Let me Introduce you to the City of Clay
By 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 Mile Creek.

Historically, 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 developments.

While 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.

These 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.

By 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 stores.

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.