At the heart of the Deep South, the state of Alabama offers a wealth of opportunities for urban explorers. From vacant factories and industrial sites to long-shuttered schoolhouses, our list of the 10 most amazing abandoned places in Alabama has a little bit of everything.
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The Best Abandoned Places in Alabama
Birmingham Coke Ovens (Birmingham)
At the height of the Industrial Revolution, the booming steel industry opened the door for progress and economic prosperity in Alabama. When a vast coal seam was discovered near Birmingham in 1890, thousands of local residents went to work in both the mines and the facilities used to transform the raw coal into usable fuel known as coke. These coke ovens ran 24 hours a day to create the high heat needed to turn coal into coke, which in turn was used to fuel the iron-producing blast furnaces in the city’s thriving industrial district.
At the turn of the 20th century, dozens of brick coke ovens were installed in the hills surrounding Birmingham, where workers would shovel coal into the beehive-shaped containers and then seal them with bricks and mud to allow the coal to burn for several days at blazing-hot temperatures. An exhaust hole in the roof of each over allowed the volatile components of the coal to escape as gases, leaving behind the valuable coke fuel and its byproduct, known as slag.
In the post-World War II era, improvements in technology made underground mining less cost-effective, and by the 1950s, most of the coal mines in the state had shut down. The passage of increasingly strict environmental laws also constrained the coal mining and coke production industries, and the ovens that dotted the Birmingham hillsides were left for nature to reclaim.
Today, dozens of these abandoned coke ovens are still there as one of the most intriguing abandoned places in Alabama, albeit obscured by decades of undergrowth, as a reminder of the industry that once fueled the state’s economy.
Carraway Hospital (Birmingham)
This 617-bed hospital was among the first public healthcare facilities in the Norwood section of Birmingham. Founded by Dr. Charles Carraway, who trained at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and in private practice with the Mayo brothers, the hospital began as a tiny neighborhood infirmary next door to Carraway’s Pratt City home.
In 1917, he purchased a larger piece of land in Norwood that allowed him to expand the facility. He donated the hospital to the Methodist Episcopal Church in the 1940s, who renamed it in his honor. A $400,000 federal grant funded a new nursing wing in 1949.
After suffering a stroke in 1957, Carraway ceded leadership of the facility to his son Ben, an accomplished surgeon. Under his guidance, the hospital built the 163-room Purcell Wing later that year and achieved a major expansion in 1961, more than doubling its capacity from 256 beds to 617 beds.
Over the years that followed, the facility continued to grow and innovate, adding the $27 million Goodson Building in 1974 and establishing the city’s only Level 1 Trauma Center and its first Sleep Center in the 1980s.
In the early 21st century, financial challenges began to plague the medical center, in part due to severe cuts to federal Medicare funding and the decline of the surrounding Norwood neighborhood. In 2006, Carraway Hospital filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and was auctioned off to a group of doctors for $26.5 million.
The new owners renamed the facility Physicians Medical Center Carraway in 2007, retaining the iconic blue star that had been placed on the side of the building decades earlier and incorporating the symbol into its new logo. At first, the center seemed to be on the road to financial recovery, turning a modest profit in its first year in operation, but by late 2008 it failed to make payroll and closed its doors on October 31, becoming yet another in a long list of abandoned places in Alabama.
The 52-acre campus has been vacant since then, despite several efforts to convert it into alternative uses, including a nursing school, a rehab center and even a retail complex. A new developer purchased the property in 2016 with plans to demolish most of the structures due to the deleterious effects of years of vandalism and neglect.
A rezoning decision by the Birmingham City Council in November 2020 provided the necessary green light for demolition and construction of the new mixed-use development, which will include retail shops, restaurants, a hotel, office space and single- and multi-family residential housing.
The existing parking garages are expected to be preserved and renovated, as is the iconic blue star that represented a beacon of hope and compassion to so many area residents over the decades. However, for the time being, the Carraway Hospital property remains yet another example of wonderful abandoned places in Alabama.
