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Helena, Alabama
"Old Town" Helena during a rare snowfall on January 19, 2008: These buildings date to the late 1800s.
"Old Town" Helena during a rare snowfall on January 19, 2008: These buildings date to the late 1800s.
Location of Helena in Jefferson County and Shelby County, Alabama.
Location of Helena in Jefferson County and Shelby County, Alabama.
Country United States
State Alabama
Counties Shelby, Jefferson
 • Total 22.38 sq mi (57.95 km2)
 • Land 22.06 sq mi (57.13 km2)
 • Water 0.32 sq mi (0.82 km2)
417 ft (127 m)
 • Total 20,914
 • Density 948.18/sq mi (366.09/km2)
Time zone UTC-6 (Central (CST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC-5 (CDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s) 205 & 659
FIPS code 01-34024
GNIS feature ID 0157982

Helena (pronunciation hel-LE-nah) is a city in Jefferson and Shelby counties in the state of Alabama. Helena is considered a suburb of Birmingham and part of the Birmingham-Hoover Metropolitan Area. As of the 2020 census, the population was 19,657.

Helena is highly regarded as a place to live and raise children; Business Week ranked the city as the 13th "Best Place to Raise Your Kids" in 2007. It has the eighth-lowest crime rate per population in the U.S., and the city was ranked in Money magazine's 2007 list of "Best Places to Live: Top 100" in the U.S., placing at number 91. The Alabama League of Municipalities awarded Helena the 2008 Municipal Achievement Award (population 10,001 to 20,000).

Helena initially incorporated in 1877, but reincorporated in 1917 after errors were discovered in the initial incorporation papers. Its population was not recorded separately in the U.S. Census until 1920, reflecting the later date of incorporation.


The community that would become Helena started in 1845 as the town of Cove. In 1856 the town changed its name to Hillsboro, at the same time as a rolling mill was built. This rolling mill would produce arms for the Confederacy and would later be destroyed by Union raiders at the end of the Civil War.

During Reconstruction, railroads would be extended through Helena as part of the post-war development of central Alabama’s mineral resources. The Louisville & Nashville Railroad sent an engineer named Pete Boyle to survey a route south from Birmingham to Montgomery, Alabama. The station established near the town of Hillsboro was named Helena after Boyle’s sweetheart, Helen Lee. After the area around the station developed and encompassed the town of Hillsboro, the community incorporated to become the City of Helena. The City's first mayor was M.H. Williams, a railroad agent.

The steel mill was subsequently reopened and the city flourished during the late 19th century and into the early 20th century with numerous industrial facilities such as steel mills, a cotton gin, a grist mill, coal mines, and a rail yard, along with residences, stores, and hotels. Fire swept through the city in 1895, destroying many structures in the downtown area and along Buck Creek.

Around 1920 the boom ended with the closing of the coal mines and the relocation of the steel mill. The population declined as residents moved in search of jobs. The Great Depression dealt Helena another blow, as did the devastating 1933 tornado which killed 14, injured 150, and destroyed 110 homes.

Helena remained a small town in the largely rural county until suburban growth from Birmingham reached Helena in the late 20th century. Numerous residential and commercial developments spurred improvements in city facilities and services. By the early 21st century, Helena was experiencing large population gains, and growing pains, as a result of its convenient location and high quality of life.


Buck Creek Dam at low water IMG 7408
Buck Creek flows over the dam at Helena, Alabama during Fall low water flow.

Helena is located at 33°16′47″N 86°51′22″W / 33.27972°N 86.85611°W / 33.27972; -86.85611 (33.279715, -86.856060).

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 17.1 square miles (44 km2), of which 17.1 square miles (44 km2) is land and 0.04 square miles (0.10 km2) (0.12%) is water. The Cahaba River and its tributary Buck Creek run through Helena. Buck Creek is dammed upstream of Alabama State Route 261 in the Old Town area to form Lake Davidson which was used for recreation and water wheel power at the turn of the 20th century. Fishing, wading, and canoeing are popular uses of both waterways.

Helena sits at the foothills of the very southern extent of the Appalachian Mountains as they descend into the Gulf of Mexico coastal plain. The area is largely rolling hills with numerous small streams, undeveloped areas are primarily mixed woodlands.


The climate of Helena is typical of the Deep South, with long, hot, humid summers and short, relatively mild winters. Summer high temperatures are commonly in the upper 90s and low 100s F; winter lows are usually in the 20s F. Measurable snowfall is rare, occurring only a few times a decade. Thunderstorms are frequent occurrences during the summer months The Helena area experiences two severe weather peaks, early spring (March–April) and late fall (November), with tornadoes being frequent hazards during both peaks. Hurricanes coming ashore on the northern Gulf coast occasionally reach Helena with tropical storm force winds.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1920 808
1930 549 −32.1%
1940 667 21.5%
1950 421 −36.9%
1960 523 24.2%
1970 1,110 112.2%
1980 2,130 91.9%
1990 3,918 83.9%
2000 10,296 162.8%
2010 16,793 63.1%
2020 20,914 24.5%
U.S. Decennial Census

2020 census

Helena racial composition
Race Num. Perc.
White (non-Hispanic) 15,149 72.43%
Black or African American (non-Hispanic) 3,382 16.17%
Native American 41 0.2%
Asian 327 1.56%
Pacific Islander 12 0.06%
Other/Mixed 987 4.72%
Hispanic or Latino 1,016 4.86%

As of the 2020 United States census, there were 20,914 people, 6,718 households, and 5,119 families residing in the city.

