Florence is a city in and the county seat of Lauderdale County, Alabama, United States, in the northwestern corner of the state.
According to the 2005 Census Bureau estimates, the city's population was 36,721.
Florence is the largest and principal city of the Florence - Muscle Shoals Metropolitan Statistical Area known as "The Shoals" (which includes Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia metropolitan areas in Colbert and Lauderdale counties). Florence is considered the primary economic hub of northwestern Alabama.
Florence was surveyed for the Cypress Land Company in 1818 by Italian surveyor Ferdinand Sannoner, who named it after Florence, the capital of Tuscany. Florence, Alabama was incorporated in 1826.
Florence is the birthplace of W.C. Handy, the "Father of the Blues," as well as of pioneering record producer Sam Phillips, who discovered Elvis Presley. T.S. Stribling, a 20th-century author and Florence resident, wrote a prose trilogy about the city consisting of The Forge, The Store (which won the Pulitzer Prize), and Unfinished Cathedral. Dred Scott also once resided in Florence, where as a slave, he worked as a hostler at the Peter Blow Inn on Tennessee street. A plaque at the former site commemorates his time there. Bobby W. Miller, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Selma, Alabama in 1965, was credited later with ending segregated locker rooms at the Ford Motor Company Die Cast Plant in Sheffield, Alabama, where he was employed from 1962-1974. Miller was shot down twice in Vietnam and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal. Tom York grew up in Florence, graduated from Florence State Teachers' College, now the University of North Alabama, and spent eight years in radio in Florence (WLAY). In 1957, he joined WBRC-TV in Birmingham, Alabama as their sports director. He also originated the Tom York Morning Show (one of America's longest running one-hour local talk shows) on the air for 32 years. He was awarded an Emmy by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 1995.
Florence is renowned for its annual tourism events, including W.C. Handy Music Festival in the summer, and the Renaissance Faire in the autumn. Florentine landmarks include the Rosenbaum House, the only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home located in Alabama.
The type of municipal government is mayor-council. Draft beer became legal in Florence on Saturday, September 1, 2007.
Florence is located at (34.820287, -87.662860).
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Florence has a total area of 25.0 square miles (64.8 km²): 24.9 square miles (64.6 km²) of it is land, and 0.1 square miles (0.3 km²) of it (0.40%) is water. Florence is located on Wilson Lake and Pickwick Lake, bodies of water on the Tennessee River dammed by Wheeler and Wilson Dams. Wheeler Lake was created by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), one of several alphabet agencies of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. Wilson Dam, authorized by President Woodrow Wilson in 1918, was the first dam constructed on the Tennessee River.
As of the census
of 2000, there were 36,264 people, 15,820 households, and 9,555 families residing in the city. The population density
was 1,454.6 people per square mile (561.6/km²). There were 17,707 housing units at an average density of 710.2/sq mi (274.2/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 78.39% White
, 19.20% Black
or African American
, 0.24% Native American
, 0.62% Asian
, 0.03% Pacific Islander
, 0.54% from other races
, and 0.97% from two or more races. 1.34% of the population were Hispanic
of any race.
There were 15,820 households, out of which 25.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them: 43.6% were married couples living together, 14.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 39.6% were non-families. Nearly 33.8% of all households were made up of individuals, and 13.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.20, and the average family size was 2.82.
In the city, the population was spread out with 21.4% under the age of 18, 13.7% from 18 to 24, 25.7% from 25 to 44, 21.7% from 45 to 64, and 17.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females there were 84.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 79.7 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $28,330, and the median income for a family was $40,577. Males had a median income of $34,398 versus $21,385 for females. The per capita income for the city was $19,464. About 14.4% of families and 20.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 25.9% of those under age 18 and 13.3% of those age 65 or over.
Situated in Florence, and founded in 1830 as LaGrange College, the University of North Alabama, a public, co-educational, higher education institution, is Alabama's oldest state-certified university. The University is the largest in north Alabama, with an enrollment topping 7,000 for the first time in 2007. Culturally diverse, international students now comprise roughly 10% of the student population. The University is known for its beautifully landscaped, pedestrian-friendly campus that is situated on 130 acres and surrounded by historic neighborhoods. It is located just north of the downtown business district.
