Thursday, July 30, 2009

Historic Walnut Street

Holiday block party brings back fond memories for residents

Thaisi Da Silva/TimesDaily
Jenny Ozbirn and her 3-year-old daughter, Gracie, share a kiss Thursday night during a block party in the Walnut District in downtown Florence.

By Brian Hughes
Staff Writer
Friday, July 3, 2009 at 3:30 a.m.

FLORENCE - Mason Ingram, spry at 88 years old, took in a block party Thursday, reminiscing on the street he lived on as a boy back in the 1920s.

Scanning over Walnut Street, now part of a historic district in downtown Florence, he pointed to the bungalow he lived in for 17 years before joining the military.

"The children who live here now, they don't realize that when I was their age I took my cow to school," he said of the former Coffee High School. "I would leave it outside and it would cut the grass."

Flash forward seven decades, and it's apparent why Ingram proclaimed, "My, how things have changed."

The first sign? The artificial snow machine that spit out white flurries behind him as he spoke about his days spent there during the Great Depression.

But that's what the organizers of this block party wanted - a tribute to the history of the street and appreciation of its evolution.

When Billy Ray Warren, a Florence historian and Walnut Street resident, moved here in 1971, there was only one child on the street. Now, there are 22.

"There was a 50-year gap in the time it took to build this neighborhood," he said, standing in front of a cornucopia of American flags. "Because of that, there's a lot of diversity in the homes and makeup of the neighborhood."

That diversity was on full display this pre-holiday night.

A few children rode tricycles less than a football field's distance from an old shuffleboard court recently discovered by the neighborhood. Back then, kids weren't allowed to play there, said Walnut resident Jimmy Hill, who co-wrote a book with Warren about the history of the street.

In a way, the Walnut Historic District looked like a mini-city, as police barricades blocked off the party from incoming traffic.

Lisa Beumer, another home owner there, said they paid a $10 fee for the permit.

"They used to have these Fourth parties all the time but they stopped having them a while back," she said over the phone. "A few years ago, we started it back up again as a way for everyone to come together."

Ingram approved of the move.

"It looks great," he said. "It's certainly different, but it's amazing what they've also been able to preserve here."

Brian Hughes can be reached at 740-5720 or

20 Things Every Shoals Resident Should Do, See

Visiting University of North Alabama mascots Leo III and Una made the list of 20 things every Shoals resident should experience.

By Bernie Delinski
Staff Writer
July 6, 2009 at 3:30 a.m.

They're all around us: Pieces of history and parcels of fun.

Heart-tugging scenes, breathtaking views, lip-smacking treats and quirk-filled traditions are part of the Shoals.

They are what make us unique - and bring tourists to the area.

Yet, many of us live here our entire lives and pass up chances to experience these opportunities.

Killen resident Justus Cole said he and his family have gone to many local attractions but still have more to see.

"I don't think we've been to Helen Keller's home or saw 'The Miracle Worker' play," Cole said. "We intend to do that some day.

"In most cases, you take for granted where you're at and tend not to appreciate your home. I think that's true of pretty much anywhere people live," Cole said.

Muscle Shoals resident Jewell Howell said her grandchildren enjoy playing at Spring Park in Tuscumbia, and she enjoys W.C. Handy Music Festival events. She's seen a lot of local attractions but wants to see the Indian Mound in Florence - a place she's never visited.

"A lot of people are like me; maybe they never have the time to go to these places," Howell said. "There's a lot of tourist places right here in this area."

Debbie Wilson, director of the Florence-Lauderdale Tourism Office, has heard residents comment on area attractions they see for the first time when they take visiting relatives there.

"A lot of people don't know what's in their own backyard," Wilson said. "You hear, 'Oh, I didn't know this had that. I've been meaning to go here all these years.' "

With that in mind, here are 20 things we recommend every Shoals resident experience before they die:

1. Get a close-up look at Wilson Dam by locking through the structure.

2. Touch a miracle by feeling the water pump at Ivy Green in Tuscumbia that enlightened Helen Keller to the world of communication. If the season is right, you can experience a re-creation of that miracle during the summer production of "The Miracle Worker."

3. See the trumpet at W.C. Handy's Home in Florence, which was one of the instruments Handy used to earn the nickname "The Father of the Blues."

4. Imagine the horrific scene where countless brave, mortally wounded Confederate and Union soldiers died at a hospital and stagecoach stop that today is the historic Pope's Tavern Museum in Florence.

5. Slowly circle around and get a 360-degree bird's-eye view of the Shoals without leaving your seat atop the Renaissance Tower in Florence.

6. Sip on a milk shake at the Palace Ice Cream and Sandwich Shop in Tuscumbia.

7. Enjoy the scenic route along Waterloo Road, ultimately ending up in the beautiful town of Waterloo. You can even make a turn along the way onto the Natchez Trace Bridge.

