City of Muscle Shoals
The city of Muscle Shoals is just under one hundred years old and is one of Alabama’s fastest growing cities. The population of Muscle Shoals is about 14,000 and the city is known for excellent schools and beautiful neighborhoods. Around the world, the name, Muscle Shoals, means simply, “Music”. Music that has a definite sound, music that rocked the world, music that help greatly shape America’s popular music, music that everyone knows, that makes people from around the world want to visit the area known as the “Hit Recording Capital of the World.”
Before Muscle Shoals became a city, automotive industrialist Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, the inventor of the electric light bulb, visited the area in the 1920s and proposed a major industrial city, tapping the Tennessee River for inexpensive hydro-electric power. Even though the automobile industrial site did not materialize; by 1923, the bright, new city of Muscle Shoals was incorporated.
Today, the city of Muscle Shoals is the commercial center for the region. It is internationally recognized for its recording industry producing the famous “Muscle Shoals Sound” since the 1960s. Annually, tens of thousands of visitors from around the world travel to Muscle Shoals to experience the birthplace of the iconic Muscle Shoals Sound. This “sound” allowed artists to find a groove like they had never experienced elsewhere. The success of the studios during the 1960s and 70s established the area as the “Hit Recording Capital of the World.”
The internationally acclaimed documentary, “Muscle Shoals” released in 2013, told the story of FAME and its’ founder Rick Hall. FAME has been recording and publishing music for over 50 years and releases from FAME have sold over 350 million copies worldwide.
Today, FAME accepts tours at specified times during the week and on Saturdays and by special appointment. Artists still come to record at FAME and music publishing is still completed there.
While in Muscle Shoals, you will also want to visit City Hall to see the music exhibit and the exhibit on Wilson Lock and Dam. Also, check out the music sculpture. This is a great photo opportunity.
City of Sheffield
In March 1820, a map of the town York Bluff was laid out, showing land for sale by the U.S. Land Office in Huntsville, Alabama. Several notable individuals, including Andrew Jackson, purchased land here. Although lots and acreage were sold, no settlement followed.
It was the advantages of river transportation along with other factors that led to the founding of Sheffield in 1884, on the same site. Named after Sheffield, England, it soon became a major iron producing center. Bright furnaces lit the night sky and ornate Victorian and large Craftsman style dwellings were built on wide, tree-lined avenues atop the limestone bluffs overlooking the Tennessee River.
The beauty of the river may still be enjoyed by residents and visitors alike as they visit, shop, and eat in the city of Sheffield, the center of the Shoals area. A marina, Riverfront Park, is located near the downtown area and bass, crappie, and catfish anglers are known to find trophy sized bass and monster catfish when fishing Pickwick Lake. This park boasts about one mile of water frontage as well as a “boundless” playground suitable for special needs and other children. You will also find cycling trails within the park and across a stationary boardwalk over the river, connecting to another park, Whippoorwill, that offers hiking trails and birding.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Sheffield’s Muscle Shoals Sound Studios located at 3614 Jackson Highway and later at 1000 Alabama Avenue, with hundreds of hit recordings that came out of Sheffield. Session musicians who had started at FAME in Muscle Shoals relocated to these studios and played with the Rolling Stones, Bob Segar, Rod Stewart, Paul Simon, the Staples Singers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Dylan, John Prine, Julian Lennon, Glenn Frey, Jimmy Buffett and countless others. Other famous artists like Percy Sledge and many others recorded at several other studios located in Sheffield. Elvis Presley performed several shows in Sheffield at the Recreation Center during the late 1950s, as did many other famous artists of the day. Today, a music sculpture that is an “Elvis tribute” is located in the downtown area and is a great photo opportunity.
Today, both locations of Muscle Shoals Sound Studios are open daily for public tours. The Jackson Highway location is a museum during the day and a working, recording studio in the evenings. The Alabama Avenue location is open as a museum and a concert hall offers scheduled musical and historical events.
The restored Art Deco style Ritz Theatre offers community theatre and a large meeting/entertainment venue, George’s 217, hosts many special events.
