When I was a girl my dad would put my brother Tucker and I on the bus to go visit our grandparents in West Blocton. The western town apparently eclipsed the orignal Blocton, that disappeared. It is a mystery how you can be west of nothing.
But the main industry of the place had long fallen into disuse, too. The Bloctons were orignally part of the coal fields purchased by Truman Aldrich when he split from Sloss and DeBardeleben. And Aldrich also built the coke ovens in 1888. They were just over the top of the hill where Momma and Papa Perry lived surrounded by crepe myrtles.
Our cousin Perry, who was old enough to look after us, would take us over the hill and we would walk along the abandoned railroad tracks among the old beehive coke ovens. For us it was like finding an arrowhead, or strolling among ancient Egyptian honeycombs. Even then, they were no longer making coke there for the furnaces of Birmingham, though they were still digging coal at old number one, and over at Belle Ellen, another town that is now up and gone.
We did not go into the glazed tile cocoons.
We just looked in awe as if in a giant museum.
And now Bibb County has made it a park, dedicated by county officials, the current preacher at our old Baptist Church dressed like Truman Aldrich, and even one of the descendants of one of the Italian stone masons that lived in a community they called Dago Holler, with a communal bakery to produce the bread from their homeland they shared.
The ovens that used to stand in rows set in stone strong enough to carry railroad tracks on top where they dropped the raw coal into a hole in the top of the ovens to refine it by fire so it could strengthen the steel of Birmingham’s industrial might. There were parallel tracks at the base so that when the great oven doors opened the coke could be removed and hauled away to the Fairfield furnaces. It was like stealing a peak at a lost civilization.
Nowadays it appears as if the ovens were dug into the bank on the side of a wooded hill.
But the ovens were not built by hobbits. The dirt banks and the trees are the product of years of overgrowth and decay. It is nothing like the place we used to play. But the ruins are preserved to honor our history.
And now they are offically a place for recreation, and no longer a stolen pleasure only known to a few who strayed over the hill from town. And the plans are to join these greenspace acres up to Tannehill and even Red Mountain Park. Future generations can enjoy nature and hike through the ages, and wonder what the people were like who used to live in this place. They can follow our footsteps, me and Tucker and Cousin Perry.