In the 1920s the Tuscaloosa’s Forest Lake area was mostly farmland. Paul Jackson remembers those days well. Mr. Jackson has lived in the area for all but ten of those years. He was born in Tuscaloosa in 1919. His family lived in one of the first houses in the area on a then unpaved Hackberry Lane. The small white, frame house was located at what is now Hackberry Lane and 17th Street. In the late 1970s the house was torn down and replaced by a gas station and convenience store that is still located on that spot. Except for the period from 1939 to 1949, when he went away to college, served in World War II, and taught school in Florida, Mr. Jackson has lived all his life in the Forest Lake area. He still lives in the house he built in 1956 on Forest Lake Drive, just south of the lake. When he was a small boy, Mr. Jackson remembers that woods and farmland surrounded the man-made but completely spring-fed lake. It was “out from town,” far to the east of downtown Tuscaloosa, andcalled “Pullen Town.”
Then the geographic center of Tuscaloosa was to the west and north near the intersection of Queen City Avenueand 10th Street(now Paul W. Bryant Drive ). Today the area around Forest Lake is known as the Forest Lake Neighborhood, and it’s in the middle of town, essentially at the geographic center of Tuscaloosa. The Forest Lake Neighborhood is an area bounded by 15th Street on the north, McFarland Boulevard to the east, Hargrove Roadto the south, and Hackberry Lane to the west. There are approximately 33 subdivisions contained within these borders. Many of these subdivisions are small and the area often grew in a hodgepodge fashion. Today it is a mixture of single-family dwellings, small businesses, churches, elementary and middle schools, and student housing. It is conveniently located within a mile of The University of Alabama and for years has been the home of faculty, staff, and students of the University.
Mr. Jackson reports that when he was a boy there were still signs of a dance hall that had once stood on piers in the lake. The lake had at one time been considered something of a resort area that people visited on the weekends. For children growing up in the 1920s and ’30s, it was a perfect place to roam, fish, swim, and hunt. The Forest Lake Baptist Church used the lake for baptisms and Mr. Jackson was baptized in the lake. The Sunday school classes held hot dog and marshmallow roasts on the little island in the lake. “It was a wonderful place to swim,” Mr. Jackson said. “If the whole neighborhood went for a swim, it wouldn’t be but 15 people.”
The area where Wood Manor subdivision now stands was a cattle farm through the 1950s and early ’60s. There was a large house on the land and a smaller house next door. Both houses still stand. From World War II through the 1960s, the Forest Lake Neighborhood became fully developed and by the 1970s it was almost exclusively single-family homes.
Gradually small business developed on parts of the perimeter, particularly on 15th Street, which had grown into a major thoroughfare. For years there was a mixture of small businesses and homes, but by the mid-1990s the homes along 15th Street and in some places on the other border streets had been replaced by small commercial businesses and a few offices.
The neighborhood took a hard hit on April 27, 2011. An F4 tornado tore through Tuscaloosa and devastated the residents and their homes. The neighborhood will take years to look like "Forest" Lake again.
Check out the Christmas tree lighting on WVUA