By Chip Gates, H.O.B.O. Historian Based on information provided by Rick Miller
Bird Creek, as you may know, is named for the Jarra Jarra bird, a very large native bird, very rare, meat eater, been known to take …. , O.K., so much for a line from Crocodile Dundee II. I actually don’t know how Bird Creek got its name, but I’m hoping one of our readers with a beak for trivia will let us know. In the meantime, let’s get on to the facts at hand.
Rick Miller, a full-time resident of Bird Creek, contacted me when he saw an error in the 1st quarter 2017 newsletter historical article. In that article one of my sources was a 1957 USGS map which placed Wyatt’s Fish Camp on the point of Bird Creek and the river. Rick was kind enough to set the record straight that Wyatt’s was located just inside Walnut Creek. Rick went on to provide most of the following about his neck of the woods.
Just south of Higgins Ferry, Bird Creek is a modest slough with a bit of history attached. As one enters the slough, on the left is land that was once part of the Boy Scout Camp Arrowhead. Towards the back of the slough on the right side is Rick’s place. Like many a lake house, it has had a few additions and modifications since his dad started building the original 4-room cabin in 1956. Rick’s Dad, Bob Miller, worked for the Birmingham Fire Dept., and on his off-days would come down and purchase just enough building material to keep him busy until he had to go back to work. To save money, Bob bought green oak timbers that had been planed one time (rough cut). He would use 20 penny nails that he dipped in oil to make it easier to hammer them in. On completion the cabin had a big room across the front, a bedroom on each side in the back, and in between the bedrooms the water closet was comprised of a toilet and sink. Later a friend helped Bob add a 30” square shower that was coated with waterproof epoxy. Before we leave the bathroom for the outdoors, contemplate this. Two of Bob’s ancestors were among the first settlers of Wilsonville. His grandmother was the librarian and his grandfather was the barber, and their house, a rather nice one by the standards of the day, even had indoor plumbing. Their toilet is still in service at Bob’s, now Rick’s, place. Not a common family heirloom, but if it ain’t broke, keep using it.
You may recognize Rick’s house from the water as the front porch is shaped like the front of a ship. Rick got his inspiration for this feature some years ago while on a cruise. He was afforded the opportunity to go up on the bridge, and the view looking forward gave him a new perspective and an idea. After returning home he started on his new project. The house now sports a row of windows across the front, much like the bridge of a ship. The porch in front has the unmistakable shape of a bow. This is accentuated by a porthole on each side. But if you try to peer inside, you’ll only see yourself, as the portholes are not real and the “windows” are mirrors. There is a real porthole on the boathouse however, at least a real one from a Captain D’s.
As a young boy, Rick remembers when Alabama Power would encourage property owners not to leave empty beer or liquor bottles about, as it might encourage ne’er-do-wells to break in just to get to any unconsumed potent potables. For whatever the reason though, the Miller cabin was broken into. Sometime after this event, one day Rick rode with his dad into town and waited outside while Mr. Miller went in to the jail. It seems either the sheriff or city police were holding a possible suspect in their theft on an unrelated charge. When Mr. Miller returned, Rick asked his dad what was going on and his dad said he left $10 with the authorities to make sure nothing of the kind happened again. Since no further intrusions occurred at the Miller place, it appears it was money well spent.
Rick spent some of his youth at the nearby Camp Arrowhead. Like now, the rank of Eagle Scout was the highest achievement, but at Camp Arrowhead it was possible to become a member of the prestigious Order of the Arrow. While sitting around a ceremonial fire, those that were inducted were approached from behind and literally tapped on the shoulder by fellow scouts dressed in Indian attire. As a sign of their achievement, they were given a 3” wide white sash with a red arrow on it, as well as a special badge for their regular merit badge sash. No doubt what few white sashes still exist are both treasured by their owners and coveted by Scout memorabilia collectors.
Rick said there are a number of old roadbeds in his area. One of these roads, an extension of the one that went from Clanton to the Higgins Ferry, crossed a bridge over Bird Creek (pre-lake) heading south in the direction of Cargile Creek. The submerged remnants of the concrete and stone foundations are directly in front of Rick’s house. Rick remembers his granddad found this to be an excellent fishing spot, not to mention being conveniently located. The next house west of Rick’s belongs to Bob and Betty Cook. Between the two houses there is a little indentation in the slough, as it is where a small creek flowed into Bird Creek. Backtracking up this rivulet Rick has found the remains of a still. Going back down to where the small creek used to flow into Bird there is a submerged concrete “box”. Robustly constructed using rebar, it is about 30” x 48” and 4” thick. Rick is of the opinion it was part of an old sawmill. Many sawmills used to be located near creeks (at least two were on Cargile), and many temporary ones were also set up in order to process all the timber cut from the land soon to be covered by the lake. Fact is, according to Rick, further back along the north side of Bird Creek where navigation becomes questionable there remains a large old sawdust pile. This brings us to the end of the Bird Creek story for now. As always, additional stories and corrections are appreciated. And if you know the real reason Bird Creek is so named, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks, and G’Day Mates!
Lake Mitchell HOBO, P.O. Box 1324, Clanton, AL 35046