Natchez Trace, Day 2: Florence to TupeloNeither of us had visited the Shoals area before, so we had a bit of orientation to do last night after our arrival. We learned that 'The Shoals' refers to the four-city area split by the Tennessee River but joined in spirit as one community. Sprawling on the northern bank sits Florence (pop. 39,359), founded in 1818 by an Italian native, who named it for his favorite city in the Old Country. Strategically located at the western end of the treacherous shoals on the Tennessee River, Florence harnessed the river's power to become an early center of textile manufacturing.
|O'Neal Bridge across the Tennessee River and downtown Florence (image from Wikimedia)|
|(map from shoalsunited.com)|
Early in the last century, the Shoals area attracted the attention of two of America's leading industrialists. In 1921, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison visited the area and announced their vision of creating a 75-mile-long metropolis centered around the Shoals. With electrical power supplied by the newly completed Wilson Dam, Ford intended to build a factory that would employ upwards of a million workers. But the federal government rejected Ford's offer to purchase the dam and implemented the Tennessee Valley Authority instead. Locals did vote to incorporate the town of Muscle Shoals as a result of Ford's interest, but as it turns out, most are just as happy not to be living in the "Detroit of the South."
|Corvettes of every vintage were flaunting their powerful engines.|
Founded as Lagrange College in 1830, the university was the first state-chartered institute of higher learning in Alabama. After moving to its current location in 1854, the campus was occupied by both Union and Confederate troops during the Civil War. With a landscape and facilities master plan designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the University of North Alabama's shaded walkways and spacious green lawns give it the appearance of a wealthy estate.
|University of North Alabama|
|Leo III, captive of the University of North Alabama, in his sandbox|
|Friendly and knowledgeable locals staff the museum and proudly share information about their famous native son.|
Before leaving Florence, we were determined to have a look at the 100-ft single lift lock at the Wilson Dam. A search for a letterbox took us to a small "dam overlook park," but there was nothing to see there except a jungle of overgrown weeds hiding a distant section of the river. We tried driving the bridge across the top of the dam but there was no place to pull over, and on either bank, access to the proximity of the lock was strictly prohibited.
|Keep out, dam it!|
|Cooling off in the fountain spray was popular on this hot day.|
|A few miles west, the Natchez Trace Parkway bridge over the Tennessee River is named for General Coffee.|
|The 'front' of the Rosenbaum House with the street in the 'back'|
|Wright-designed furniture in Rosenbaum House|
After a late lunch at the popular Rosie's Cantina downtown, we finally left Florence around 3 p.m., arriving in Tuscumbia just in time for a leisurely visit to the Keller birthplace. Built in the Virginia cottage style by Helen's grandparents, Ivy Green contains much of the original Keller family furniture and hundreds of mementos of Helen Keller's life, including photos, letters, and her original Braille typewriter and library.
|Ivy Green, childhood home of Helen Keller|
Finally at 4:30, we drove back onto the Natchez Trace Parkway, making only a few brief stops for letterboxes and restrooms on this unremarkable section of the road. Two hours later, we exited at MM260 and made our way to a restaurant for dinner and then to our hotel in Tupelo.
More Photos from Today
|University of North Alabama campus|
|University of North Alabama campus|
|Kitchen outbuilding at Ivy Green|
|Even unable to see, Helen Keller learned to write using block letters on paper laid over a grooved board.|
|Replica of statue in U.S. Capitol of 7-year-old Helen features much detail for blind visitors.|
|The stately Colbert County Courthouse in Tuscumbia|