"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Alabama Shoals, Part Two: Florence

I am loving Alabama! As I've owned before, I am a Northerner. Every time I come south I'm surprised by how beautiful it is. Many Northerner's like Rick and me have a lot of baggage when it comes to the south and we just have to get over it. We were inundated in school with images of poverty, flat cotton fields, little shacks and other horrors. (Neil Young didn't help.) I offer my apologies. 

Our first stop in Muscle Shoals was the Wilson Dam on the Tennessee River. We looked out across Wilson Lake, read about the TVA and drove across the dam into Florence. The town of Florence is a great example of the lovely towns we've encountered here. It's a college town (University of North Alabama), and so it clearly benefits from the influx of people and money brought by the college. The downtown was about five blocks of interesting shops and restaurants.  But more than that, like other areas of Alabama we've visited, there's a pride of place. People seem to be committed to making their homes and towns beautiful.  Thanks Alabama.

We chose to have lunch at Trowbridge's, a longtime local favorite right out everyone's memory of the good ole' days. Think Andy Griffith.

Ham salad sandwich and ice tea

We sat at the counter. The service was fast and no nonsense, but friendly. The prices were from another decade, and the food itself was too. Remember when lunch looked like this? Small plates, small sandwich, small ice cream sundae.

The counter and the menu

For dessert, Rick had a chocolate ice cream soda, which is really hard to find in this day and age. I had Trowbridge's famous orange pineapple ice cream in a hot fudge sundae. Yum. We both left happy.

Oops! Where'd that cherry go?

Trowbridge's Ice Cream and Sandwich Shop, Court St., Florence

We went looking for the Visitor's Center and found the Frank Lloyd Wright Rosenbaum House. Another one! We didn't choose to take the tour. It looked like the other Usonian homes we've seen, like Kentuck Knob, but maybe more modest. This one is unusual in that it's in a residential neighborhood.  We just stopped long enough to take a few outside pictures.

We finally found the Visitor's Center and what a surprise it was! It was like a high-end museum devoted to all things Florence and the surrounding area. 

Check out the architecture and the floor art representing the river and the shoals that the area is named for.

Lee, the helpful and friendly woman hosting the center that day, directed us on to our next stop, Tom's Wall, or as Tom calls it, The Wichahpi Commemorative Stone Wall.

Rick and Lee at the Florence Visitor's Center

Tom greeted us at his driveway and welcomed us in, inviting us to join him on a few plastic chairs so he could give us a little talk.

Tom Hendrix

He told us the story of his great grandmother, Te-lah-nay, a member of the Yuchi tribe, who along with thousands of other Native Americas was displaced and relocated to Oklahoma during what has come to be called the Trail of Tears.  After arriving there, she made the remarkable choice to turn around and return, walking all the way by herself back to her home on "The Singing River." This wall is his tribute to her brave five year journey, during which she was in constant danger of being caught, returned or killed.

Tom built this wall by himself, placing "a rock for every step she took." He estimates that he's lifted eight million pounds of stone. In some places it's five feet hight and 27 feet wide.

"This is a sacred women's place" says Tom. 

The wall is shaped into sitting areas for individuals and groups at various places along the walk, including one near the entrance shaped like a womb.

People have come from all over the world to see Tom's Wall, and some send back special rocks to add to his wall. Tom seems happy to tell stories about every rock.

Tom and his wife live in a small house next to the wall. He charges no admission but does sell stone sculptures he's created to help cover the cost of moth balls to keep the copper heads away.  Large donations he passes on to a charity for Native Americas girls. 

It was a soulful kind of visit with Tom and his creation. People like Tom who devote their lives to their passion make life more meaningful for everyone. We headed back home on the beautiful Natchez Trace with our hearts warmed.

The Natchez Trace

(Just have to finish with this plaque from the Florence Visitor's Center. I know it's a favorite among full-timers.)


  1. Love the classic lunch!

    What a beautiful way for Tom to memorialize his great grandmother and also her peers who suffered so on the Trail of Tears. Lovely photos of this place.

    1. Trowbridge's even served peanut butter and banana sandwiches! Yeah, Tom was a special person.

  2. What a great place!! So glad you introduced Florence to us. I love the diner...it's been a long time since I've had a ham salad sandwich...yummy!!! The Wall is so impressive. I can only imagine what it would be like to visit with Tom sharing:) Now that is a Visitor Center/Museum not to be missed!

    1. Tom was really mellow yet impassioned about the stories he tells. He's 80 now and doesn't build on the wall anymore. Just does repairs as needed and talks to his guests. The photo of that Visitor Center doesn't show this too well, but the floors shone like silvery fish scales. Really different.

  3. Enjoying your blog, writing and photography. I did get a chuckle when I read about the moth balls. No copperheads here (Portland, OR); I use moth balls to keep the squirrels from nesting in my tool shed and detached garage.

  4. Thanks Jerry! Maybe we need to try moth balls in our RV to prevent another inundation of stink bugs or other critters.


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