See Rock City

See Rock City

Monday, March 2, 2009

Florence, AL

Florence is the largest and principal city of the Metropolitan Statistical Area known as "The Shoals" (which includes Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia metropolitan areas in Colbert and Lauderdale counties). Florence is considered the primary economic hub of northwestern Alabama.

Florence was surveyed for the Cypress Land Company in 1818 by Italian surveyor Ferdinand Sannoner, who named it after Florence, the capital of Tuscany. Florence, Alabama was incorporated in 1826.

Florence is the birthplace of W.C. Handy, the "Father of the Blues," as well as of pioneering record producer Sam Phillips, who discovered Elvis Presley. T.S. Stribling, a 20th-century author and Florence resident, wrote a prose trilogy about the city consisting of The Forge, The Store (which won the Pulitzer Prize), and Unfinished Cathedral. Florence is also the birthplace of world famous tag team champions Reid Ware and Danny Libera, and one-half of The Midnight Express, "Loverboy" Dennis Condrey. Dred Scott also once resided in Florence, where as a slave, he worked as a hostler at the Peter Blow Inn on Tennessee street. A plaque at the former site commemorates his time there. Bobby W. Miller, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Selma, Alabama in 1965, was credited later with ending segregated locker rooms at the Ford Motor Company Die Cast Plant in Sheffield, Alabama, where he was employed from 1962-1974. Miller was shot down twice in Vietnam and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal. Tom York grew up in Florence, graduated from Florence State Teachers' College, now the University of North Alabama, and spent eight years in radio in Florence (WLAY). In 1957, he joined WBRC-TV in Birmingham, Alabama as their sports director. He also originated the Tom York Morning Show (one of America's longest running one-hour local talk shows) on the air for 32 years. He was awarded an Emmy by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 1995.

William Christopher Handy (November 16, 1873 – March 28, 1958) was a blues composer and musician, often known as the "Father of the Blues".

Handy remains among the most influential of American songwriters. Though he was one of many musicians who played the distinctively American form of music known as the blues, he is credited with giving it its contemporary form. While Handy was not the first to publish music in the blues form, he took the blues from a not very well-known regional music style to one of the dominant forces in American music.

Handy was an educated musician who used folk material in his compositions. He was scrupulous in documenting the sources of his works, which frequently combined stylistic influences from several performers. He loved this folk musical form and brought his own transforming touch to it.

Handy was born in Florence, Alabama, to Charles Bernard Handy and Elizabeth Brewer. His father was the pastor of a small church in Guntersville, another small town in northeast central Alabama. Handy wrote in his 1941 autobiography, Father of the Blues, that he was born in the log cabin built by his grandfather William Wise Handy, who became an African Methodist Episcopal minister after emancipation. The log cabin of Handy's birth has been saved and preserved in downtown Florence.

W.C Handy Age 19

Handy was a deeply religious man, whose influences in his musical style were found in the church music he sang and played as a youth, and in the sounds of nature in Florence.

He cited the sounds of nature, such as "whippoorwills, bats and hoot owls and their outlandish noises", the sounds of Cypress Creek washing on the fringes of the woodland, and "the music of every songbird and all the symphonies of their unpremeditated art" as inspiration.

Growing up he apprenticed in carpentry, shoemaking and plastering. He bought his first guitar which he had seen in a local shop window and had secretly saved for by picking berries, nuts and making lye soap, without his parents' permission. His father, dismayed at his actions, asked him, "What possessed you to bring a sinful thing like that into our Christian home?" Ordering Handy to "Take it back where it came from", his father quickly enrolled him in organ lessons. Handy's days as an organ student were short lived, and he moved on to learn the cornet.

Sam Phillips with recording equipment as shown on a display wall inside Sun Studio

Samuel Cornelius Phillips (January 5, 1923 – July 30, 2003), better known as Sam Phillips, was an American record producer who played an important role in the emergence of rock and roll as the major form of popular music in the 1950s. He is most notably attributed with the discovery of Elvis Presley, and is associated with several other noteworthy rhythm and blues and rock and roll stars of the period.

Phillips was a native of Florence, Alabama and a graduate of Coffee High School.

