Let me Introduce
you to the City of Clay
Tina Tidmore - Editor of Clay News
It is rather appropriate that a community
named after a type of soil would have so many unique
natural features. “Clay” is truly full of clay. But
as one farmer stated, it could just as easily be named
“Chert”. Being in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains,
Clay boasts the highest point in Jefferson County, Alabama
at 1,480 feet. In the valleys below flow the very beginning
of the treasured Cahaba River, Turkey Creek and Five
Clay has kept its own identity as a strong, religious
community of simple rural people. As best as can be
discerned by the Jefferson County Historical Commission,
Clay is the home of the oldest protestant congregation
in the State of Alabama, Mt. Calvary Presbyterian Church.
Churches are still a strong part of the identity of
Clay with Deerfoot Parkway, a relatively new major road
in Clay, being nick-named “Highway to Heaven”.
Nature tourism is the way others in
the State of Alabama and the rest of the nation knew
Clay up until the 1980’s. The main attraction was the
Crystal Caverns from the 1920’s to the 1960’s. It is
now privately owned and not available for public viewing.
Another place attracting nature lovers was the Cosby
Lake area. This is known by many as a place to bring
a date for swimming in a pool or the lake. It is the
site of the original YMCA Camp in Jefferson County.
It is still an attractive lake with residential development
around it. And the Campbell’s Dude Ranch was known for
being a place to ride horses in the mountains and stay
in a cabin. Most of the Dude Ranch property is now residential
other communities had industry or other business that
caused growth and the forming of cities, from when Clay
got its post office in 1878 until the early 1980’s,
Clay just stayed a rural community of simple people
with very little commercial. As interest in neighboring
cities peaked in the early 1980’s, Clay became highly
attractive for residential development. The construction
of Deerfoot Parkway, which connects the Clay community
in five minutes to I-59, increased Clay’s convenience
and brought more development. The remaining natural
space, and attractive views of lakes and mountains appealed
to the people when looking for new homes. Then, when
two new schools were built in Clay in 1996, that sealed
the new identity of Clay as the hot place for people
wanting to settle and raise a family. Clay / Chalkville
Middle School and Clay / Chalkville High School were
already at capacity when built and now have the largest
enrollment in the Jefferson County System.
These schools have brought another
point of pride to the Clay community. The sports teams
have made others take notice with some state championship
wins, despite its short history. When people from other
parts of the state are told about Clay, they will say,
“Oh, ya’ll are the ones who have the great sports teams.”
The Clay / Chalkville High School Football team won
the 1999 6A State Title and Baseball Team of 2003 took
the 6A State Title with girls Softball and Basketball
getting second in 6A state tournaments in 2004.
It was during the 1990’s Clay was
chosen to be along the route of the future Northern
Beltline that will circle Birmingham. Acquisition of
property for this project has already started in the
neighboring community of Palmerdale. Although the history
of Clay is as long as the magic-growing city of Birmingham,
many think of Clay as a suburb of Birmingham because
it will only take 30-45 minutes to get to any part of
the metropolitan area.
outside pressures moved the Clay community to take control
of what future development will be. They incorporated
in June 2000. Some call Clay a “new” community. Actually,
as shown before, Clay’s changes are new, and the forming
of the city are new, but the community, which has always
had to defend its identity, has a long history back
to the first settlements in Alabama.
Since Clay incorporated, the struggles
of starting a new city from scratch, limited revenue
sources and lack of experience by the Council has been
a challenge. Despite this, the city has grown with major
annexations. The original population in the 2000 census
was 2,500. The estimated population in May 2004 is at
8,000-10,000. This growth is mostly from annexations.
Some of these were big with the annexation of the Chalkville
community to the south of Clay adding an estimate 4,000
people. The people voted by 83% to be annexed into Clay
in the summer of 2003. More annexation is occurring
toward the northwest of Clay. Clay now has a municipal
sales tax added to the tax charged by the State of Alabama
and Jefferson County.
City services are few since the people
did not form the city to increase services. For the
most part, they are happy with basic services through
the other agencies. Fire service is a paid, fully manned
service by the Center Point Fire District, the largest
of its type in the State of Alabama. Fees support it.
contract through the City of Clay, starting in January,
2005, garbage pick-up will be provided by Arrow Disposal
Services and supported by customer fees. Police protection
is provided by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office
with a contract to have them provide more deputy coverage
in Clay. The Clay Building Inspector started in December
of 2002 and the Zoning Commission started in January
2003. The city government is a Mayor / Council form
without districts. The City of Clay has been slow about
having commercial catch up with the residential development.
In an April, 2004 poll of what is needed in Clay, forty
percent of Clay residents said they wanted more commercial
in Clay. When given a choice of what type of commercial
is needed, in that same poll, eighty-three percent said
they wanted more public service type of businesses like
retail and restaurants. The second choice of office
parks was chosen by 13% of the 90 people polled. Industry,
both light and heavy were chosen by even less than that.
Annexation has brought more commercial into Clay. There
is four major grocery stores serving the area: two Winn
Dixies, a Piggly Wiggly and a new Publix, which opened
in the south part (Chalkville) in February 2004. There
are numerous restaurants in the area, both fast food
chains and some specialty spots. Clay also has doctors’
offices with a few small, privately owned merchandise
Included in new commercial ventures
in Clay is the Clay News newspaper, which started in
March 2002. This is a bi-weekly publication written
in the style of a traditional newspaper. Subjects covered
include Sports, Education, Business, Fire District,
Crime, Non-profit Organizations, Churches, City Government,
Neighbor Helping Neighbor and other feature articles.
Distribution is mostly as a free pick-up with 60 locations
and a total of 5,000 printed every other Wednesday.
By May 2004, Clay News has a locally owned community
website at www.claynews.net. This website includes a
discussion forum. Through www.smalltownpapers.com, people
can read the Clay News on line.
The story of what Clay will
become is still not finished as the City is now forming
a Comprehensive Land Use Plan for the future and Clay
is still in high demand for commercial and residential
development. This is now a pivotal point, as Clay must
decide what its future identity will be.