McDonalds and Wilkes
Annexed to Midfield in 1961
1. Early Settlers
The early settling of the McDonalds and Wilkes areas was along the Old Huntsville Road (Woodward Rd.) and later along the streetcar line which began service in 1885. Steam engines were replaced with electric “Dummies” in 1902. The North dummy line that connected Birmingham and Bessemer made seven stops along the stretch of track that ran along what is now Martin Luther King Jr. B’lvd in Midfield. These stations were often named after the family closest to the station. The seven stations in what became the McDonald and Wilkes areas ( from Brighton to Vinesville ) were, Madison Station ( site of the first Hills Grocery Store outside of Birmingham ) Bonair Station ( on the corner of what is now MLK B’lvd and Hoadley ), McDonald Station, Wilkes Station. Forrest Station, Walnut Grove Station and Ware Station.
McDonald’s Station was named after J.M. McDonald ( 1837-1936 ) who was one of the first settlers in the area and owned most of the land. Although he was the primary landowner, only the area around the station near his home bore his name. They lived at the top of the hill on what is now Oak Street. At the bottom of the hill on the corner of Oak and MLK B’lvd was the site of the McDonald dummy station. By the time the fully developed area was annexed into Midfield in 1961, the name McDonald had given way to “Wilkes” as the name used to describe the area.
Wilkes Station was named after John William Wilkes (1862-1947) and his family. When John married Martha McDonald, daughter of J.M. McDonald, her father gave the couple the land on which they built their home. They built a big wood frame house on the corner of Wilkes Rd. and Huntsville Rd. (Woodward Rd.). It was cross corners from where Walnut Grove Methodist Church stands today. Two of their sons, one was a doctor, later moved into homes on Wilkes Rd. closer to the carline. The surrounding area came to be known as Wilkes Station.
The first Walnut Grove Methodist Church was built in 1910 on Huntsville Road near Walnut Grove Station. (It was obviously named after the near-by station that pre-dated it.) At this time, the community of Wilkes consisted of a few houses along the carline, Huntsville Road, and Wilkes/Rutledge Road. The church moved to its present location on the corner of Woodward Rd. and Wilkes Rd. in 1921. The old cemetery remains at the old site on the corner of Woodward Rd. and the Bessemer Highway.
Wilkes family buried at the cemetery are:
John William Wilkes (3/7/1862-4/10/1947) and his wife Martha E.Wilkes (8/15/1864-11/12/1925), Marvin E. Wilkes (8/1/1901-11/14/1951), Julia M. Wilkes (4/4/1889-1/28/1916) wife of J.H., John M. Wilkes (9/26/1900-9/29/1900) son of J.W. and M.E.
McDonald’s family buried at the cemetery are:
J.M. McDonald (6/2/1837-11/1/1936), Sarah A. McDonald (3/16/1844-9/20/1907, Sue Robinson McDonald (11/17/1860-8/4/1941).
The Wilkes Baptist Church was organized on October 3, 1911 and Rev. A.B. Batson was called as the first pastor on October 28, 1911. The church building was one large room built on property on Huntsville Rd. that was deeded to the church by Mr. Jim Wilkes. Church members were baptized in a creek by where the Midfield Post Office stands today.
On the night of Feb. 10, 1913, the church building was destroyed by fire. Brother Aldridge, pastor of Walnut Grove Methodist Church invited the Baptist congregation to use their sanctuary on alternate Sundays with the Methodist. The Baptist pastor preached two Sundays a month and the Methodist pastor preached the other two Sundays. The Jefferson County Board of Education offered the use of an abandoned school building, which stood on the site of Wilkes School. Sunday School was held there, afterwards everyone went to Walnut Grove for preaching. Four years later another church building was constructed on the same site.
In 1948 construction began on a new brick building that still stands on the site today. The congregation used the not-yet-complete building for a service on Easter Sunday 1949. The beautiful new half-million-dollar sanctuary that stands across Parkridge Avenue from the 1949 building was dedicated on December 19, 1976.
Mrs. Mary Lou Bingham, who was born in May of 1916 on Huntsville Rd. in what was then called McDonalds Station, can remember starting first grade at Wilkes School (in the area served by Wilkes Station) in the 2nd floor of a two-story wood frame building. A family lived on the first floor. When the brick building was constructed in front of the old frame building, she attended all grades in all classrooms there through the 8th grade.
Robert Ponder (1916) and his family moved to Wilkes Hill (later to become Fairfield Highlands) in 1922 and attended Wilkes School in a brick building from 1st thru the 4th grades and then went to the old Rutledge School from the 5th through the 9th grade. A great housing development took place in the Wilkes area after the auction of the McDonald Estate Property in 1950.
2. Annexation Of Wilkes to Midfield
In 1955, following the incorporation of Midfield in 1953 and a wave of new housing construction in Wilkes, a petition was circulated in Wilkes to annex into Midfield, but enthusiasm lagged and the move lost steam.
In 1958 the attempt got a little further. A petition was circulated and was thought to have enough names on it to legally call for an election. A probate judge thought so enough to call for an election, but three days before the election date, opponents of the merger contested it. The petition was found to be five names short of the legally needed number and the election was not held.
By 1961, the minds of some of the merger opponents had changed and Midfield Chamber of Commerce founder and President B.Y.Williams Sr. proposed the idea of attempting the merger again. The Wilkes Civitan Club headed by W.E. “Pop” Neal was brought on board. Before long W.E. Neal and Ed Hammrick were armed with a petition containing the names of 180 of the little more than 200 voters in Wilkes. They would take no chances this time.
After the Midfield Chamber of Commerce began the drive for the merger, Brighton and Fairfield made overtures to the Wilkes residents. A petition was started in a section of Wilkes asking residents to join Brighton, and the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce wrote a long letter to all residents of Wilkes detailing the advantages to joining Fairfield. At one time there were three petitions circulating in Wilkes, but even some of the previous opponents were asking to sign the Midfield petition.
The Wilkes community took the required number of signatures to the Midfield City Council. The Council adopted a resolution requesting that an election be called. The City of Midfield voted to pay for the election expenses.
Tom Jackson, the committee’s attorney, drew up the necessary papers and filed them with the probate office where Jefferson County Probate Judge J. Paul Meeks called for an election to be held on November 28, 1961 at the Wilkes Community Club House, to determine if the annexation should be accomplished.
The big day finally arrived on Tuesday, November 28. The poles opened at 8:00 a.m. at the Wilkes Community Club House. Inspectors were John Bruce, W.E. Neal and T.P. Ferry. Serving as Clerks were Mrs. Walter Miles, Mrs. J.C. Robinson and Mrs. Neal Henderson. In an astonishing turn out, 230 out of 242 registered voters voted to come into the city by 153 votes for and 77 votes against. Eight more absentee votes favored the annexation.
The election had five days in which to be contested, which was not done and was certified the following Monday by the probate judge. The certification, however, did not prevent a contest. Four opponents of the merger, George T. Waldrop, H.E. Ballard, Dargan Suther, and Eugene Gorff charged in a suit that the petition circulated prior to the merger did not contain the names of the owners of 60% of the property as required by law. On Jan. 17, 1962 Judge Edward Ball, of the Bessemer Circuit Court, denied the suit and upheld the merger.
The decision was appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court. On June 13, 1962, in a long awaited decision, The Alabama Supreme Court finally decided that Wilkes was legally a part of Midfield.
The population of Midfield went from 3,754 before the merger, to about 4,954. There was also the addition of Wilkes Elementary School.