Today, the city of Sheffield with a population of about 10,000 is a city that is making a comeback with buildings being renovated and occupied with restaurants and retail establishments, specialty shops and second floor apartments.
Sheffield offers a variety of housing opportunities for their residents. Beautiful large homes are located along the bluff above Pickwick Lake. Many, many historic homes from the Victorian era occupy the downtown area, and several subdivisions offer beautiful homes at affordable prices. The Village, a planned community completed during World War I offers an interesting and beautiful neighborhood of homes in a park like setting.
City of Tuscumbia
The charming city of Tuscumbia was settled in the early 1800s and named for the Chickasaw chief whose band of American Indians lived at the place they called “Cold Water.” The natural beauty of the spectacular waterfall and “Big Spring” bubbling from limestone rocks in Tuscumbia’s Spring Park in the heart of downtown provide a scenic backdrop for the community’s interesting past. A water show, set to lights and music, is performed nightly and amusements are available for children who visit the park – carousel, roller coaster and narrow gauge train.
More than 100 Antebellum buildings along with Alabama’s most historic commercial buildings and the restored Tuscumbia Railway Depot provide a backdrop for an interesting visit. Helen Keller, an international symbol of courage, was born in 1880 in Tuscumbia at her family’s plantation home, Ivy Green. Today, the home is a national shrine and is open for tours daily.
Specialty shops and restaurants dot the downtown landscape as does the historic courthouse located in Tuscumbia. Nearby, an early 1800s mansion, Belle Mont, is available for touring. This mansion is believed to have been influenced by Palladian style architecture for which Thomas Jefferson is known.
Tuscumbia boasts a regional art museum that is open daily and offers rotating exhibits and special events. The Alabama Music Hall of Fame is located just outside the downtown area and is open Tuesday through Saturday for tours. The museum is dedicated to all styles of music from artists and others contributing to the state’s music heritage.
Today, the small town of Tuscumbia boast a population of about 8,000 people who love the quaintness of the town with its many historic homes and churches. Many of these pre-Civil War homes can be found on the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) in the Library of Congress. The historic district within the downtown area plus many beautiful residential subdivisions offer housing to those who wish to make their home in this quaint, beautiful town.
Town of Cherokee
Cherokee was originally part of the Chickasaw Indian Nation.
During a public auction of Chickasaw land in 1836, land was set aside for what would become the Town of Cherokee. A stagecoach road was built through the community in 1839. The Memphis and Charleston Railroad was extended through the community and a post office opened in 1856.
During the Civil War, several skirmishes were fought around Cherokee in 1862 and 1863. Union soldiers camped around the Cherokee railroad station for six days in 1863 and Confederate forces opened a supply depot in the community in 1864. Cherokee was incorporated as a town in 1891.
Today, Cherokee is home to a variety of businesses in the downtown area and along U.S. Highway 72 and several historic homes. An impressive Independence Day Celebration is held here annually, featuring a big fireworks show. Each fall, an annual cotton festival celebrates the role agriculture plays in the town’s economy.
Town of Leighton
Leighton developed at the intersection of Byler Road (1819) and the Tuscumbia-Courtland Stage Road (1820) where the Jefferson/Gregg Tavern served the needs of travelers as early as 1810. Leighton was named for William Leigh, the first merchant and postmaster (1824).
LaGrange College was established 4 miles SW in 1830. The railroad from Tuscumbia to Decatur was completed in 1834 and much cotton was shipped over it. A masonic hall/union church was erected in 1837. After the battle of Town Creek, fought 4 miles east, April 28, 1863, Union Troops burned stores, homes and the college. Leighton was rebuilt and became a thriving commercial center for the surrounding area. The town was incorporated in 1891.
Main Street (County Line Road) divided Colbert and Lawrence counties until 1895 when the boundary was moved to Town Creek.
