Urban Exploring at Carraway Hospital in Birmingham

Last week, my friends Steven and Wesley and I explored the abandoned Carroway Hospital in Birmingham. With limited “urbexing” experience, I was a bit hesitant to go, considering Steven wanted us to camp atop the roof.

The pictures he showed me of the view, however, made it seem worth it. I don’t mind exploring abandoned places—even alleged haunted ones—provided I’m with other people. Besides, I’ve always had a penchant for getting away with harmless mischief.

About Carraway Hospital

Dr. Charles Carraway started a 16-bed hospital in his town of Pratt City, AL, in 1908. In 1917, he bought the current location on the corner of 16th Ave and 25th St in Birmingham and relocated it. He named it Norwood Hospital after the neighborhood. The hospital later changed its name to Carraway Methodist Hospital.

Dr. Carraway suffered a stroke in 1957 and turned it over to his son Ben, who greatly expanded capacity. The iconic star atop the roof, which used to be blue, was added on Christmas Day, 1958.

Dr. Carraway died in 1963, but his legacy continued as one of the most state-of-the-art hospitals in Alabama. The neighborhood surrounding it, however, declined greatly in the 70s and 80s, even as the hospital put tens of millions of dollars into expansion.

By the early 2000s, finances caught up with it. In 2006, Carraway filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and a year later, it was auctioned to Physicians Medical, LLC. The new owners briefly turned it around. But by the fall of 2008, they couldn’t make payroll and closed it.

The women’s rehab charity The Lovelady Center bought it in 2011 for $6 million. However, local residents opposed a rehab center in their neighborhood. After a local zoning board failed to approve it, The Lovelady Center sold it to a development group in 2018. The new owners plan to turn it into a mixed-use development.

With the hospital’s imminent demolition and transformation in mind, we knew we had limited time to explore it. In fact, the new owners had told Steven over the phone early this year they would start tearing it down in May.

Exploring Carraway’s Ruins

I got to bed late the night before and ended up sleeping till the last minute. So, I didn’t have time to get any coffee. I figured there would be somewhere to stop, or at least a convenience store close to the hospital.

Steven—who was driving,—takes caffeine pills, however. So he pulled over at a Dollar General on the way to pop a couple. I went inside to get a Monster but found none of them were cold.

Much to my disappointment, the neighborhood surrounding Carraway is an urban wasteland as far as quick food or coffee goes. There is one Kentucky Fried Chicken about half a mile away, but otherwise, even crummy gas stations seem few and far between.

We stopped at the KFC, and I got a Mountain Dew. I hate soda, but I needed the caffeine.

We parked across the street from Carraway at a government-housing parking lot.

After all, if you’re going to trespass, go all out!

We left our gear in the car and entered through the front entrance.

“That’s where we’ll sleep,” Steven said, pointing to the building next door.

The complex is huge. I don’t know why I expected it to be any smaller than modern hospitals, considering it just closed down 14 years ago.

Entering Carraway felt like entering a set for The Walking Dead. Vandals had smashed every window in sight and stripped every wire.

Although our flashlights were strong, once we entered the main floor, it was like the darkness enveloped us. In some parts—in broad daylight—seeing six feet ahead would be impossible without a light.

Steven knew what each building used to be and acted as our tour guide. I wasn’t as interested in the history of the buildings and rooms as I was climbing to the top floors for the views.

The hall on the first floor led to an open courtyard. We went into what used to be an auditorium before climbing the stairs to the roof.

To get to the roof, we had to climb through a shattered window, then walk across about 20 feet of glass. Steven and I went across, but Wesley stayed behind. I thought he was afraid of the glass, but as I found out later, it was the height.

The view from the rooftop made the risk of glass going through my Nikes worth it. In the distance, I could see what looked like an EMS station with a few cars parked inside its carport. Nearby, I heard construction workers, probably the same ones we’d seen behind the complex when we drove around it earlier.

On my way back inside, I found wading across glass the second time a bit more stressful.

After leaving the courtyard, we made our way toward the back of the main building, stopping along the way to check out various rooms. The intact curtains and undisturbed ceilings made this section feel eery after seeing other sections gutted of nearly all but concrete.

We went to the back stairwell, passing the elevator shafts. Being a thriller fan, my mind went to different scenes these shafts could be used for. I admit I winced slightly every time I looked down, not knowing what I might see.

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David Moniac: West Point’s First American Indian Graduate

David Moniac graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point in 1822. He was the academy’s first American Indian graduate and the first graduate from the state of Alabama. He lived as a civilian and died a soldier.

Moniac was born in 1802 in present-day Montgomery County, in what was then part of the Mississippi Territory. His mother was Elizabeth Weatherford, sister of William Weatherford, the Upper Creek chief who surrendered to Andrew Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend (1814). 

David’s father, Sam, owned a tavern on the newly-built federal road through Creek territory. During the Creek War (1813–14), Sam served as a scout for the US military.

After the war, David moved to Washington, DC, where he studied under tutor John McLeod to prepare for the entrance exam at West Point. In 1817, David was admitted to the academy. At the time, the academy served primarily to train future military officers and engineers.

In 1821, Moniac marched with his fellow cadets all the way to Boston, where they drilled, and their marching band played. Former President John Quincy Adams had them to his house. Moniac’s commandant, Major William Worth, tried to introduce him to Adams but Moniac didn’t want to, which the commandant told Adams was due to shyness. 

Moniac’s shyness was likely due to his refusal to be made a celebrity and his exhaustion at the constant gawking. Worth told Adams that on more than one occasion, gawkers had mistaken him for the Indian that everyone knew was attending West Point.

Although Moniac had few demerits, he did not perform exceptionally well — likely due to his limited early education. He graduated 39th out of a class of 40 after being held back a year at his request. However, two-thirds of the students who entered the academy when he did failed to graduate. 

His class included five future generals in the US army, two generals in the New Jersey militia, two officers in the Confederate army, three college presidents, and five civil engineers or chief operating officers of railroads.

The army commissioned him as a second lieutenant in the Sixth US Infantry Regiment upon graduation. He promptly resigned, however, because his father had drunk himself to destitution, and his family needed someone to manage its clan’s estate. Continue reading…