By Emily Williams
The city of Mountain Brook will celebrate its 75th anniversary, and events honoring the milestone are planned throughout the community.
The month-long commemoration of the anniversary will include a festival, scavenger hunt, concert and birthday celebration.
The celebration marks the anniversary of the city’s incorporation on May 24, 1942.
Though originally developed in 1929 by Robert Jemison Jr., the city wasn’t incorporated until May 24, 1942. It was the first Alabama city to use a council-manager form of government, with a mayor and city council overseeing legislation and a city manager and administrative heads overseeing operational functions.
Mountain Brook Mayor Stewart Welch, while new to the title, is not so new to the city.
When he was born, in the early 1950s, Welch was taken to his family’s new home on Abingdon Road in Mountain Brook.
He recalls his family, along with families in the neighboring homes, keeping horses to take advantage of miles of trails through the heavily wooded area.
“It was a Norman Rockwell youth,” Welch said. “Much has changed and our city has grown in wonderful ways.”
The neighborhood kids would play football, jump on trampolines and play games together.
“When I was young, I played Tarzan in the woods. As I got older, I hunted squirrels,” he said.
What is different now is the development. There is road access to every home in the city and 40-plus miles of trails and sidewalks. In 1966, the city’s award-winning Emmet O’Neal Library was formed.
“The three villages – Mountain Brook, Crestline and English Village – have always been there but, obviously, have grown into the great social gathering spots we know today. One of my fond memories as a youth was getting a cherry limeade drink at the counter of Gilchrest Drug Store in Mountain Brook Village,” Welch said.
The city has since included two more villages, Cahaba Village and Overton Village.
“Looking back, I can see just how idealistic my childhood was,” Welch said. “I was always having a great time and was never in fear of everything.”
Welch moved away for college, but not too far, attending the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. After graduating, he returned to his hometown when his father asked him to help with the family insurance business.
“Since he was also my best friend, this seemed like a natural opportunity,” he said. “A college friend and I found an apartment and, with so many high school and college friends moving back to the area, it was almost like we never left.”
With a community of returning friends, Welch found that the city was the perfect place to base his businesses. The Welch Group remains a Mountain Brook business today. Regardless of how involved he found himself in Mountain Brook’s business community, he said he never had much interaction, or much interest, in the politics of city government – until he was approached to run for mayor last year.
“While I’m acutely interested in things that affect our economy and the markets, which would include politics, I’m not a ‘political person,’” he said. “But I must say that I have found my role as mayor to be both fun and intellectually stimulating.”
While he has had a lot to learn, Welch said his job is easier thanks to the wealth of knowledge his department heads and council leaders offer, including city manager Sam Gaston, Director of Finance Steve Boone, City Council President Virginia Smith and City Council President Pro Tem Billy Pritchard.
In his newfound appreciation for politics, Welch said he hopes to use his influence to retain the qualities he loved about his youth in Mountain Brook.
“My hope is that the children I see running around today will be our homeowners of tomorrow and that we retain that Norman Rockwell feeling and atmosphere,” he said.
As mayor, he said, he wants to open the lines of communication further between residents and city government so everyone is aware of city activities and opportunities.
“Most citizens, young and old, don’t have a good feel of how government operates,” Welch said.
Organizations such as Leadership Mountain Brook, offered to high school students, are ways city government is connected with its younger residents. The group will host its Little Leader Day on April 23, giving even younger students in elementary school a glimpse into the inner workings of Mountain Brook’s government operations.
“It’s easy to imagine these young leaders one day serving as mayor, city council members or as a member of one of our many commissions,” he said.
Providing yet another opportunity to have the younger generations interested in local government, the “Why I Love Mountain Brook” essay contest asked Mountain Brook Junior High students to write an essay about their home city. The winner of the competition, Tess Patton, will get to serve as mayor for a day.
Patton was chosen as winner by a selection committee, but Welch said he made sure to read Patton’s entry and looks forward to having her take over as mayor.
“First, I hope she has fun!” he said.
She will cut the celebratory ribbon at the 75th Birthday Celebration Festival May 7, kicking off a month-long celebration.
The event will be held from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the front lawn of City Hall, with cake and ice cream, live music, a dunking booth and inflatables. The city will also release “The Great Mountain Brook Scavenger Hunt,” available at Emmet O’Neal Library and the Mountain Brook Chamber of Commerce.
The following Monday, May 8, Patton will help Welch lead a City Council meeting as part of her Mayor for a Day duties.
“Tess will be seated with the members of the City Council in the council chambers, where she’ll offer a proclamation commemorating our 75th. It will be fun and educational,” Welch said.
The chamber will host its quarterly luncheon May 17, in honor of the birthday and Memorial Day, at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Keynote speaker will be Chris Tanner, Mountain Brook native and decorated veteran who served under Gen. David Petraeus.
The party will continue May 21 at Emmet O’Neal’s annual Summer Reading Kickoff, beginning at 3 p.m., followed by a Magic City Smooth Jazz “Jazz in the Park” concert at Crestline Field from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
A Birthday Celebration Finale will be held May 24 at the library. The party will include cake, lemonade and balloons, and at 5 p.m. the winners of the scavenger hunt will be announced.
For more information or to register for the luncheon, visit welcometomountainbrook.com.