The weekly Leighton News (1890-1915) was published by F.W. McCormack. By 1910, the town had seven general merchandise stores, three groceries, five cotton buyers, two hotels, a bank, grist mill, doctors, lawyers, undertaker, druggist, livery and Justice of the Peace. The old tavern was moved in 1911 to a spot 75 yards west of this location. Colbert County High School opened in 1910 and served much of the county. Leighton Training School served the black community from 1928-1970. Other historic structures include Dr. Kumpe house (1876), King/Lyle house (1880) Lackey house (1873) Fennel house (1873) and Claude King house (1912).
Percy Sledge was born and raised in Leighton, Alabama, picking cotton in his youth and working as a young adult at the local, county hospital. Sledge became a major recording star, recording many, many major hits, including “When A Man Loves a Woman” at Quin Ivy’s, NorAla Studio in Sheffield, Alabama. A historic marks the location of the studio on 2nd Street in Sheffield.
Town of Littleville
Capt. Benjamin F. Little, a former Confederate soldier, opened a store here after the railroad from Tuscumbia to Russellville was built in 1887. A train station and several homes were soon erected.
A rail spur provided access to nearby iron ore mines. Capt. A.H. Keller owned a sandstone quarry and summer resort called Fern Quarry near Keller Springs just north of town in the 1880s and 1890s. The stone was used in construction of a blast furnace and commercial buildings in Sheffield. In 1917, Jackson Highway (U.S. 43) was constructed along the general route of the old Jackson Military Road.
According to local lore, early settler Hezekiah Tharp’s wife Nancy was a daughter of Chickasaw Chief George Colbert (the county is named for him and his brother Levi). Ligon Springs 1 ½ miles west, was a popular summer resort in the 1870s. The water was advertised as a cure for dropsy, dyspepsia, sore eyes, kidney diseases, etc. By 1910, Littleville had a population of 30. Its merchants were J.D. Bullington, general merchandise; G.W. Hargett, lumber; M.C. Murray, general merchandise; L.O. Breitling, bakery; and C.J. Brockaway, lawyer. The town was incorporated in 1956 and Frank Bullington became the first mayor.
Helen Keller Home
300 N. Commons, West
Tuscumbia, AL 35674
Open: Mon – Sat, 8:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.
The dramatic life and times of the “first lady of courage” Helen Keller are preserved at her birthplace and childhood home, Ivy Green. The plantation home and birthplace cottage dating back to the 1820s are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Original furnishings are on display throughout the home and museum, highlighted by hundreds of Miss Keller’s personal mementos, books, and gifts from her lifetime of travel and lectures for the betterment of the world’s blind and deafblind.
The grounds are remarkably kept by a group of Master Gardeners. Plantings include those that Helen Keller wrote about and talked about in her various books – roses, honeysuckle, daffodils, Ivy, magnolia, figs, assorted herbs.
The plantation home may be toured in its entirety and the birthplace cottage may be toured from the doorways as can the dependency buildings – cook’s bedroom and kitchen, ice house. While there, be sure to walk the grounds to see the various gifts presented to the home from many countries around the world. The original well pump where Miss Keller first spoke the word “w a t e r” is a great spot for that perfect photo. A gift shop provides choices of books and other articles relating to Helen Keller.
The Miracle Worker Play
At Ivy Green, Home Helen Keller
Presented in an outdoor theatre on the grounds each year in June/July
2018 dates are July 8, 9, 15, 16, 22, 23, 29, 30 and July 6, 7, 13, 14.
On the evenings of the Play, home opens at 6:30 p.m. for a walk-through tour; Play begins promptly at 8 p.m.
Every summer, people from around the world come to Tuscumbia to watch William Gibson’s play, “The Miracle Worker” in the outdoor theatre on the grounds of Ivy Green, the home of Helen Keller. The inspiring play dramatizes the efforts of Anne Sullivan to open the world of communication to her deaf and blind student Helen Keller.
The play is Alabama’s “Official Outdoor Drama” and has been recognized numerous times by the Southeast Tourism Society as a Top 20 Event in the Southeast and by the American Bus Association as a Top 100 Event in the United States.
The Miracle Worker Play runs six weeks each summer on Friday and Saturday evenings in June and July. Purchase your tickets by calling the Helen Keller Home at (256) 383-4066.
