He’s proud of his work, and he’s proud of the people he serves. Walking back into his market, Steve opens the door to dozens of Shoals’ citizens who come to him for their food. He greets them individually as they walk through his doors.
“Ninety percent of these people I know pretty well,” says Steve. The others he’s sure to get to know. They come for his eggs and his beef, and they come to fill their kitchen tables and their restaurant tables (City Hardware, The Factory, and Billy Reid are just a few of his customers). He gathers an order for the Billy Reid employee Thanksgiving lunch. He serves his community and recognizes that many have served before him.
Peering through the windows of Rivertown Coffee, past the notices for community yoga, CD release parties, and local comic book sales, you can see two men buzzing behind the counter. One is a man with a moustache who had been chatting with his wife and toting his precious, young son alongside at the Alabama Chanin Studio opening the night before. The other is John Cartwright, owner of Rivertown Coffee. If it seems that the men greet each guest as a friend, it is because they are friends. Much like every scene in downtown Florence, people gather discussing events where they’ve mingled together before. Not surprisingly, many faces are familiar. We’ve already seen several of these people in our brief visit to the Shoals. The warmth of the shop is matched by the warmth of the personalities that work and drink there. Ultra-realistic paintings line the walls, customers don Billy Reid oxfords and Alabama Chanin knotted belts, and local musicians sell their CDs on the counter. People here are proud of each other, proud of the work they are doing, and proud of where they come from.
A woman notices a young man wearing a shirt that is screen-printed with Birmingham, Alabama’s old slogan, “It’s nice to have you in Birmingham.” She says to him, “I really do like that shirt. It would be great to have something like that for Florence.” The wheels in her head are turning, and it is obvious that she is brainstorming about creating yet another way for people to show their pride for their great town.
Wright In The Heart Of Alabama
Driving down Riverview Drive, English-style cottages, Tudor homes, and traditional houses line the street. Flanked by these nearly 100-year-old traditional homes is a cognac-colored, L-shaped home on the corner of a two-acre lot. The cantilevered carport draws the eye toward the home, which anyone who passes by knows is something special. This is the Rosenbaum House, one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s dozens of Usonian houses built across the United States.
An Alabama native, Stanley Rosenbaum, and his wife, Mildred, once called this now-iconic house a home. And though the neighbors on the beautiful street shook their heads at the construction of the Rosenbaum home—it was certainly a strange sight to see against the Tennessee River it overlooked—it would be the neighborhood that would eventually save this historic piece of architecture. Over the years, the Rosenbaum home deteriorated and became an eyesore. The city purchased the home and restored it, down to each book and piece of original furnishing, using a special one-cent city sales tax.
The Rosenbaum house was built with local materials; a unique structure born of its locale. Cypress wood and Decatur-made brick transformed this modern design into a true piece of Alabama heritage. Inside the home, the flood of natural light, tinged a Cherokee red by the cypress and the brick, is warming to a structure that might otherwise seem cold. Each room has access to the outside, and at the time of construction had a view to the Tennessee River below. The home is furnished with original pieces, Eames bentwood chairs alongside Wright-original pieces that he designed for the home. Though small in square footage, the home seems spacious and efficient—true of Wright’s nature, designed for purpose and not just for decoration.
Barbara Broach likens the home to an Impressionist painting—the doorways and cutouts and woodwork draw the eye from room to room, like the foot of a small ballerina draws the eye to another corner of a painting by Degas.
Barbara is the head of the City of Florence’s Arts and Museums, and a frequenter of the Rivertown Coffee Shop. “Well hello, again,” she says. “I’ve been thinking about that Birmingham t-shirt all day!” Of course she had, since she’d first seen the shirt at Rivertown Coffee earlier that morning. As the leader of the Rosenbaum House renovation project, Barbara sees the renaissance culture that exists in Florence, a place that some might think has a tendency toward modesty rather than modernism.
Barbara is one of many who actively seek to preserve a continuing legacy in Florence—a storied heritage of art, nature, and community.
The River That Sings
Nearly 20 years before the Frank Lloyd Wright construction was restored and memorialized, Tom Hendrix began a memorial of a different kind. Just outside of Florence, down County Road 8 and just off the Natchez Trace Parkway, Hendrix has built a stone wall around his house; 1.25 miles long and at times up to 30 feet thick. It is not a wall to protect him from danger, but to protect a memory. A fortress to preserve history, to memorialize a woman, and a people, that daily influences not only Tom Hendrix’s life but also the lives of so many in Lauderdale County.
For over 30 years, Tom Hendrix has been constructing by hand, stone by stone, a wall in commemoration of his great-great-grandmother, a member of the Yuchi Native American Tribe that once lived along the Tennessee River in Lauderdale County. Her name was Te-lah-nay, and in 1839, she and her sister were removed from the land and sent to the Indian Nations in Oklahoma. They, and many others, made the journey and carved a path that would later be known as the Trail of Tears.
Tom says that Te-lah-nay listened to all of the rivers in the Indian Nations, and none of them sang to her like the Nun-nuh-sae, the river that sings. So she slipped away one morning after the winter passed and began her five-year trek home. Now, Tom is continuing to honor her legacy and her connection to her home by laying one stone for every step of her journey.
Over 30 years, Tom has built a wall from over 8.5 million pounds of stone. And though this has been a deeply personal journey for Tom, his wife, Doreen, has been his helper and his partner. She’s been his support and his record keeper. She says, “Tom has worn out three trucks, 22 wheel barrows, 2,700 pairs of gloves, three dogs, and one 80-year-old man.”
“It’s a very spiritual place,” he says. “I can’t explain it. No one can explain it in words. You just have to experience it.” Many who visit the wall walk the length of it with arms spread out to the side, as if embracing the essence of the place, the same life-force that called Te-lah-nay home.
￼￼￼And Te-lah-nay longed for that essence of the river each step of the journey. Through tireless days of travel, she followed the siren call of the beautiful river that sings. The River was her mother. It was her sister. And she knew she was nearly home when she could smell the river.
The Shoals area—Florence, Tuscumbia, Muscle Shoals, and Sheffield—is clearly a special place. It shapes, and is shaped by, the people who invest their lives here. Whether the song of the river or the arts of the community or the heritage of its ancestors, the vibrancy of the area is strong and beautiful and is sure to leave a lasting memory with any who have visited.
Regions is proud to be a part of the community of the Shoals, Alabama.