As the oldest existing public school in the Mountain Brook area, Mountain Brook Elementary enjoys a rich history of community support and educational excellence. Its distinguished tradition continues today as the Mountain Brook City School system consistently ranks among the top public school systems in the nation.
Mountain Brook Elementary School first opened its doors to students in 1929. Before the turn of the century, a variety of one and two room houses owned by struggling churches and lodges provided educational facilities for school-aged children in the Shades Valley area. From 1874 to 1920, children in the area attended Union Hill School at the old Union Hill Methodist Church, now known as Canterbury Methodist Church, which was then located next to the cemetery on Hollywood Boulevard in Homewood. Union Hill School continued in operation until the increasing population of the valley necessitated a school to serve the southern part of Jefferson County.
In 1926, the Jefferson County Board of Education opened Shades Cahaba School at its present site in Homewood. When the new school opened, Union Hill closed its doors with the new school bearing its name for the first few years. Promoted and encouraged by Will Franke, who was committed to improving the educational standard in Jefferson County, Shades Cahaba was the first consolidated school in the county, bringing together students from many little rural schools in the valley and teaching them in one building.
In 1928, Robert Jemison, Jr., president of Jemison & Company, began developing Mountain Brook and deeded to the Jefferson County School Board an eleven-acre site for construction of Mountain Brook Elementary School. County architects Denham & Denham designed the eight-room structure in the stately English Tudor style of Jemison’s Mountain Brook Estates development. William H. Kessler, landscape architect for much of Mountain Brook Estates and Mountain Brook Village, was retained to plan athletic fields and a playground on the site. Construction of Mountain Brook Elementary began in 1928. Because the school was not completed before the fall term started that year, students were divided into two groups and attended classes at two different sites in Mountain Brook Village. Eventually, four rooms were prepared above what is now Gilchrist’s and classes were held there until the completion of Mountain Brook Elementary.
At a cost of approximately $45,000, the new two-story Mountain Brook School opened its doors in 1929 to 143 students, serving kindergarten through junior high grades. The original building housed six classrooms, a seventh classroom used as an office for the principal, and a large lunch and social room on the ground floor. Miss Bessie Wilhelm was the school’s first principal and also taught 7th and 8th grades. The faculty included three other teachers of combination grades, two kindergarten teachers, a music teacher, and a teacher for “Expression.”
Although the Mountain Brook area incorporated in 1942, Mountain Brook School remained under Jefferson County until 1959 when the City of Mountain Brook appointed its first Board of Education. In the years between incorporation and the establishment of a separate school system, additions to the school included an auditorium, several classrooms and a cafeteria. By 1948, Mountain Brook Elementary had ten classrooms, and in 1949 44 eighth graders graduated.
Four more classrooms and a gymnasium were added to the school in the early 1960s. As more young families in Mountain Brook began to migrate to the newer homes and neighborhoods of Cherokee Bend and Brookwood Forest, there was discussion in the early 1970s of closing Mountain Brook Elementary and reassigning its 400 students to the other newer elementary schools. Loyal parents and neighbors fought to save the aging school, and new taxes were voted in to begin renovations. The newly air-conditioned and remodeled school building thus continued welcoming students as it had for nearly half a century.
Mountain Brook Elementary marked its 50th anniversary in 1979 with a reunion celebration that involved the entire school and each of its fifty graduating classes. Donations from friends and alumni at that time helped to complete construction of the school’s new playground. Improvements and renovations at the school continued as enrollment climbed, culminating in a major two-story addition to school in the mid-1990s that carefully preserved the character of its classic English Tudor style.
The last construction project (2006) at Mountain Brook Elementary included eight new classroom spaces, a special education suite, and a renovated auditorium.
Throughout its history, many of the improvements to the school and its physical plant have been made possible through the vision, commitment and support of the many loyal parents, former students, friends and neighbors who comprise the Mountain Brook Elementary School community. With an enrollment of more than 550 students in kindergarten through sixth grade, Mountain Brook Elementary celebrates 83 years of service to the community. A tradition of continuous improvement remains a historic keystone of Mountain Brook Elementary, maintaining a standard of educational excellence and community involvement that began nearly a century ago.