Irondale is the small city immediately east of the city of Birmingham’s Crestwood neighborhood, which is where I live. To call Irondale a city seems perhaps faulty, as it has as its center a sleepy little train-stop of a village. But, due to its acreage and the fact that it is indeed incorporated, it is a city. But it’s not a City.
I see Irondale from the Interstate every day as I drive to and from work in Leeds, the city (again, this “city” thing is questionable) immediately east of it. On days when I don’t feel pressed for time, I usually turn off of the highway and cut through the few blocks of 1940s-era buildings. My goal is often the public library there, but sometimes it’s calming to just roll down the windows and look at houses. There are other things to see there, too. It’s just nice there. Feels like a step back in time, to be honest, and that comforts me.
Just as they do in Birmingham, train tracks seem to bisect Irondale Center in two. The tracks take a wide slow lazy bend through town
and disappear through the trees, leaving the clearing of green behind.
There is a small building next to the rails called Studio by the Tracks. It is charming, and I can imagine that it was a home at one time. It’s nestled up against the gravel embankment that supports the train tracks. That structure must rattle and shake whenever a train goes by. The photograph above, in fact, was taken from the parking area in front of the Studio. Yep, it’s that close.
The Studio by the Tracks describes itself (on its website) as:
…a non-profit organization formed in 1989 to provide free art classes to emotionally conflicted children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder or other mental illnesses. SBTT maintains a focused, energized atmosphere that provides our students a haven in which to create. We encourage a supportive and non-judgmental climate necessary to nurture creative abilities, enhance self-esteem and explore alternative ways of coping with emotional and physical conflict.
They have fundraisers annually that showcase the artwork created therein. Many of the pieces are astonishing. I have a friend whose office space (and probably his home) are packed with purchases he’s made at these events. You can see a generous sampling of recent work at the SBTT website, including this little marvel
and this portrait, which is truly heartwarming.
On a recent day, I parked my car and strolled through the Studio’s courtyard. There I found two examples of Christmas trees, only a little bit out of season,
as I walked over bricks and bits of broken crockery.
Diagonally across the street and the tracks from the Studio is a brick building with the remnants of a painted advertisement still visible on its side, peeking out from behind some crape myrtle trees. I could only decipher the top portion of the ad, which read: J. T. Ramsey & Son General Merchandise.
The larger section beneath that uses the word FLOOR, but the context escapes me. There are several such faded wall ads around this town. I feel I should make an effort to photograph them all.
Up the road from the Studio by the Tracks is the aforementioned library. It’s in a bland 1970s block-and-glass building with no color and plentiful right angles. And just one block past that are the main train tracks that carry most of the commercial traffic that passes through Irondale. It is here, at this junction, that the Whistle Stop Cafe sits. If you have read supposed native daughter Fannie Flagg’s novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe or seen the movie made from it, you are aware of this place. Yes, this is the place, a cafeteria-style home-cookin’ joint that serves those fried tomatoes and has some really awesome fried chicken. And they have some other fried things on the menu, too, this being the South. And their dining room walls are adorned with dozens of paintings created by the artists at the Studio by the Tracks.
This is my Irondale.
If you lived here, it might be boring as hell, but it’s a charming place to drive through and set a spell.