The "Memphis Recording Service" and Sun Records

In the 1940s, Phillips worked as a DJ for Muscle Shoals, Alabama radio station WLAY (AM). According to Phillips, this radio station's "open format" (of broadcasting music from both white and black musicians) would later inspire his work in Memphis.

On January 3, 1950, Phillips opened the "Memphis Recording Service" at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, which also served as the studios for Phillips' own label, Sun Records, through the 1950s. In addition to musical performances, he recorded events such as weddings and funerals, selling the recordings.

Phillips recorded what some—notably music historian Peter Guralnick—consider the first rock and roll record: "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, a band led by 19-year-old Ike Turner, who also wrote the song. The recording was released on the Chess/Checker record label in Chicago, in 1951. From 1950 to 1954Phillips recorded the music of black rhythm and blues artists such as James Cotton, Rufus Thomas, Rosco Gordon, Little Milton, Bobby Blue Bland, and others. Blues legends such as B.B. King and Howlin' Wolf made their first recordings at his studio. In fact, Phillips deemed Howlin' Wolf his greatest discovery and he deemed Elvis Presley his second greatest discovery.

History of the Festival

The Music Preservation Society, Inc., a non-profit organization was formed in 1982, with the mission to preserve, present, and promote the musical heritage of Northwest Alabama. With the help and encouragement of musician and Sheffield native, Willie Ruff, the organization presented the first W.C. Handy Music Festival. That first festival was a long weekend of music, featuring Dizzy Gillespie as the headliner artist. Over the next two decades, the annual celebration has evolved into a ten-day Festival including over 250 events with music at locations throughout northwest Alabama. The Handy Festival has garnered praise and accolades and has become a major music festival in the Southeast. The Handy Festival has been selected as a Top Ten Event in Alabama; a three time Cultural Olympiad Designee by Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games; a Location/Destination on the National Geographic Appalachian Regional Commission's Featured Sites Map; and a Top Twenty event in the Southeast since 1986 by Southeast Tourism Society. The Music Preservation Society, and the W.C. Handy Festival Committee, extends its heartfelt appreciation to the family of William Christopher Handy for its support of the W.C. Handy Music Festival.

Florence is renowned for its annual tourism events, including W.C. Handy Music Festival in the summer, and the Renaissance Faire in the autumn. Landmarks in Florence include the Rosenbaum House, the only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home located in Alabama.

The Rosenbaum House

The Rosenbaum House is a single-family house, designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright and built for Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum in Florence, Alabama. A noted example of his Usonian house concept, it is the only Wright building in Alabama, and is one of only 26 pre-World War II Usonian houses. Wright scholar John Sergeant called it "the purest example of the Usonian."

The living room

In 1938 newlyweds Stanley Rosenbaum (a professor at the University of North Alabama) and his wife Mildred were given a building lot and funds to build a house in Florence, Alabama. Both had read Frank Lloyd Wright's autobiography and a cover story on Wright in Time magazine. The Rosenbaum House was the first of dozens of Wright's Usonian houses based on the 1936 Usonian prototype Jacobs House in Madison, Wisconsin. The house was built on a 2-acre (8,100 m2) plot at 117 Riverview Drive (now 601 Riverview, after renumbering), on the north bank of the Tennessee River. Built in an L-shape, the house is made from natural materials, largely cypress wood, brick, and glass, and features multilevel low-rising steel-cantilevered roofs covering both the living spaces and an adjoining carport. Most of the rooms have their own door to the outside. The center of the house is the "service core", built around a large stone hearth and adjacent to a 100 square foot (9.3 m2) study.

Street-side view of the Rosenbaum House. Two cantilevered roofs can be seen.

The Rosenbaums took up residence in September 1940 and the first photographs of the house were exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City the following month.

The original Usonian floorplan provided 1,540 square feet (143 m2) of living space, but when the Rosenbaums had their fourth child they asked Wright to design an extension to the now cramped house. His modifications, completed in 1948, added a further 1,084 square feet (100 m2) in a second L-shape.

Yard-side view of the Rosenbaum House.

