Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Florence, Alabama

I received this via my email and enjoyed the article so much I decided to share it here on my blog. We "Florentines" are very proud of our city and we are really proud when the rest of the world finds out what a great place we live in! Enjoy!

sidenote: at Trowbridges I prefer the chicken salad and the fudge ripple ice cream. Trowbridges is close to the Florence Clinic and when my grandmother had a doctors appointment the trip to town wasn't complete without a trip to Trowbridges!

Excerpt From Let Us Now Praise the Back Roads of Alabama
Clay Risen
Photo by Robert Rausch

Four more hours north on Route 43 took us to Florence, one of the Quad Cities of northwestern Alabama along the Tennessee River. Florence is a blast from an idyllic Southern past, innocent and friendly if also slow and out of the way. The tree-shaded streets are lined with well-kept Victorian and Georgian Revival homes. The downtown dining hot spot is still the local lunch counter, Trowbridge's, famous for its egg-and-olive sandwiches and orange-and-pineapple ice cream. The day I was there, scrums of high-schoolers brushed shoulders with local businessmen beneath walls decorated with black-and-white photos of old Florence (which looks strikingly like modern-day Florence).
Not everything is Harper Lee and Fannie Flagg, though. After lunch I walked two blocks to Pickett Place, a stately home that designer Billy Reid converted to his studio and flagship store a few years ago. He is renowned for clothing that blends rural chic with a dollop of urbane edginess, and his work regularly shows up in glossy magazines and in his shops in New York and Dallas. But when he went looking for a comfortable, quiet place to set up his headquarters, his wife, a Florence native, persuaded him to settle in her home town.
A visit to Billy Reid is not your usual shopping experience. Sweaters and slim-fitting oxfords pour out of dresser drawers. Staffers readily offer Cokes or water as you browse; later in the day they switch to bourbon. And if you're lucky, Reid will venture downstairs from his offices to discuss his latest designs. (Unfortunately, he was on a week-long hunting trip when I visited.)
Florence is also home to a small but quirky collection of museums and sights. The Rosenbaum House is Frank Lloyd Wright's only completed project in Alabama and one of the purest examples of his Usonian home design. Both W.C. Handy, known as the Father of the Blues, and Helen Keller were born in the area, and both have small, well-appointed museums in their memory. Handy is also honored every summer by the W.C. Handy Music Festival, which over the years has featured the likes of Dizzie Gillespie, Percy Sledge and Ellis Marsalis.
Just across the Tennessee River in Sheffield sits the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, home of the legendary Swampers, a studio rhythm section whose distinctive sound drew soul, rock and country greats alike, including Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones and Willie Nelson; Lynyrd Skynyrd later immortalized the band in "Sweet Home Alabama":
Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers;
And they've been known to pick a song or two.
Lord they get me off so much.
They pick me up when I'm feeling blue
Now how about you?
Though the working studios have moved, 30-minute tours of the original facilities are still available.
For one final taste of back-roads Alabama, the Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard is just a few miles west of the Quad Cities and well worth a visit. More than 185 certified coon dogs lay buried here, many with elaborate headstones and freshly laid flowers.
Florence lies about an hour west of Huntsville, near the state's border with Tennessee, making for an easy getaway from Alabama. But it's never easy for me. After years being taught to look down on this strange state, I always manage to find something new and exciting along its back roads and byways. Which is why I keep coming back.
Clay Risen is author of "A Nation on Fire: America in the Wake of the King Assassination," published this month by John Wiley and Sons.

(Click here to see entire article http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/23/AR2009012301957.html)

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