My continuing journey in North Alabama led me to discover more history through architecture, waterfalls, shopping and some delicious culinary stops.
The Rosenbaum House
I never knew that Florence was home to the only residence in the Southeast, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Rosenbaum House was the home of Mildred and Stanley Rosenbaum and their four sons. Mildred had a career as a fashion model, and Stanley was an educator. His family owned many of the theaters in the area. The home was donated by the family to the city in 1999, restored in 2000 and opened to the public in 2002.
The Rosenbaum’s bought the land where they wanted to build a house but had difficulty finding an architect. It was local architect Aaron Green who introduced Wright to the Rosenbaum’s. The home was built for the tidy sum of fourteen thousand dollars in 1940.
Wright designed his homes so that people wanted to be outside and to “come in when the sun went down.” That might have been a bit a challenge with the ever-changing Alabama weather. The glass corners of the home represent no boundaries to the outside.
The three-bedroom house does not have a lot of storage, and the bedrooms are small but functional. There are three fireplaces in the home. Everything in the home, including much of the furniture, is made of plywood. Plywood was the latest and greatest construction application in the 1940s.
Wright did make room for Mildred’s piano in the living room of the home. Mildred was terrified to add furniture until Wright had passed. Wright added designs in lighting panels, and each design is unique to his houses.
With the addition of Rosenbaum’s fourth son, Wright agreed to make an addition to the home. The 1948 addition consisted of a kitchen, bedroom, dining area, and mother-in-law suite.
The small Japanese garden is not original to the house and designed by Charles McCauley, who designed Birmingham’s Botanical Gardens.
Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, this unique piece of architecture is a well-treasured part of Frank Lloyd’s Wright’s legacy and understanding of living spaces.
Florence Indian Mound
My visit to the Indian Mound Museum near the Port of Florence had me exploring the forty-three-foot tall mound that occupies seventy-one square feet making it the largest Indian mound in the Tennessee Valley.
The mound was and is a very spiritual place for Native Americans. It is believed to have been constructed in the Late Woodland period some 2000 years ago and was built by one white oak basket full of dirt at a time to form the mound. There is no evidence of burials in the mound and no evidence of structure ever being constructed atop the mound.
There are many artifacts to explore that have been discovered in the surrounding area. Clay pots, arrowheads and mussel shells from the nearby Tennessee River that were used as scrapers can be viewed at the Indian Mound Museum. The preservation of mound is of utmost importance as it serves as a link to Native American history in the area.
Wilson Dam Waterfall
Located next to the Wilson Dam is the Wilson Dam Waterfall. The waterfall is the result of a nearby feeder creek. Numerous icicles surrounded the area on a blustery January day.
Culinary adventures in Florence, Alabama
The conclusion of my first day in Florence, I dined at Ricatoni’s Italian Restaurant in charming downtown Florence. Here you will find some of the best Italian food in town. The special that night was ravioli and was simply delicious. I took a Cannoli back to the hotel for dessert. Yum!
Big Bad Breakfast in the historic district was daunting the next morning. It is located next door to the Stricklin Hotel. This meal was going to be a lot of food. Opting for the kid’s plate was the best idea. The grits were unusual with a hint of jalapeño and their biscuits divine!
Lunch was a taste of Champy’s Fried Chicken and Tamales. Champy’s is a chain that can be found in several cities in the southeast. It was a tasty mid-day treat.
After a second day of enjoying Florence, I dined at Odette in historic downtown Florence. Our waiter was attentive and first-rate. I cannot help but rave about the short ribs I enjoyed that evening. Mouthwatering delicious and every bite, luscious! The dessert of sticky toffee pudding was out of this world. Put this restaurant on the list of must-visit in Florence. It is that good.
The morning of my last day in Florence found me at the breakfast buffet at Swampers in the Marriot Hotel. It was a bit of a dreary day, but the view of Wilson Dam was still striking. At Swampers, you are ]surrounded by photographs of musicians from around the globe who came to record in the Shoals. Breakfast was delicious and warmed me against the January drizzle. The cinnamon rolls were pretty good too!
A quick stop at 100-year-old Trowbridge’s Ice Cream Parlor just before I left Florence meant I enjoyed a scoop of Butter Pecan ice cream and a chicken salad sandwich. Remember, It’s good to eat dessert first.
My two-night stay at the Residence Inn in Florence provided excellent accommodation. I especially appreciated the walk-in shower and the 6 pm food and drink gathering for the guests.