Florence City Schools is the organization of the K-12 public school system. Florence High School (grades 10-12) is the main high school, with an enrollment of approximately 1,000 students. It was created by a merge between the previous two city high schools, Coffee High School and Henry A. Bradshaw High School. It is located at the former site of Bradshaw High School. The merger also led to the creation of Florence Middle School (grades 7-8) and the Florence Freshman Center (grade 9), both located at the former Coffee High School campus. Florence High School Falcons won the 2007 6A Region 8 Championship thanks to Head Coach/Athletic Director, Alvin Briggs and Senior quarterback, Chad Willis.
There are five private schools in Florence: Riverhill School (non-parochial Pre K-9, actually located just north of Florence in St. Florian), St. Joseph Regional Catholic School (K-8), Mars Hill Bible School, Shoals Christian School, and Florence Christian Academy. Those are multi-denominational, private K-12 schools.
Culture and Events
The city of Florence is home to several museums, historical sites, and numerous parks to serve the cultural and recreational needs of citizens and tourists. A variety of festivals also occur throughout the year.
- The Kennedy-Douglass Center for the Arts is the center for numerous cultural activities, exhibits, and events. The Center showcases artists from around the Southeast, and offers classes and workshops to people of all ages. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and provides administrative offices for Florence's six museums.
- The Indian Mound and Museum is the largest of its type in the Tennessee Valley Region. The mound, which measures 310Hx230Wx42D (feet) and named "Wawmanona" was built circa 500 A.D. and is thought to be locale for tribal ceremony and ritual. The museum displays Native American artifacts from the Mound and the surrounding area, dating back 10,000 years.
- Pope's Tavern is a renowned historical stop and served as a hospital along the way of many skirmishing Civil War soldiers from both the Union and Confederate armies. It also served time as a stagecoach stop, a tavern, and an inn. The museum houses Civil War artifacts as well as antiques from the 18th and 19th centuries. It is one of Florence's oldest standing structures.
- The W.C. Handy Home and Museum is dedicated to one of Florence's most famous sons. Known as the "Father of the Blues", Handy was born in a log cabin at this site in 1873. The museum contains a collection Handy's personal papers, artifacts, and other items he donated before his death in 1958.
- The Rosenbaum House, on Riverview Drive, is the only building in the state designed by famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It was built in 1939. The house was the first in the city to have such novelties as a carport and under-floor heating. It is open for tours five days of the week.
- The Children's Museum of the Shoals contains exhibits displaying the history, people, and events that make up the Shoals' history. The museum is designed to promote learning in a hands-on environment. The museum offers educational workshops year-round for children of all ages.
- The Forks of Cypress was a cotton plantation located in Florence. Its remains can still be seen in the form of 24 Greek columns, as well as the Jackson Family cemetery.
- The Sam Phillips Music Celebration was born in January 2005 and has become an annual week long event that takes place the first week in January. The life of Sam Phillips is celebrated with events that include the Sam Phillips Birthday Party, "Conversations on Sam," Sam Jam Concert, Muscle Shoals to Music Row Live and a finale concert. Although Sam is credited for the birth of Rock n' Roll, he also recorded Gospel, Rhythm & Blues, Country & Rockabilly. For more information, contact WQLT/Big River Broadcasting at 256-764-8121.
- The George Lindsey/UNA Film Festival has been ongoing for nine years, and is named in honor of George Lindsey, an actor who is most famous for his character portrayal of "Goober Pyle" on The Andy Griffith Show (television series). Mr. Lindsey is a UNA (then known as Florence State College) graduate. The event takes place in April.
- Arts Alive, in May, was first started in 1986. Artists from around the Southeast gather in Wilson Park for two days to show off their work.
- The Spirit of Freedom Celebration is an annual Fourth of July tradition. Thousands of people gather at McFarland Park starting in the morning, for a day spent listening to a variety of musical acts. The celebration concludes around 10:00 with a huge fireworks display over the Tennessee River.
- The W.C. Handy Music Festival is perhaps Florence's most well-known event. Every year, for a week in late July or early August, musicians from around the country descend upon the Shoals. Area restaurants offer live music most nights, and artists often perform in Wilson Park or along streets downtown. Though the focus was originally on blues and jazz, the musical selection now includes rock, country, gosepl and others. The festival, the largest in the Shoals area, also includes educational events, art shows, athletic competitions, great food, and more.