Belle Mont Mansion
1569 Cook Lane
Tuscumbia, AL 35674
Open: Wed – Sat, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
The source of Belle Mont’s design is shrouded in mystery, but tantalizing clues suggest the direct influence of President Thomas Jefferson, gentleman architect of the early Republic. Characteristics of “Jeffersonian Classicism” are exhibited at Belle Mont, including finely executed brickwork with contrasting woodwork and a hilltop setting. Belle Mont also illustrates Jefferson’s reverence for he neoclassical architecture element and ideas of the Italian Renaissance architect, Andrew Palladio.
Typical of Palladian style, the mansion is a three-part house with a narrow raised pavilion flanked by side wings which project to the rear to embrace a courtyard. The builder of Belle Mont may have been one of the large circle of craftsmen and builders who fell under the influence of Jefferson during the construction of his own home, Monticello, and the nearby Charlottesville campus of the University of Virginia.
Belle Mont was built circa 1828 for Dr. Alexander Mitchell, a native of Virginia. Besides being a physician, Mitchell was an early official of old Franklin County, from which Colbert was formed. He was one of the area’s largest cotton planters, holding 1680 acres and a large number of slaves. The fine craftsmanship of some of these slaves was likely used to construct the mansion. Shortly after the home was completed, Dr. Mitchell put it and surrounding land up for sale and moved to Philadelphia.
Purchased in 1833 by Isaac and Catherine Baker Jones Winston, who migrated from Buckingham County, Virginia, in about 1817, they maintained Belle Mont as one of the showplaces of the region.
Winston was the uncle of Alabama’s first native-born governor, John Anthony Winston, and a cousin of Dolly Madison and Patrick Henry. Another cousin, Isaac Coles who was Jefferson’s close friend, neighbor and private secretary in Albemarle County, Virginia. The Winston family cemetery lies at the northwest border of Tuscumbia in what is now Sheffield. Isaac and Catherine Winston are buried here as are his parents, Captain Anthony and Keziah Winston, his uncles, Major Samuel and Captain Arthur Jones. Captain Anthony Winston, his father, was a Revolutionary War veteran.
The Alabama Historical Commission currently owns Belle Mont Mansion. It is managed and overseen by the Colbert County Historical Landmarks Foundation
Alabama Music Hall of Fame
617 U.S. Highway 72 W
Tuscumbia, AL 35674
Open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Tuesday – Saturday; Closed Sunday and Monday
In 1990, the Alabama Music Hall of Fame opened to the public for tours. Exhibits tout the outstanding accomplishments of music achiever from throughout the state of Alabama.
“Father of the Blues” W.C. Handy, “Father of Rock and Roll” Sam Phillips, “Father of Country Music” Jimmy Rogers, “Father of Muscle Shoals Music” Rick Hall, “Queen of the Blues” Dinah Washington, “Queen of Gospel Music Vestal Goodman, “Legend of Country Music” Hank Williams, and “First Lady of Country Music” Tammy Wynette, are among the prestigious inductees. You’ll experience the story of the state’s contribution to our music heritage through artifacts, photographs and text panes while listening to the varied sounds of Alabama’s music. This museum presents exhibits on more than 1,000 stars, representing all styles of America’s music.
W. C. Handy Home
620 W. College St.
Florence, AL 35630
Open 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., Tuesday – Saturday; Closed Sunday and Monday
William Christopher Handy was born in a small, log cabin in Florence, Alabama on November 16, 1973. Handy became famous for his blue compositions such as “Memphis Blues” & “St. Louis Blues”. He was a musician, and conductor, and author.
The museum houses a collection of memorabilia, musical instruments, personal papers and original sheet music. His famous trumpet and personal piano are just a few of the items on display.
Handy died in New York in 1958. His hometown, Florence, honors him with a week-long W. C. Handy Music Festival every July.
