By Margaret Weinberg
We are excited to announce and share a four-part series of oral histories that were made possible through a community grant from the Alabama Bicentennial Commission. One story of Red Mountain mining and camp life has been released weekly through our website and social media. Our bicentennial project did culminate on July 10th with the announcement of a new destination on our TravelstorysGPS app and the unveiling of a new interpretive sign memorializing the contributions of Ervin Batain, former Red Mountain Park Commissioner and founder of 3D at No. 11 Mining Camp and Nature Trail. A photo from the July 10th event is included below, but first, read Ervin’s story…
Ervin Batain and 3D at No.11 Mining Camp and Nature Trail
In 1999, community-member Ervin Batain cleared a trail from the backyard of the former TCI-owned house where he lived, all the way up to the No.11 mine on Red Mountain. Ervin started coming up onto the mountain often, looking for a place to relax and get away. He was captivated by the quiet on the mountain, as well as the history that remained hidden under the privet and kudzu — artifacts and historical sites that ranged from pieces of old cable to the mine entrance and talley house foundation, which can be found at the No. 11 site.
3D at No.11 Mining Camp and Nature Trail was a project by and for the community. Ervin’s sister Evanne Gibson tells us more.
Evanne Batain, 2.26.19: 00:02:40 – 00:03:30: He would take people from the community, children. And there were so many things up there that were interesting that we didn’t know about, like the osage tree, about the stagamite that look like icicles. And he was a very funny person and he would take you down those mine shafts, he’s gone. He’d scare you to death. But he – his main thing was connecting people with nature. In our community a lot us suffer with high blood pressure and diabetes and being able to walk at a distance in your neighborhood is very important. So that’s – that was another thing that he wanted, for people to be able to get out and walk for wellness, and to be able to connect with nature.
The path that Ervin cut from his home on Old Wenonah Road to the No.11 mine mimics the long walk that miners made between their homes and work. Ervin lived in a house that had been built by Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company and lived in by TCI employees who worked in the mines. You can still see many of these houses in neighborhoods that surround Red Mountain Park today; see if you can identify them by their distinctive tin roofs!
Company Steel Town, Jefferson County, Alabama (in the public domain via Library of Congress)
Tom Spencer, whose voice you’ll hear on our new Mine No. 11 TravelStorysGPS tour, remembers noticing the former mining homes that surrounded 3D at No.11 Mining Camp and Nature Trail. Tom took his kids to visit Ervin on a Saturday before the founding of Red Mountain Park, excited for a chance to access the mountain. He recalls,
What was really neat about the setting was these were obviously mining homes. Before learning about Red Mountain Park and exploring Red Mountain Park, I had noticed the distinctive architecture in that area, but had never really known why. I never put those pieces of the puzzle together. So you drove up into this little neighborhood and all the houses looked the same had the same tin roofs and you realized that was because it was mining housing.
To learn more about TCI housing, schooling, and other aspects of life in a company town check out our oral history features on Jack Neal and Juanita Hixon, who both spent time as children living in the TCI-employee community of Wenonah.
Those who knew Ervin describe him as funny, enthusiastic, and an advocate for the city of Birmingham. The fourth of seven children, Ervin was entrepreneurial and innovative. He had a singing career, and could often be found in R&B clubs in the city. We are glad to be able to commemorate Ervin’s life and contribution to Red Mountain Park and encourage you to head over to Mine No.11 to learn more about his legacy.
Spencer, Thomas M. Five Star Trails: Birmingham. Menasha Ridge Press, 2014.