Last weekend for the 4th of July holiday, we journeyed to my hometown of Florence, Alabama to see family and friends, and to visit some of my favorite haunts from childhood. My intention was to share some thoughts about a great little soda and sandwich shop that we always go to when we are there, but something happened as I looked at my hometown with fresh eyes…I saw so much more to share. So this is my postcard to you from Florence…and maybe you’ll just wish you were there, too!
Every small town has their local “institution” as it were, and Trowbridge’s certainly is one of those. Since 1918, kids and their adult counterparts have been coming to downtown Florence to get their Trowbridge’s fix at lunch or after school, with their families and friends, anticipating a hot dog or a sandwich and an ice cream shake, soda or sundae. You walk in the door and are immediately transported back in time because the Trowbridge family, who still run the place, haven’t changed the decor in all it’s many years of business (though it was refurbished out of necessity). Just like in the old days, you wait your turn for a table, booth or a stool at the old-fashioned soda counter, then place your order from the menu board and sip a coke while you wait. Since Florence is still a small southern town in many ways, you nearly always see someone you know and exchange greetings, hugs and some news. Then along comes the food. Although the hot dogs are hard to beat, my current favorite sandwich is the ham salad, and I know of no other place you can get one these days. They bake their own ham every day, grind it and mix it with mayo, pickles and peppers to make a rich spread, served on toast with lettuce…and it is downright delicious! I plan to try and recreate my own version of this, but I already know it won’t taste the same. Nothing is fancy here, just really good and simple southern sandwiches like egg and olive, chicken salad and peanut butter and banana—and oh yes, the hot dogs, which come topped with homemade chili—yum! Of course the main attractions are the milkshakes, sundaes and other ice cream delights including a concoction aptly named the “Oh-My-Gosh” which you’d have to see to believe, all made with Trowbridge’s own signature ice cream. In short, this is a must do and see if you are in Florence, and it’s one of those places that we hope will always be there.
After you leave Trowbridge’s, you’re going to need to walk around some to work off that milkshake, and downtown Florence is a really nice place to do it. Within about 1 1/2 square miles you can see a lot of interesting things, from fine antique stores to music venues, to the local retail shop of the famous clothing designer Billy Reid. Also in the downtown area is the Kennedy-Douglass Center for the Arts, located across the street from the lovely Wilson Park where the art festival “Arts Alive” is held every spring, and on the other side of the park is the huge Florence Public Library, housing it’s own used book store with some great finds. About two blocks north is the campus of the University of North Alabama, where you’ll find two mascot lions in residence at a specially built lion habitat, surrounded by a lovely tree-lined residential historic district. A few blocks to the west is the Frank Lloyd Wright-Rosenbaum House which is open to the public for tours, and the birthplace of W.C. Handy which is the epicenter of the annual W.C. Handy Music Festival at the end of this month, and a little further down the street is another locally famous eating institution in the form of Bunyan’s Bar-B-Q. Just a few short blocks to the south is the Indian Mound Museum, McFarland Park, and the Port of Florence Marina—all located along the mighty Tennessee River, which runs next to the town. And I’ve yet to mention the many local artists and art galleries featuring fine sculptures, paintings, and folk art, a lot of which can be seen during a big art and music street party on the first Friday of each month at an event called “First Fridays”. The renowned clothier Natalie Chanin lives and works her magic here, too, and starting this year you will begin to see huge semi-abstract recycled aluminum sculptures rising along the riverbanks celebrating the area’s music heritage and created by artist Audwin McGee, a Florence native. In fact, it is no wonder the magazine Garden and Gun chose Florence as “Best Art and Design Town” this year…I mean, even the drain covers are little works of art!
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for this area known as the Quad-Cities, which encompasses the communities of Florence, Sheffield, Tuscumbia and Muscle Shoals. Between the four of them you can add to the list of attractions a Robert Trent Jones Golf Course, the world-famous FAME Recording Studios, Helen Keller’s birthplace Ivy Green, the Tennessee Valley Art Museum, Wilson Dam featuring one of the world’s largest lift locks, a Marriott Hotel/Spa/Conference Center with a Water Park and a River Walk, The Coon Dog Cemetery, the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, plus local farmer’s and organic food markets, boating and skiing on pristine lakes, and some of the finest fishing in the south. And honestly, the list goes on and on.
So as you can see from my postcard, my little hometown is actually pretty special. In fact, I’d recommend you visit it the next time you find yourself anywhere near North Alabama and check it out for yourself. You can read more details about the food, the people, the places and the events at these links: Garden and Gun, No’Ala Magazine, Natalie Chanin, W.C. Handy Music Festival, and Kennedy-Douglass Center for the Arts.
And if you do visit Florence, go to Trowbridge’s and have a hot dog and a chocolate shake for me, you hear?