaired and repainted in the 1940s. A central heating system (radiators) and fluorescent lights were also installed. Funds for the overhaul came from both the county and Homewood with additional assistance from local civic groups.
The student population topped 1,000 by the mid-forties and the citizens of Homewood began demanding a new school to handle the overcrowding. The county school board, with the promise of financial assistance from Homewood and newly incorporated Mountain Brook, finally agreed.
When the new high school was built, the chosen name of the new school would be Shades Valley High School. Many students and graduates of Shades Cahaba objected to not carrying the name of the existing school to the new one. The Homewood City Council and several civic groups also passed resolutions requesting the name be continued, but the county refused. Shades Valley High School did, however, continue the team name of the Mountaineers when it opened in 1949. At that point, Shades Cahaba housed grades 1-8.
During the switch from high school to elementary school, the concrete owl that had been standing watch on the roof of the school for almost three decades was removed. It would be decades before the owl was returned.
Shortly after the school’s conversion, the county and city both provided a total of $67,000 for a new auditorium and gymnasium.
When Montgomery Highway was widened, a pedestrian tunnel was built out of concern for students’ safety. This tunnel became known as the underpass. Hill Food Stores received $20,000 for the portion of its parking lot required for the western entry. The underpass was used to film one of the scenes of the 1988 film, The Verne Miller Story.
Homewood Junior High School was opened as a part of Jefferson County Schools. At the time, the school was an intermediate step between the local elementary schools and Shades Valley High School. The original building was built on “Kite Hill” located on Frisco Street, three blocks north of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church. The school’s sports teams were originally known as the Indians.
Shades Cahaba was the only public school in the area offering special education classes.
The Jefferson County school system integrates all schools with the option to attend any school. The first African-American students entered Shades Cahaba during the 1967-1968 school year, most coming from Rosedale School.
On December 22, 1969, the Homewood City Council established the Homewood Board of Education, which would assume authority on July 1, 1970.
The Homewood Board of Education assumed authority on July 1, 1970. The initial board consisted of Dr. Leslie Wright, Madison W. O’Kelley, Jack R. Gurley, Richard T. Owens, and Mamie Foster. G. Virgil Nunn was the first superintendent.
Shades Cahaba became one of Homewood City Schools’ three elementary schools. Homewood Junior High School became part of the system as well.
The Jefferson County Board of Education declined to sell Shades Valley to the new Homewood School System, leaving Homewood without a high school. Students were allowed to continue attending Shades Valley, if they paid tuition.
To pay for a new high school, a five-mill tax was passed by voters. The city then swapped city owned land with 15 acres of Samford University land. The city then purchased an additional ten acres, all along South Lakeshore Drive.
Homewood High School opened. The school was completed quickly at a cost of $3.5 million and opened to students in January 1973. Michael Gross, principal of Homewood Junior High School, was appointed as the high school’s first principal.
After spending many years in county storage, the owl was sold to a private party and became a garden ornament at a local home. After the owls rediscovery, the class of 1948 helped restore the owl to its original perch in 1978.
The Junior High was renamed Homewood Middle School. Within a few years of the name change, the school adopted the Patriots mascot to match Homewood High School.
A building renovation in the early 1990’s moved the main entrance of the school from the side facing Hollywood Boulevard to what had been a back corner, facing southwest to Independence Drive at about a 45 degree angle.
A new library, lunchroom and offices were built in what had been a courtyard in the middle of the school and behind the auditiorium. Other improvements were made to the school as well.
Homewood Middle School opens just to the west of, and to replace, the former Homewood Junior High School.
On September 19, 2020, Shades Cahaba School celebrates 100 years as a school.