ALABAMA | TUSCUMBIA
First up on our roster of Small Towns is the historic community of Tuscumbia, Alabama. Although first incorporated in 1820, the town was renamed by popular vote to honor a resident Chickasaw chieftain just two years later.
I chose Tuscumbia to represent this state because it encompasses some of my favorite aspects of small towns; it has a rich and preserved local history, a tight-knit community, and small businesses that contribute to its unique personality. All of this in the naturally beautiful Shoals area of the state? Count me in for a visit!
THIS TOWN IN HISTORY: First Railroad on the Frontier
One of the first catalysts of Tuscumbia’s development was the formation of the Tuscumbia Railway Company in 1830. This railroad, combined with the town’s steamboat access on the nearby Tennessee River, put Tuscumbia on the map as a main route from the East to the growing American Frontier.
Though railroads are no longer the national superhighway they once were, Tuscumbia has taken steps to preserve and educate visitors about its background as America’s First Frontier Railroad Town. The local train station built in 1888 has been fully restored and now hosts the Tuscumbia Railroad Depot Museum. Visitors to the museum can see restored train cars, telegraph demonstrations, and trace the history of the railway’s impact on the town.
HOMETOWN HERO: Hellen Keller
Tuscumbia is not only known for its impact on America’s push to the frontier. This small town is also the birthplace of inspiring historic figure Helen Keller. Born on June 27th of 1880, an illness left Helen deaf and blind at only nineteen months old. With the help of her tutor Anne Sullivan, Helen learned to read, write, and sign despite her disabilities.
Before her death at age 87, Helen Keller became an author, lecturer, and passionate disability rights activist, later named “America’s First Lady of Courage.” Her birthplace in Tuscumbia, Ivy Green, is now a museum sanctioned on the National Register of Historic Places. Tuscumbia also annually hosts the Hellen Keller Festival in her honor, which features a production of the Miracle Worker (a play based on Keller’s autobiography), musical performances, and disability-education for non-disabled children.
TO SEE & DO: Alabama Music Hall of Fame
Another must-see on a trip to Tuscumbia is the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. Built in 1990, this museum celebrates Alabamian musicians spanning all genres and periods of music history. The exhibits hall features memorabilia from prominent musicians, as well as documentation on the state’s significant impact on American music. A recent addition to the facility is a fully functional recording studio, where visitors can record their own song with music, backing vocals, and lyrics provided by the museum.
MUST EATS: Rattlesnake Saloon
Last but not least, after seeing all that Tuscumbia has to offer, you’re bound to have worked up an appetite. It’s worth it a trip to the outskirts of town for a stop at “The Watering Hole Under a Rock,” the Rattlesnake Saloon.
I’d be lying if I said this isn’t one of the coolest looking “dive bars” I’ve ever wanted to visit. Between the outdoor seating, which sometimes views the backside of a waterfall (depending on the river and the season) and the mismatched, well-loved interior- I’m not sure where I’d rather sit down to enjoy a cold one. Featuring live entertainment, trivia nights, and other live events (in non-COVID times), this is one spot worth going out of your way to visit. It’s also near a local campground & lodge if you’re looking for a place to rest your head after a long day of exploring.
There you have it, just a few things about Tuscumbia, AL that make this small town worth a day trip. Which of these would you be most interested in visiting on your way through town? Let me know down below- and I’ll see you next Tuesday as we venture to The Last Frontier for our next Small Town Wall!
Happy New Year Ya'll!
"Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing" - Helen Keller
Helen Keller's Birthplace: Ivy Green