FAME Recording Studio
603 E. Avalon Ave.
Muscle Shoals, AL 35661
Open for tours Monday – Friday, 9 – 10 a.m. and 4 – 5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
FAME was established in 1959, the first successful, professional recording studio in Alabama. Arthur Alexander’s 1961 hit, “You Better Move On,” cut here, launched the famous Muscle Shoals Sound. The internationally acclaimed documentary, “Muscle Shoals” released in 2013, told the story of FAME and its founder, Rick Hall. Releases from FAME have sold over 350 million copies worldwide.
Muscle Shoals Sound (first location)
3614 Jackson Highway
Sheffield, AL 35660
Open for tours daily, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Established in 1969 by a group of former session musicians, this was the location where the Rolling Stones, Cher, Bob Segar, Rod Stewart, Paul Simon, the Staples Singers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and many others created some of the most popular hits of the 1970s.
Cypress Moon Productions (2nd location of Muscle Shoals Sound)
1000 Alabama Avenue
Sheffield, AL 35660
Open for tours: Mon – Fri, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.; Sat, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Muscle Shoals Sound Studio moved here in 1978. For over 25 years, the “Swampers” continued to record hits after moving from their Jackson Highway location. Recording artists included Bob Seger, Bob Dylan, John Prine, Julian Lennon, Glenn Frey of the Eagles, Jimmy Buffett and countless others. In 2005, this complex was purchased by Tonya Holley and was renamed Cypress Moon Studios.
LaGrange College Site Park
1491 LaGrange College Rd.
Leighton, AL 35646
Park is open daily. Welcome Center – Sun, 1 – 4 p.m.
Free, donations welcomed
Alabama’s first college was chartered in 1830 by an act of the Alabama Legislature with an enrollment of 70 students. It was an institution of high order for men and attended chiefly by students from the Southern states. The college was burned on April 28, 1863 during the Civil War by Federal Cavalry commanded by Colonel Florence M. Cornyn under General Granville Dodge.
The enrollment peaked to 139 by 1845. In 1854, the college experienced severe financial problems and the nearby city of Florence offered better financial support to president Richard Rivers so he moved the college to Florence in January 1855. Over 150 graduates received A.B. degrees during its 25-year history.
The move to Florence was controversial with some students remaining at the old campus and the Florence institution was denied permission to use the name LaGrange College.
LaGrange College then became the LaGrange College and Military Academy from 1857-1862. The Academy flourished and it soon became known as the “West Point of the South.” By 1860, it was simply called LaGrange Military Academy and by 1861 the enrollment was almost 200 cadets. During its existence, 259 cadets from nine states attended the Academy.
In 1861, many of the LaGrange cadets left to join the Confederate Army. The Academy was forced to suspend classes on March 1, 1862 after only two cadets had graduated. Major Robertson was authorized to organize the 35th Alabama Infantry Regiment, C.S.A. He was elected colonel and the remaining cadets formed part of one company. The regiment was mustered into the Confederate Army on March 12, 1862 for three years.
On April 28, 1863, the 10th Missouri Cavalry of the Union Army, known as the “destroying angels,” commanded by Colonel Florence M. Cornyn, burned the Military Academy, the nearby LaFayette Female Academy, and many businesses and homes. The village of LaGrange dwindled away.
In 1995, LaGrange Park was transferred from the Alabama Historical Commission to the LaGrange Living Historical Association. Thereafter, the site of Alabama’s first chartered college was enhanced and stands today as a historical landmark. Listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage in 1976.
This site now boasts a pioneer village to include many buildings from the early era of LaGrange, including several log structures, wedding chapel, Bed and Breakfast Inn, Country Store, kitchen, out buildings and picnic facilities. These facilities are rented out for special events and several festivals are held at the site each year.
111 West 3rd St.
Sheffield, AL 35660
Open for community theatre and special events as posted on website
Built in 1927, this former silent movie house was renovated in 1985, preserving the original 1930’s art deco interior. The theatre is now home to a vibrant community, performing arts program. Production and film calendar are available on the website.
Tuscumbia Railway Depot
204 West 5th St.
Tuscumbia, AL 35674
Open: Tues – Fri, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Sat, 10 a.m. – 3p.m.