Ensley High School (Birmingham)
The first students walked the halls of Ensley High School in 1901, when the school was established to serve the neighborhood populated primarily by employees of the nearby U.S. Steel and American Cast Iron Pipe Company plants. In its early years, the school’s classes were remarkably small, averaging about 12 per class and with just two students earning diplomas at its first graduation. However, when a significant addition to the facility was completed in 1926, the school’s capacity more than doubled.
The Ensley neighborhood was hit hard by the Great Depression, due largely to its dependence on the industrial economy. In 1936, more than 100 students at the high school got food poisoning after eating cream puffs from a local bakery; a follow-up investigation found that lack of funding had prevented the Jefferson County Health Department from conducting adequate inspections, leading to unsanitary conditions at the bakery and other similar establishments.
The neighborhood saw a brief resurgence during World War II when demand for steel and iron jumped, but the 1950s ushered in a gradual exodus of residents to the suburbs outside Birmingham. By 1990, Ensley’s population had plummeted to 6,000 from a high of 19,000 in 1970.
As the neighborhood declined, so too did the school, and it became known for poor academic performance and gang-related violence, a reputation cemented in 1994 when a 15-year old student was shot in the chest during his lunch period. For a few years, the high school was reimagined as a magnet school, but it finally closed in 2006 due to low attendance.
The remaining students were incorporated into the new Jackson-Olin High School, and the old Ensley High School sat vacant for 12 years until a suspicious fire on the second floor caused major damage to the abandoned building. In 2019, a developer purchased the partially burned-out property with plans for a mixed-use development that has yet to come to fruition.
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Hilltop Arms Apartments (Montgomery)
Just outside Montgomery’s Cottage Hill district, a stark red-brick building is all that remains of the Hilltop Arms Apartments, designed in 1950 by the celebrated local architecture firm Pearson, Tittle, Narrows & Associates. The nine-story Hilltop Arms building featured 106 residential units as well as ground-floor office space.
After the last tenants vacated the complex in the early 1990s, the building remained vacant for more than a decade; in 2006, developer Kim Henderson purchased it for just under $800,0000, intending to renovate and repurpose the historic building. By 2014, Henderson had little to show for the more than $1.4 million he had invested in the property, blaming the Great Recession and low rental rates in the city for the lack of interest from investors. The City of Montgomery offered him $25,000 for the property so it could demolish the building, a deal he summarily dismissed.
Henderson sold the building to another local developer in 2016, and plans were announced for the transformation of the Hilltop Arms Apartments into the Hilltop Suites and Spa, a luxury boutique hotel with 80 rooms, a rooftop bar and lounge and 6,000 square feet of meeting and event space. Though construction was slated to begin in 2018 and be completed the following year, to date no visible progress has been made on the still-vacant brick building, which stands as a stark symbol of the once-vibrant downtown area of the state’s capital city.
Sloss Furnaces (Birmingham)
Founded in 1880, the Sloss Furnace Company built the first blast furnace in what would ultimately become Birmingham’s booming iron industry. After its founder retired in 1886, he sold the company to an investor group that reorganized it as the Sloss-Sheffield Steel and Iron Company, and the new conglomerate added eight steam-driven blowers and several new steam boilers over the next several decades.
It would ultimately become one of the world’s largest producers of pig iron, operating seven blast furnaces, 1,500 coke ovens, five coal mines and several other mines and quarries.
The facilities were modernized in the late 1920s, with the original blast furnaces and other equipment replaced with mechanized machinery. The company expanded again during World War II, when demand for iron and steel peaked and nearly half of all working-age individuals in Birmingham were employed in these industries.
In the decades following the end of the war, Birmingham’s severe air pollution was increasingly tied to the iron and steel plants and the coke that fueled them. The passage of the federal Clean Air Act in 1970 put the last nail in the coffin for the Sloss furnaces, and they were shut down and donated to the Alabama State Fair Authority for possible redevelopment as a museum of industry.