8. Attend a funeral - or at least read the clever and heartwarming inscriptions on the tombstones - at the Coon Dog Cemetery in Colbert County.

9. Purchase something you can't find anywhere else at a local shop in one of the Shoals' historic downtowns.

10. Read the autographs from legendary musicians on the bathroom door at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. For that matter, check out FAME and other area music studios where world-famous performers have recorded.

11. Got a pair of shoes you don't need? Travel along U.S. 72 to Cherokee, where you'll find the "Shoe Tree." Nobody is certain how it started, but it's a tradition to toss a pair of shoes in the tree. Occasionally, people in need of shoes even pick off a pair.

12. Record a song at an authentic music studio at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

13. Visit Leo III and Una, the live lion mascots at the University of North Alabama in Florence.

14. Marvel at the craftsmanship of our earliest residents by checking out arrowheads at the Indian Mound and Museum in Florence.

15. Enjoy a sandwich and dessert at Trowbridge's Ice Cream and Sandwich Bar in downtown Florence.

16. Grab a rod and reel and experience the thrill of landing a bass at Pickwick Lake, the "Smallmouth Bass Capital of the World."

17. Ride the small train and check out the waterfall and evening water show at Spring Park in Tuscumbia.

18. Take in the view from the 18th hole of the "Fighting Joe," one of a set of twin 18-hole Robert Trent Jones golf courses in Colbert County.

19. Enjoy a dinner cruise along the Tennessee River aboard one of the Shoals' newest members, the Pickwick Belle steamboat.

20. Walk alongside the Tom Hendrix Wall in Lauderdale County, built by Hendrix as a monument to his great-great-grandmother, a Yuchi Indian who was among American Indians forced to leave for an Oklahoma reservation when she was 14.

Bernie Delinski can be reached at 740-5739 or

The Map

Sannoner’s Vision Preserved in Granite

On any given day Downtown Florence can be seen bustling with life. The many stores and events paired with the energy of UNA college life give the area a vibrant flow of activity. This is due in large part to the work of Florence Main Street.

Main Street organizations were funded across the country by grants approximately two decades ago. Their purpose? To bring interest back to the downtown area and help the community to thrive, which is exactly what Ms. Hester Cope dedicated her time and energy to from 1992-2007.

On July 17 Florence Main Street presented a piece of art to the people of Florence in honor of Cope’s commendable service. The art was a 4’ x 6’ granite map of Florence copied from a drawing rendered by Ferdinand Sannoner in 1852. The granite copy was commissioned by the Design Committee of Florence Main Street and retains the original spellings, which differ somewhat from the current spellings.

Said Shaler Roberts,“We celebrate the day that we can never lose the last copy of this map.”

The granite map cost an astonishing $8,000 to re-create. The money for this historic artwork, which is now embedded in the sidewalk on the corner of Tennessee and Court Streets, was raised through the sale of the annual Downtown Florence Historic Homes Calendar.

“At five dollars a throw, (per calendar) it takes awhile to present the kind of art we want to present,” said Billy Warren, President of Florence Main Street, at the presentation.

The hard work and dedication that went into the creation and placement of the map is a direct result of the team work demonstrated inside of the Florence Main Street organization. Every speaker at the presentation–including Warren, current Director of Florence Main Street, Ashley Winkle, Kevin Jangaard, Roberts, John Harris and Hester Cope herself–gave credit for the astounding piece to other members of the team.

“Everyone involved in this did it with love,” said Jangaard.
Cope was the name in every speech, however brief. She was repeatedly thanked, honored and applauded.

“This is a unique occasion and such a great idea,” said Mayor Bobby Irons. ”I really want to thank the Design Committee, and thank you, Hester, for what you’ve done for our city.”

“She is beautiful. She is strong. She is immoveable,” Roberts said, warranting a round of appreciative applause.

As she stood before the crowd with her grandson and granddaughter, Cope praised the map and the layout of downtown Florence, from the wide, four-laned roads to the abundant parallel parking spaces available, and thanked the members of the committee, “I cannot say thank you enough to them,” she said. “It was my privilege to work with Main Street. You do not need to thank me - I thank God every day.”

Indian Mound and Museum

South Court Street
Florence, AL 35630

The Indian Mound and Museum is the largest domiciliary mound in the Tennessee Valley Region and was built by mysterious early Indians who discovered Alabama before Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Creek nations inhabited this region. The mound, which measures 310Hx230Wx42D (feet) and named "Wawmanona" was built circa 500 A.D. and is thought to be locale for tribal ceremony and ritual.

The museum houses many fascinating Native American artifacts dating back 10,000 years. The museum is operated for the purpose of showing, teaching, and interpreting the cultural and natural history of the native Americans who inhabited this area within a 200-mile radius of Florence.