This 1888 restored passenger depot was utilized by both the Memphis and Charleston and Southern Railway companies. This is the same depot where Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller utilized as they traveled from Boston to Tuscumbia through the years after Helen left Tuscumbia to be taught at Perkins Institute in Boston. Today, it is a museum dedicated to rail memorabilia and the nearby roundhouse is utilized as an event venue.
Old Railroad Bridge
2100 Ashe Blvd.
Sheffield, AL 35660
Access behind the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center, located at 4900 Hatch Blvd., Sheffield.
This pedestrian only bridge is 1580 feet long and 14 feet high and stretches from the south side of Pickwick Lake out into the river. The original pier is still there, circa 1832. The original bridge opened in 1839 as a toll bridge with trains crossing on the upper deck and wagons, pedestrians and livestock crossed over the bottom. The original bridge was burned on April 16, 1862 during the Civil War by President Abraham Lincoln’s brother in law who was a Confederate General. The superstructure was rebuilt in 1903 and still stands. Today, it is used by pedestrians who want to just “take a walk” or who want to enjoy the scenic beauty of the lake or by those attending an event on the old bridge.
Wilson Lock and Dam
3985 Reservation Rd.
Muscle Shoals, AL 35661
Wilson Dam boasts one of the highest single-lift locks in the world. Construction on the dam began during World War I. It first began as a munitions plant to support the War effort. About 100,000 workers were sent in by the U.S. government to build these facilities and planned, residential housing was built to accommodate the people moving in. When the war ended, the facilities were about to be completed but not a single munition had been manufactured at the facilities.
Automobile tycoon Henry Ford and the electric light inventor Thomas Jefferson came to the area, proposing to the U.S. Congress to build a city 75 miles long as an industrial site. They offered $5 million for the site which Congress refused. By 1933, Congress had created the Tennessee Valley Authority thus providing much needed electricity for the entire Tennessee Valley. Today, many boats and barges lock through the dam that is one of seven along the TVA system of lakes.
Natchez Trace Parkway
Stretches 444 miles from Natchez, Mississippi through 33 miles of Alabama and on to Nashville, Tennessee
This beautiful All American Road and National Scenic Byway is a National Park connecting three states and many historic sites. In Alabama, the Colbert Ferry site at Milepost 327 offers a bicycle only campground, restrooms, picnic area, boat launch, fishing, swimming, hiking, and a bounty of green space for walkers.
Indian Mound and Museum
1028 S. Court St.
Florence, AL 35630
Open: Tues – Sat, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
This mid-Woodland period mound would have been constructed from 100 B.C. to around 300 A.D. – long before the Cherokee, Chickasaw and Creek nations inhabited the area.
The 42 foot high quadrilateral mound has a summit measuring 145 x 94 feet. Early settlers in the region found steps on the east side and evidence that the mound had been enclosed by a semi-circular earthen wall.
The museum at the base of the mound contains American Indian artifacts dating back over 12,000 years, arranged in chronological order from Paleo to historic periods.
Frank Lloyd Wright (Rosenbaum House)
601 Riverview Dr.
Florence, AL 35630
Open Tues – Sat, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Sun, 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.
The only Wright-designed house in Alabama, it was built in 1939-40 for Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum who were the sole owners of the house until 1999 when the city of Florence acquired it.
Constructed of cypress, glass and brick, the house has all the hallmarks of Wright’s Usonian design – flat, multi-level roofs, cantilevered eaves and carports, flowing space, use of natural materials and expanses of glass. The house has many pieces of the original Wright designed furniture. Wright designed an addition to the house in 1948 adding two wings.
Rock of Ages (Trail)
18 Historic Churches of Colbert County
Download brochure from this site
The Rock of Ages Trail showcases a collection of cherished churches which are at least 100 years old, providing a glimpse into the spiritual fabric of Colbert County’s early settlement. Strong and righteous men and women founded their churches and built their houses of workshop. Today, their testimony is evident in stone, brick, mortar, and simple clapboard, bearing witness to faith and fortitude. These historic churches are still in use for worship.
We invite you to reflect on the past and to seek quiet inspiration as you tour the historic churches of Colbert County, Alabama.