Today, Helena is one of the fastest growing municipalities in the state, and has far outgrown even the wildest dreams of its most ardent promoters in the heady days of the 1880s and 1890s. -- From "Helena, Alabama" by Ken Penhale, Martin Everse
Helena, Alabama was born out of Birmingham's metropolitan sprawl that headed south to Hoover and kept on going. With almost 17,000 residents (as of the 2010 U.S. Census), this small city loves itself for a lot of reasons. It brags about being one of the best places to live in Alabama because it has the lowest state crime rate per capita, beautiful scenery, and lots of nice housing options. It just goes to show that a city can be a mere 17.1 square miles in total size and still boast like the big guys. All the statisticians think this city's population will continue growing over the coming decades, so anytime is a good time to move here and become a statistic.
Searching for Tranquility in a Moving Van
When you're ready to move, just head straight south out of Birmingham on I-65 for 14 miles. Get off on County Highway 17 and drive another six miles and, voila! You're there. It should be easy to arrange for professional movers to drop off your stuff (hopefully not in the road) because there is nothing unusual about the trip to Helena. The scenery will change when you leave the interstate because the city is nestled (note that it nestles!) in some gentle, wooded hills, and much of the area is purposefully left undeveloped.
It has one oddity that might affect some moving rates. Helena is situated in two counties - Jefferson and Shelby - and they have different tax rates. Whatever you do, be sure to use a mover that meets Alabama state laws, meaning the company has an Alabama State license and the driver has a USDOT license. Otherwise, if your stuff falls out the back of the truck, you're on your own!
Here is the catch to this bundle of joy called Helena. It is mostly houses, so you need to use an apartment locator if your heart is set on renting a condo, studio or apartment. Sorry, but you might have to look in Alabaster, which is luckily only five miles from the heart of Helena. There is everything imaginable in Pelham, Alabama, too, which is only three miles east of Helena. You can save yourself a lot of headaches by getting professional rental assistance, or you can spend hours and hours trying to find something that is kind of scarce in Helena. Now, if you want to rent a house - no problem.
The Helena area rental rules are pretty standard. Landlords want to know you're not a deadbeat so be prepared to reveal all on a credit report. Don't forget to have a valid driver's license, some references besides your mother (we all know she will lie for you), steady income, and a willingness to part with your money. Normally, you're required to pay the equivalent of one month's rent, an application fee, and a security deposit.
Helena is located (rather, nestled) between I-65 to the east and I-459 to the west. Technically, there are really only two neighborhoods. One is the city center and the other is the rest of Helena. Busy Pelham Parkway is close to the eastern edge of Helena and is lined with a variety of apartment buildings. However, you do have plenty of choices in terms of subdivisions in Helena like the following:
North Helena Road: To get as close as possible to the Cahaba River, you need to rent one of the townhomes or studio apartments on Helena Road while heading north. It is one of the furthest points in the city, but a quick jaunt down Pelham Parkway to the east gets you to the Shelby Medical Center, the Helena Industrial Park, and Alabaster. This is the area closest to Pelham, one that has plenty of housing options, including condominiums for rent and hi rise apartments.
Silver Lakes: It's a community master planned around a few small lakes, and has walking trails, common areas, pavilions and over 400 houses. Finding a house rental should be no problem. If you tend to litter, stay away. The Home Owners Association has a real live compliance officer.
Fieldstone Park: This neighborhood is close to the center of Helena and is one of the older subdivisions. It's right off Highway 17 and south of Coalmont Road. If you like green space and like being close to the action, like the Publix Super Market at Crow's Corner and the local McDonald's, then this is the place for you. Just don't get too wild.
St. Charles Place and Jackson Square: Okay, this is yet another nice neighborhood with a park and real gazebo and yards that have to be maintained or the yard police will come after you. There are several areas built at different times so you can find hopefully find small apartment complexes and houses for rent in the vicinity.
Timberlake: Rent one of the places to live in Helena in this subdivision and find exactly what the name implies - woodlands and a lake. Did you see that coming?
Forget the baby! The Cahaba River and its tributary Buck Creek are the pride and joy of Helena. Both are located in the north end of the city. Humans can't leave anything alone, so Buck Creek was dammed upstream, forming fish stocked Lake Davidson. Nearby Old Town Helena was restored as a specialty shopping district. The Old Town area was once home to a rugged steel mill, an active railroad yard, and coal mines. Now it's filled with dainty specialty shops surrounded by a park with walking trails. Geographically speaking, this is the very end of the Appalachian foothills, which give way to the start of the coastal plain swooping down to the Gulf of Mexico.
A Little Music, a Little Festivity, and a Lot of Outdoors
There's a scenic bridge that crosses Buck Creek, leading into Old Town Helena. Annually, the residents hoot and holler at the Buck Creek Festival. All year long they enjoy activities at the Old Town Amphitheater. There's just something about sitting outside and watching a movie with the stars blinking overhead or taking in a concert with the sun shining down on you. Helenians also spend a lot of time in places like the Joe Tucker Park, with its walking track and lighted tennis courts, and the Helena Sports Complex, which has football, softball and soccer fields.
When it's time to break loose from Helena for a day, it's a very short drive to Oak Mountain State Park or Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park. A meal at The Depot by Buck Creek or at Fox Valley Restaurant can complete a perfectly fine day.
Really, Helena residents kind of deceive themselves. They brag about their tranquil small city living, all the while knowing bustling Hoover, with the giant Galleria mall and traffic-jammed streets, is a mere nine miles north and big city Birmingham is up the road about 20 miles. Okay, let little Helena enjoy the deception! What's the harm?