I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Florence and learning about its music and history. Did I mention the food! My thanks to the Florence-Lauderdale County tourism board for the invitation.
On to Decatur, Alabama
About an hour later, I arrived in Decatur, Alabama, and checked into the brand new Residence Inn in Decatur. My arrival was followed by a sumptuous dinner at Simp McGee’s.
My grouper was amazing with drawn butter. And the Derby pie, Yum! Waiter, Brandon, had a long history with Simps. His mother had been a waitress there so he knew what he was going to do. The service was fantastic and the atmosphere was charming on a damp night.
Breakfast at the hotel the next morning was easy and tasty. A drive through the Old Decatur, and Albany’s historic home district was a treat. I’m sure the historic home tour each year is spectacular.
Morgan County Archives
I met John Allison, the archivist at the Morgan County Archives. The building is the site of the former Tennessee Valley Bank. The archive uses the vault of the former bank is where they keep all the irreplaceable documents. Installed in the 1920s, the vault weighs seventeen tons.
The archives had an impressive display on the Scottsboro Boys trial held in 1931. Also on display of interactive displays about World War Two that house many oral histories of veterans.
Sand Hill Crane Migration
A short drive out to the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, Thes noisy, enormous birds migrate through North Alabama each year. There were thousands of them and were certainly a force of nature.
Cook Museum of Natural Science
Heading back into town, we visited the Cook Museum of Natural Science. The museum began in 1968 by John Cook, the founder of Cook’s Pest Control, made his insert collection available to the public. Cook’s 2019 reopening is the result of a 50-year journey. At sixty-two thousand square feet, this is a massive museum.
My first encounter was an exhibit on bees. Mesmerizing! Just watching these workers do their thing. Did you know bees fly in a straight line when returning to the hive? They also do a waggle dance to communicate the location of food to other bees. I learned so much in a short time. The honeycomb that hung from the top of the enclosure was remarkable. It’s not something you see every day.
Here you can walk through a cave, see a coral reef in the fifteen thousand gallon aquarium, and see all sorts of animals up close. I wasn’t so fond of the snakes. This museum will be a real treat for kids.
Carnegie Visual Arts Center
The Carnegie Arts Center was constructed in 1904 as one of the many libraries built by Andrew Carnegie. It was the site of Decatur’s Public library for 70 years. Restored in 2003, the Visual Arts Center features art displays of local artists and traveling exhibitions.
Big Bob Gibson’s
A delicious lunch of brisket at Big Bob Gibson’s was had at Decatur’s own iconic barbeque master. The local eatery began in 1925, and in 1998 Gibson’s Championship Red Sauce was voted Best Red Sauce on the planet by American Royal International Barbecue Sauce Contest.
How lucky to have a world-famous barbeque restaurant in your town. Barbeque fans should not miss this opportunity to indulge in this Alabama favorite.
An hour and a half after leaving Decatur, having now driven across most of the top half of the state, I arrived at Unclaimed Baggage, Scottsboro, Alabama.
Whenever I’m close to Scottsboro, I always stop in because you never know what you will find. This year Unclaimed Baggage will celebrate its 50th year. The lost luggage retailer is one of Alabama’s top tourist attractions and sees more than a million visitors each year.
On March 20 and 21, the one of a kind retailer will unveil its year-long 50 state road trip at the flagship store in Scottsboro, Alabama. March will also see the debut of Unclaimed Baggage’s eCommerce site. I sat down with Brenda Cantrell at the store to hear the details of the upcoming tour.
The 50 state tour
A restored 1965 Chevy pickup truck will leave Scottsboro and head to Washington, D.C. where founder, Doyle Owens purchased his first load of unclaimed baggage from Trailways bus lines in 1970. Then they will head to New York, where the representatives will appear on the Today Show. From there, the tour will encompass some of the many festivals around the county. They plan to appear in all fifty states by next March. They will also be reaching out to their most extreme shoppers throughout the tour.
Brenda told me that Unclaimed Baggage employs about 183 people in both the store and their processing facility. They stock seven thousand items a day. Brenda told me there is “a tremendous amount of fun in it.”
Founder Doyle Owens died in 2016, and his son Bryan now runs the operation.
UCB is a great place to shop because you never know what you will find. Be sure to follow UCB on Facebook for updates on the nationwide tour.
When you have the opportunity to visit Decatur and Florence in North Alabama, you will find plenty of adventures in music, museums, and delicious food.
My thanks to both Florence -Lauderdale County Visitor’s Bureau and the Decatur-Morgan County Visitors Bureau for the opportunity to learn more about my state.