The house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. It remained in the Rosenbaum family until 1999 (when Mildred Rosenbaum moved into a nursing home), longer than any of Wright's other Usonian clients. By this time the house was in poor repair, with extensive water penetration and termite damage. The Rosenbaum family donated the house to the City of Florence and at the same time sold the furniture and contents of the house to the city for $75,000. The city spent a further $600,000 on repairs, using original plans sent by the Wright Foundation at Taliesin West. The city opened the house as a public museum, the Frank Lloyd Wright Rosenbaum House, in 2002. The museum displays some of the original Wright designed furniture, and won the 2004 Wright Spirit Award in the Public Domain from the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. Mildred Rosenbaum was the first recipient of the Wright Spirit Award for her tireless efforts through the Frank Lloyd Wright Rosenbaum House Foundation. In her last five years in residence, which ended in 1998, nearly 5,000 visitors received personal tours conducted by Mrs. Rosenbaum, who died in 2006.

Dining Room

Frank Lloyd Wright-Rosenbaum House
601 Riverview Drive
Florence, AL 35630
(256) 740-8899

The Rosenbaum House is the only Wright-designed structure in Alabama. It was built in 1939-1940 for Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum who were the sole owners and occupants of the house until 1999 when the house was purchased by the City of Florence.

The house is constructed of cypress, glass and brick and has all the hallmarks of Wright's Usonian style...flat multi-level roofs, cantilevered eaves and carports, flowing space, use of natural materials and expanses of glass. Wright designed an addition to the house in 1948, adding two wings.

The house has been meticulously restored. The City of Florence received the 2004 Wright Spirit Award in the Public Domain from the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy for the preservation of this important architectural gem. The house holds its original Wright-designed furniture and is open as a city museum.

Open Tuesday - Saturday, 10 am - 4 pm.
Open Sunday - 1 pm - 4 pm.

Admission Charged

Florence, Alabama native son WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER HANDY (1873-1958)

William Christopher (known as "W.C.") Handy developed his love for music early in life. The following excerpt, taken from his autobiography, tells of a deep and abiding love that started when he was just a boy in Florence, Alabama.

It was his grandmother, who "was the first to suggest that my big ears indicated a talent for music. This thrilled me…When I was no more than ten, I could catalogue almost any sound that came to my ears… I knew the whistle of each of the river boats on the Tennessee… Whenever I heard the song of a bird and the answering call of its mate, I could visualize the notes in scale… All built up within my consciousness as a natural symphony. This was the primitive prelude to the mature melodies now recognized as the blues. Nature was my kindergarten… The trumpet playing of Mr. Claude Seals fired my imagination... Almost immediately I set my heart on owning a trumpet. Since buying one was out of the question, I tried making my own by hollowing a cow horn and cutting the tip into a mouthpiece. The finished product was a useful hunting horn but certainly not a trumpet. I decided to content myself for the time being with the hope of a guitar. Work meant nothing now. It was a means to an end. But saving was slow and painful… Setting my mind on a musical instrument was like falling in love. All the world seemed bright and changed… With a guitar I would be able to express the things I felt in sounds, I grew impatient as my small savings grew. I selected the instrument I wanted and went often to gaze at it loving through the shop window. The days dragged… The name of my ailment was longing, and it was not cured till I finally went to the department store and counted out the money in small coins before the dismayed clerk. A moment later, the shining instrument under my arm, I went out and hurried up Court Street. My heart was a leaf… When I came to the house, I held up the instrument before the eyes of the astonished household. I couldn't speak. I was too full, too overjoyed…"

(from the autobiography entitled "W.C. Handy, Father of the Blues"). Click here to read a biography of W.C. Handy written by Terry Pace, educator and Muscle Shoals music historian.

The type of municipal government is mayor-council. Draft beer became legal in Florence on Saturday, September 1, 2007.


Harrison Plaza, University of North Alabama

Situated in Florence, and founded in 1830 as LaGrange College, the University of North Alabama, a public, co-educational, higher education institution, is Alabama's oldest state-certified university. The University is the largest in north Alabama, with an enrollment topping 7,000 for the first time in 2007. Culturally diverse, international students now comprise roughly 10% of the student population. The University is known for its beautifully landscaped, pedestrian-friendly campus that is situated on 130 acres (0.53 km2) and surrounded by historic neighborhoods. It is located just north of the downtown business district.