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, 16,793 people, 3,828 households, and 3,043 families resided in the city. The population density was 603.0 people per square mile (232.9/km2). The 3,983 housing units averaged 233.3 per square mile (90.1/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 82.5% White, 13.1% Black or African American, 0.20% Native American, 0.65% Asian, 1.1% Pacific Islander, 0.35% from other races, and 0.52% from two or more races; 3.3% of the population was Hispanic or Latino of any race.

Of the 3,828 households, 43.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 70.2% were married couples living together, 7.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 20.5% were not families; 17.7% of all households were made up of individuals, and 3.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.69 and the average family size was 3.06.

In the city, the population was distributed as 28.7% under the age of 18, 6.0% from 18 to 24, 42.7% from 25 to 44, 17.5% from 45 to 64, and 5.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 31 years. For every 100 females, there were 90.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.6 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $62,908, and for a family was $66,250. Males had a median income of $45,291 versus $32,431 for females. The per capita income for the city was $26,323. About 1.4% of families and 2.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 4.2% of those under age 18 and none of those age 65 or over.

Arts and culture

Helena holds numerous arts and crafts fairs and musical performances throughout the year in public spaces. Helena’s residents also benefit from the multitude of cultural attractions in the greater Birmingham area such as the Birmingham Zoo, Birmingham Museum of Art, McWane Center, and Vulcan statue and park. During 2005, Helena gained nationwide notice as the hometown of singer Bo Bice who was a finalist on the popular Fox program American Idol.

Annual cultural events

Major annual community events largely reflect traditional small town American life and include the Easter Egg Hunt, Buck Creek Festival, 4th of July Picnic, concert and fireworks, Fall Carnival, Spring Fling, and the Christmas Parade.

Museums and other points of interest

Major points of interest include the Cahaba River, Old Town Amphitheater, and the Old Town district which includes the 19th century jail and railroad freight depot as well as commercial structures from the 19th century. The Kenneth R. Penhale Museum opened in October 2011 in the Old Town district.

Parks and recreation

Numerous parks are provided within Helena by the city and Shelby County. These parks feature open green spaces, playground equipment, a fishing pond, and a baseball field complex often used for tournaments as well as recreational leagues. The Helena Sports Complex opened in 2003 and features a community center and spaces for baseball, softball, cheerleading, basketball and soccer. The most popular parks in Helena include Joe Tucker Park and Cahaba Lily Park. The Old Town Helena Amphitheater along the banks of Buck Creek, features a stage and grass seating area where numerous productions are staged, including the popular Summer Sundown Cinemas (free movie) and 4th of July celebration. The Cahaba River and its tributary Buck Creek run through Helena. Buck Creek is dammed upstream of Alabama Highway 261 in the Old Town area to form Lake Davidson. Fishing, wading, and canoeing are popular uses of both waterways.


The local economy is broadly diversified among professional, service, and manufacturing jobs. Many of the residents of Helena commute to work in other communities within the greater Birmingham area. No employer is dominant in the city, and recent economic growth has mainly come in the service industries to support the increased population. Well-known local industries include the Vulcan Materials Company construction aggregate quarry and the Plantation Pipeline depot and tank farm. A developed industrial park includes a wide variety of manufacturers.


Outdoor sports are popular in Helena. Football attracts the most participants and spectators at all levels; golf, basketball, baseball, softball, and soccer are also popular among residents. Some children participate in city-sponsored sports and school-sponsored sports. Others participate in sports at the nearby Pelham YMCA.

Numerous minor-league sports franchises are located in the Greater Birmingham area, within which Helena is located. Local sports venues (in that area) include the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium (Hoover Met), Regions Field in Southside of Birmingham, Legion Field in Birmingham, the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC), and Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds. College sports, which are most popular in Helena, just like the rest of Alabama, use several of these venues. College sports fans in Helena most commonly support the Alabama Crimson Tide, Auburn Tigers, UAB Blazers, and Samford Bulldogs, and many are alumni of those schools.


Public education for students from kindergarten to 12th grade is provided by the Shelby County School System, including Helena Elementary School, Helena Intermediate School, Helena Middle School, and Helena High School. A new high school, to accommodate the increased number of students, was constructed and opened in the fall of the 2014–15 year.



AL 261 Helena IMG 9723
Alabama 261 bridge across Buck Creek in Helena.

Helena is located near two major interstates. I-459, which joins major east-west interstates I-20 and I-59, is located 9 miles to the north; north-south oriented I-65 is 3 miles east of Old Town Helena. AL-261 runs through the heart of Helena and connects the city to neighboring Pelham, where it intersects US-31, located 2 miles east of Old Town. Here it becomes Valleydale Road and continues to its terminus at US-280, ultimately connecting Helena with eastern Hoover.

CSX Transportation provides rail service on two separate lines, the S&NA South subdivision between Birmingham and Montgomery, and the Lineville subdivision between Birmingham and Atlanta, Georgia.

General aviation and private jet services are available at the nearby Bessemer Airport (EKY) about 8 miles north of Old Town. Extensive commercial flights are available at the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (BHM) about 25 miles to the northeast. Intercity rail service is available on the Amtrak Crescent, 19 miles to the north in Birmingham.


Electric service is provided by Alabama Power Company; water, sewage and garbage pick-up by the city; and cable television by Charter Communications.


Numerous medical professionals practice in Helena. The city also benefits from its proximity to Birmingham's extensive medical community, including several major hospitals and University of Alabama at Birmingham medical schools. The closest hospital is Baptist Shelby in Alabaster.

Notable people

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See also

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