However, redevelopment was determined to be unfeasible and plans were put in motion to demolish the furnaces. However, pushback from local preservation groups led to a 1977 vote by residents authorizing a $3.3 million bond to save the historic site. The funds went toward stabilization of the structure, creation of a visitor’s center and the launch of a program for metal artisans. Today, the site hosts concerts, festivals and other events along with metal art workshops and exhibitions, allowing the century-old furnaces to remain an important thread in the fabric of the community.
The Governor’s House Hotel (Montgomery)
This Montgomery luxury hotel was built in 1965 and offered some of the most elaborate accommodations in the state, with 197 guest rooms, almost 20,000 square feet of meeting and event space, the Filibuster Lounge, Rotunda restaurant and an Alabama-shaped outdoor pool. Leaning on its location at the heart of state government, the hotel also offered politicians and lobbyists the opportunity to schmooze on its nine-hole golf course and equestrian facilities.
Over the years, prominent guests at the Governor’s House Hotel included Governors George Wallace and Fob James as well as the cast and crew of the 1990 film The Long Walk Home, including Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek.
By the end of the 21st century, the neighborhood surrounding the hotel had begun to deteriorate, and the hotel itself was showing its age, making it hard to compete with the newer luxury hotels that had sprung up downtown. The Governor’s House changed hands—and brands—several times, and it operated as a Quality Inn & Suites and a Motel 6. Operations ceased around 2010, and despite being put up for auction, has not been maintained or slated for redevelopment.
Multiple fires over the last decade have caused significant damage to the hotel’s interior, and the property is currently in the possession of the Department of Revenue because of unpaid property taxes. The previously posh hotel is now a dilapidated eyesore, with broken-out windows and graffiti marring the exterior, weeds and trash littering the lawn and dozens of homeless people setting up camp inside the building.
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Powell School (Birmingham)
This historic structure once called the Free School was the first public school in Birmingham and is now its oldest surviving school building. The school opened its original four-classroom brick building in 1874, accepting only white students who lived in the city or within a half-mile of the city limits. Ironically, the first families paid a $1.50 annual fee for each child attending the school, but the fee was gradually reduced in subsequent years until it accurately reflected its “free” moniker. Until additional schools were built in 1883, it was the only public school in the city.
When a fire damaged the building in 1886, construction began on a new, larger structure to replace it. When it opened in 1888, it was renamed the Powell School and was considered one of the most modern school buildings in the state. However, by the 1920s, it had become overcrowded and functionally obsolete, lacking a gymnasium, auditorium and sufficient classroom space. When a fire damaged a nearby elementary school in 1941, part of the insurance proceeds were used to expand the Powell School, adding a cafeteria, auditorium and additional classrooms as well as modernizing the lighting and fireproofing the stairwells.
In the 1960s, local leaders considered tearing down the aging structure, but preservation groups argued on its behalf, and instead the brick exterior received a facelift in 1969. When a 1980 structural evaluation indicated potential instabilities, demolition was again discussed, but the Birmingham Historical Society procured a state grant to fund badly-needed repairs.
Declining enrollment led to the Powell School’s ultimate closure in 2002, and despite discussions of renovating the building as a teaching laboratory, adult education center or historical archive, it remained vacant for the next decade.
A 2011 fire on the building’s third floor caused the roof and upper stories to collapse, and when city leaders discovered the Board of Education had not maintained an active insurance policy on the school, the Mayor gave the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation six months to present a viable preservation or redevelopment plan before demolition would proceed. In 2013, the group announced it had identified a developer to convert the historic school into apartments; however, the project has not yet been completed.
Slossfield Community Center (Birmingham)
Like many buildings constructed in early 20th century Birmingham, the Slossfield Community Center was built by one of the city’s major industrial employers—the American Cast Iron Pipe Company—to provide health services for workers and their families. Construction was completed in 1939 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a New Deal agency formed to put millions of unemployed Americans back to work through ambitious public infrastructure projects.
