Article & All photos by Robin O’Neal Smith
Florence is a small college town in the northwestern part of the state, with a population of less than 40,000. However, what it lacks in size, it makes up for in charm. Florence is ideal for those who love music, culture, and history. It offers natural beauty, exciting outdoor activities, and a food scene that will leave you craving more. I visited in May, and here are some reasons why you should visit Florence, Alabama. (even if you have no one going to college.)
Southern hospitality is alive and well in Florence, Alabama. The welcoming locals and friendly atmosphere make this town feel like home. From the quaint downtown shops to the delicious local restaurants, you can’t help but feel like you are part of the community.
Florence is an excellent blend of old and new. The town has kept its small-town charm intact while keeping up with modern trends. The city’s historic district is a testament to this, with its antebellum-era homes and beautiful architecture that date back to the early 1800s. Downtown Florence is a treasure trove of architectural wonders, vintage shops, and art galleries. Stroll along the beautiful sidewalks and admire the stunning buildings that feature the Renaissance Revival style, Gothic Revival style, and Art Deco style. Remember to visit the shores of the Tennessee River and enjoy the breathtaking views.
You can visit the Frank Lloyd Wright Rosenbaum House, built in 1929 and an excellent example of Wright’s Usonian style, using simple lines and natural materials that blend perfectly with the surrounding landscape. There are even two houses ordered from the Sears catalog that came in pieces and were then put together.
The University of North Alabama is the centerpiece of Florence’s academic landscape, and it’s a standout institution with excellent programs. Founded in 1830, the university is one of the oldest in Alabama, with an impressive roster of alums, including John Sparkman, a former U.S. Senator, and Billy Reid, a renowned fashion designer.
UNA is a visual feast with well-maintained buildings, gorgeous fountains, and beautiful grounds that will leave you in awe. And get this, the Lion is their mascot, and they have a live Lion on campus near the entrance. Leo was one of the highlights of our visit.
The Creative Scene
The Florence music scene is rich in history and is one of the oldest centers of music in the United States, as it has been home to W.C. Handy, the “father of the blues” for many years.
The area hosts significant music events like The W.C. Handy Music Festival. Named after the famous blues musician, the W.C. Handy Music Festival is a week-long celebration of blues, jazz, and soul music every summer in Florence and the surrounding areas. The festival features performances by local and national musicians and food, arts, and cultural activities. If you are a music lover, this festival is a must-attend event.
Every year, Florence hosts the Billy Reid Shindig, a music and fashion event that attracts visitors nationwide.
The Kennedy-Douglass Center for the Arts, the Ritz Theatre, and the Shoals Theatre are all spectacular venues that showcase Southern musicians’ talents.
The area is known as the birthplace of the Muscle Shoals Sound, a music genre that has influenced some of the most famous artists of the past century, such as Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Visit the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and FAME Recording Studio, both now serve as museums, and learn about the history of this iconic sound.
Music Hall of Fame
A must-see attraction for music lovers is the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, which celebrates the state’s rich music history and showcases memorabilia from famous musicians like Hank Williams and Nat King Cole. You can also see the musical group, Alabama’s tour bus, and more.
Florence is a culinary delight. Restaurants and cafes offering a variety of traditional Southern dishes, such as fried chicken, barbecue, cornbread, and pecan pie, are available. Or try Rosie’s Mexican Cantina, a local favorite for Tex-Mex food.
Civil War History
The Civil War played a significant role in Florence’s history; you can learn more about it at the Pope’s Tavern Museum. A former Civil War hospital now houses exhibits about the war’s impact on the city and the state. I was amazed by the medical equipment that had been preserved.
Remembering Local History
Visit the Florence Indian Mound Museum to learn more about early local history. The mound rises 43 feet and overlooks the Tennessee River area. Climb the steps yourself, wondering how many Indian priests and chiefs mounted them too. The museum holds Alabama’s largest trove of ancient tools, pottery, jewelry, and pipes.
Another historic site is Tom’s Wall. The wall of stone was built by hand by Tom Hendrix in honor of his great-grandmother, who was forced out of the area as part of the Trail of Tears. She hated her new surroundings in Oklahoma and walked the entire way back to Florence to be near the Tennessee River. Visiting Tom’s Wall is an emotional and inspiring experience.
If you enjoy outdoor activities, Florence won’t disappoint. The town is located on the Tennessee River’s banks, offering various water activities, including boating, fishing, and kayaking. The Natchez Trace Parkway is nearby, an excellent spot for hiking and scenic drives. Deibert Park and Wilson Park are two ideal spots to relax and play a variety of sports or to hold a barbecue with friends.
If you’re looking for a beautiful, friendly college town, Florence, Alabama, is an excellent choice. The southern charm, vibrant arts and music scene, and local recreational opportunities make it an exciting place. The city’s rich history and modern amenities create a unique and authentic atmosphere that attracts visitors from all over the country. Whether you’re a student or a visitor, Florence will capture your heart and make you feel right at home.