Florence City Schools is the organization of the K-12 public school system. Florence High School (grades 10-12) is the main high school, with an enrollment of approximately 1,000 students. It was created by a merge between the previous two city high schools, Coffee High School and Henry A. Bradshaw High School. It is located at the former site of Bradshaw High School. The merger also led to the creation of Florence Middle School (grades 7-8) and the Florence Freshman Center (grade 9), both located at the former Coffee High School campus.

There are five private schools in Florence: Riverhill School (non-parochial Pre K-9, actually located just north of Florence in St. Florian), St. Joseph Regional Catholic School (K-8), Mars Hill Bible School, Shoals Christian School, and Florence Christian Academy. Those are multi-denominational, private K-12 schools.

Culture and Events

The city of Florence is home to several museums, historical sites, and numerous parks to serve the cultural and recreational needs of citizens and tourists. A variety of festivals also occur throughout the year.


The Kennedy-Douglass Center for the Arts is the center for numerous cultural activities, exhibits, and events. The Center showcases artists from around the Southeast, and offers classes and workshops to people of all ages. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and provides administrative offices for Florence's six museums.

The Kennedy-Douglass Center for the Arts
217 East Tuscaloosa Street

The art center functions as a center for cultural activities and is housed in a complex of buildings that are all listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The center serves as an administrative office for all the museums. It is a home base and meeting place for cultural groups, and a showcase and classroom for all arts disciplines.

T he Indian Mound and Museum is the largest of its type in the Tennessee Valley 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 displays Native American artifacts from the Mound and the surrounding area, dating back 10,000 years.

Indian Mound and Museum
South Court Street

The domiciliary mound is the largest on the Tennessee River and was built by mysterious early Indians who discovered Alabama before Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Creek nations inhabited this region. 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.

Pope's Tavern is a renowned historical stop and served as a hospital along the way of many skirmishing Civil War soldiers from both the Union and Confederate armies. It also served time as a stagecoach stop, a tavern, and an inn. The museum houses Civil War artifacts as well as antiques from the 18th and 19th centuries. It is one of Florence's oldest standing structures.

Pope's Tavern Museum
203 Hermitage Drive

Once a stagecoach stop, tavern, and inn where Andrew Jackson stopped overnight en route to the Battle of New Orleans. Pope's Tavern is one of Florence's oldest structures. It served as a hospital for both Confederate and Union forces during the War Between the States. Later home to the Lambeth family, it remained a private residence until purchased by Florence in 1965 to preserve and showcase the city's history. The museum is operated for the purpose of displaying, teaching, and interpreting the cultural history of Florence and the Shoals area.

The W.C. Handy Home and Museum is dedicated to one of Florence's most famous sons. Known as the "Father of the Blues", Handy was born in a log cabin at this site in 1873. The museum contains a collection Handy's personal papers, artifacts, and other items he donated before his death in 1958.

W. C. Handy Home, Museum & Library
620 West College Street.

This restored log cabin was the boyhood home of the famous composer known as the "Father of the Blues." The museum houses a lifetime of memorabilia including his trumpet and the piano on which many of his songs were written, such as "St. Louis Blues" and "Memphis Blues." The museum provides scheduled care for the artifacts associated with the Handy family and William Christopher Handy; and it provides exhibits, educational programs, and research activities about Mr. Handy's life.

The Rosenbaum House, on Riverview Drive, is the only building in the state designed by famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It was built in 1939. The house was the first in the city to have such novelties as a carport and under-floor heating. It is open for tours five days of the week.

Frank Lloyd Wright-Rosenbaum House
601 Riverview Drive

This house is one of the best examples of the Usonian style developed by Mr. Wright and is one of only 26 built in the United States. It is designated as a National Historic Property. It continues as it was designed and built in 1939-1940. It is the only structure in Alabama designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Children's Museum of the Shoals contains exhibits displaying the history, people, and events that make up the Shoals' history. The museum is designed to promote learning in a hands-on environment. The museum offers educational workshops year-round for children of all ages.

The Forks of Cypress was a cotton plantation located in Florence. Its remains can still be seen in the form of 24 Greek columns, as well as the Jackson Family cemetery.