When it opened, the 28-room facility included space for education, recreation and most critically, medical and maternity care. Many of the residents of the surrounding Slossfield neighborhood lived in poorly-constructed housing without indoor plumbing, and the infant mortality rate hovered near 10 percent. Over the next decade, that number would be cut in half in large part due to the care provided at the Slossfield Community Center.
With the passage of the Hill-Burton act in 1946, new federal funding became available to hospitals as long as they didn’t discriminate based on patients’ race, color or national origin and provided sufficient levels of charity care to patients who could not afford medical services. As a result, several new medical facilities opened in Birmingham, including Holy Family Hospital in the nearby Ensley neighborhood, and the clinic at Slossfield closed in 1948. The remainder of the community center followed suit in 1954. The building was used as a storage facility for the Birmingham School District for the next half-century.
In 2008, the center was added to the National Register of Historic Places; it is now owned by the Salvation Army, which has indicated plans to renovate it but has yet to move forward on the project. In the meantime, the facility has been intermittently occupied by the homeless; a decomposed body found in the building in 2019 was believed to be one of these transient residents.
Miracle Deliverance Temple (Birmingham)
This house of worship in Birmingham’s Pratt City neighborhood was built in 1908 for the First Methodist Episcopal Church, one of several variants of the Episcopal denomination that had found roots in Alabama in the 19th century. The elegantly simple design of the church featured a white exterior, a multi-gabled roof and colorful stained-glass windows.
Over the years, the church was home to multiple Methodist congregations that formed when various strains of the faith merged, among them the Methodist Episcopal Church South, the Methodist Protestant Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church. The final merger, which took place in 1968, effectively ended the policy of segregation within the denomination.
Toward the end of the 20th century, the building was sold to the Miracle Deliverance Church of God, a Pentecostal congregation. After the building was severely damaged by a tornado in 2009, the dwindling congregation was unable to raise the funds to make the necessary repairs, and the church building was sold to an investment firm. Another round of devastating tornadoes in 2011 further impacted the building’s already-decaying exterior, and today the church remains vacant and on the verge of collapse.
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Chilton County Training School (Clanton)
As a passion project of former Sears president Julius Rosenwald, the Chilton County Training School for African Americans was built in 1924. It was one of hundreds of schools for black children funded by Rosenwald in the 1920s and 1930s, serving first- through ninth-grade students in the communities of Clanton, Billingsley, Verbena, Ridersville, New Convert, Maplesville and Jemison.
The Chilton County Training School campus expanded in 1940, when the county government added five acres and several new buildings for vocational training and home economics classes. When the original wood building was destroyed by fire in 1949, it was replaced with the building that remains on the site today: an unassuming, flat-roofed concrete block structure with large windows to provide natural light and ventilation during an era when few schools were equipped with central air conditioning.
When the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education effectively eliminated the need for so-called “separate but equal” schools, many facilities designed exclusively for black students were gradually phased out of the education system. The Chilton County Training School was shut down in the late 1960s and subsequently abandoned.
Concerned about the fate of their former institution, a group of the school’s alumni banded together in the early 2000s in an effort to preserve the deteriorating building. It was added to the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage in 2007, and in 2010 the Chilton County Training School Alumni Preservation Association assumed ownership of the property.
The group announced plans to renovate the building and transform the site into a community center and park, but lack of funding has prevented work on the project from moving forward. The dilapidated former school has since been added to the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of “Places in Peril.”
Our Final Thoughts on Abandoned Places in Alabama
Those who are into urban exploration in the Alabama state area, and wanting to explore abandoned places in Alabama, should get comfortable with Alabama trespassing laws. Luckily, in the state of Alabama, the laws are easy to understand and are pretty cut and dry.
For these cases, you should familiarize yourself with x. For more about obtaining permission to explore abandoned places in Alabama, check out our guide Explore Abandoned Buildings: How To Get Permission.