Other Attractions

The Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa, a four-diamond facility, is located adjacent to Wilson Dam. The hotel has three restaurants open to the public. The 360 Grille, 300 feet (91 m) above the ground at the top of the Renaissance Tower, offers a panoramic view of the Shoals - the restaurant rotates in a complete circle once every forty-five minutes. The Shoals Conference Center is also located at the complex. The hotel was built as part of a project that includes two eighteen-hole golf courses in Ford City, in Colbert County. The courses are part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.

Braly Municipal Stadium, on the campus of Florence Middle School, is the home to both the University of North Alabama and Florence High School football teams. The stadium has one of the finest playing surfaces in the country, with the ability to withstand up to six inches (152 mm) of rainfall. Capacity is 14,125. Since 1986, the stadium has been home of the NCAA Division II Football Championship Game. The game is nationally televised and usually takes place the second or third weekend in December.

The Sweetwater Arts and Entertainment District is a proposed redevelopment for the East Florence business district. The plan has designated a mixture of zoning regulations for the area that will allow for the establishment of nightclubs and other entertainment venues. The city envisions a district similar to Beale Street in Memphis that will help draw in tourists and serve citiznes and the students at the University of North Alabama.


A mound on north bank of Tennessee River shows an advanced civilization lived in area some 2,000 years ago.
Florence is county seat of Lauderdale County.

Seven trustees of a newly organized Cypress Land Company issued a charter to establish a town

The company had acquired 5,515.77 acres of land for about $ 15.45 per acre for the town

A first land sale was held in 1818, and a second in 1823.

One Hundred eighty people, including General Andrew Jackson purchased land during the sales

Florence laid out by General John Coffee, hero of the War of 1812.

Town named after Florence, Italy which was built around the River Arno.

The Jackson Military Road was constructed through Florence between 1817 and 1822.

Three hundred workmen improved earlier Indian roads which passed through downtown Florence

The city was one of the first textile centers in this part of the country.

A cotton factory was located on a nearby creek in 1818.

Florence suffered greatly during Civil War.

The town repeatedly changed hands, part of the city was burned, and almost all industry was destroyed.

Population of the town jumped from 1,600 to 6,000 people from 1887 to 1890.

Work began in 1831, on construction of a canal to bypass Muscle Shoals. The attempt failed.

In 1875, an new effort to construct a canal was successful.

On November 10, 1990, a steamboat passed through locks on way from St Louis to Chattanooga.

Canal used until completion of Wilson Dam in 1925.

La Grange College moved from Colbert County to Florence in 1885.

La Grange College evolved to the University of North Alabama.

Florence has provided four Alabama governors: Edward A O'Neal, Emmett O'Neal, Robert M Patton, and Hugh McVay

W C Handy, the Father of the Blues was born at Florence in 1873.

Ashcraft House, 461 North Pine Street, Florence, Lauderdale County, AL

Courtview, 505 North Court Street, University of North Alabam, Florence, Lauderdale County, AL

Fireplace in front Parlor or Living Room

View Of Front Door In Downstairs Hall

Stairway In Hall

Front View From East

Forks of Cypress, Savannah Road (Jackson Road), Florence vicinity, Lauderdale County, AL

Column Caps


Fireplace In Parlor

Hawkins-Sample House, 219 Hermitage Drive, Florence, Lauderdale County, AL

Front View

Rear View

Irvine House, 459 North Court Street, Florence, Lauderdale County, AL

Front View

Rear View

Fireplace In Parlor


Living Room

James Hood House, County Road 14 & Savannah Highway, Florence vicinity, Lauderdale County, AL

Front View

Rear View

Back Porch

Front Doors

Stairway In Hall

Fireplace In Bedroom

Fire Place In Parlor

Lambeth House, 203 Hermitage Drive, Florence, Lauderdale County, AL

Front View

Rear View

Mary McFarland House, 420 South Pine Street, Florence, Lauderdale County, AL

Rear View

Foyer and Stairway

Pocket Doors

Perry House, North Pine & Tuscaloosa Streets, Florence, Lauderdale County, AL

Front View

Rear View

Stairway Toward Front Door

Sweetwater, Sweetwater Avenue & Florence Boulevard, Florence, Lauderdale County, AL

Front View

Rear View

Hall & Stairway

Fireplace In Parlor

Will Simpson House, 112 South Pine Street, Florence, Lauderdale County, AL

Front View

Rear View