- Every September, McFarland Park is a resting point for riders in the annual Trail of Tears Commemorative Motorcycle Ride, which terminates in nearby Waterloo. The ride commemorates the final point at which area Cherokee Native Americans were shipped off to Oklahoma and the mid-west by the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
- The Alabama Renaissance Faire is held in Wilson Park during the fourth weekend in October. The festival celebrates Florence's heritage as the "Renaissance City" by recreating the feel of a medieval faire. Activities include arts and crafts, magicians, and musical performances. Festival-goers are also invited to dress in period clothing.
- First Fridays in Florence is a growing arts and music event occuring every First Friday from April through December in Historic Downtown Florence. The nine months of art and music nights began in 2005. Florence, Alabama and its downtown development efforts (including First Fridays events) were featured as a "wise" community in the EPA Smart Growth publication This is Smart Growth
The city has seven major parks, as well as two that are presently under construction.
- Cox Creek Park is home to a children's playground, horsehoe pits, an indoor archery range, and twelve tennis courts. Recent additions have included the new Florence Skate Park, the only skateboard park in the city, and a new stadium for the University of North Alabama softball team. The Florence/Lauderdale Farmer's Market is also located at the park.
- Deibert Park is the city's newest park. A former horse farm belonging to the Deibert family, the park now includes a playground, picnic shelters, and three ponds. The network of walking trails is enjoyed by walkers, joggers, and bikers. The park is the site of the Children's Museum of the Shoals.
- Martin Park is the location for the city swimming facility, at the Royal Avenue Recreation Center. The park is also home to a playground, tennis courts, picnic shelters, and a three-quarter mile jogging trail.
- McFarland Park is also the location of the Florence Harbor and Marina While serving as host to several events throughout the year, the park is also equipped with a playground, numerous picnic shelters, campgrounds, soccer fields, baseball fields, a golf driving range, and lighted walking trails. Situated along Pickwick Lake, the park is also used by fishermen, boaters, and swimmers.
- Veterans Park contains a memorial to the war veterans of Florence and Lauderdale county. Twenty-two campsites, six lighted tennis courts, baseball and softball fields, playgrounds, and picnic shelters are also found at the park. Veterans Park is also home to one of the oldest Disc Golf courses in the state. It was established in 1983.
- Wildwood Park is located adjacent to the University of North Alabama along Cypress Creek. It is the most secluded and serene of the city parks. Picnic tables, nature trails, and bicycle trails can all be found here. The park is also used by swimmers, canoers, and fishermen.
- Wilson Park is located in the heart of downtown, across from the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library. As the "Central Park" of Florence, its grounds are used for numerous festivals and events.
- River Heritage Park is located at the base of the Renaissance Tower and adjacent to the Marriott Shoals Hotel and Conference Center. The park contains scenic overlooks of the Tennessee River and Wilson Dam. Also included are be picnic shelters, a playground, and an interactive fountain.
As of 2007, The Florence Sportplex is currently under construction. It will be located at the corner of Alabama 20 and Gunwaleford Road, and completed in 2008. It will be the home of the majority of youth sports for the city, and include football, soccer, baseball, and softball fields, as well as possibly new tennis courts, walking trails, and picnic shelters.
- The Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa, a four-diamond facility, is located adjacent to Wilson Dam. The hotel has three restaurants open to the public. The 360 Grille, 300 feet above the ground at the top of the Renaissance Tower, offers a panoramic view of the Shoals - the restaurant rotates in a complete circle once every forty-five minutes. The Shoals Conference Center is also located at the complex. The hotel was built as part of a project that includes two eighteen-hole golf courses in Ford City, in Colbert County. The courses are part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.
- Braly Municipal Stadium, on the campus of Florence Middle School, is the home to both the University of North Alabama and Florence High School football teams. The stadium has one of the finest playing surfaces in the country, with the ability to withstand up to six inches of rainfall. Capacity is 14,125. Since 1986, the stadium has been home of the NCAA Division II Football Championship Game The game is nationally televised and usually takes place the second or third weekend in December.
- The Sweetwater Arts and Entertainment District is a proposed redevelopment for the East Florence business district. The plan has designated a mixture of zoning regulations for the area that will allow for the establishment of nightclubs and other entertainment venues. The city envisions a district similar to Beale Street in Memphis that will help draw in tourists and serve citiznes and the students at the University of North Alabama.
Florence is the merger point for two major U.S. Highways, as well as several Alabama Highways. Both U.S. Highway 43 and U.S. Highway 72 merge just west of the city limits in Killen, and are co-signed their entire length through the city. Highway 43, running north and south, helps connect the city to Lawrenceburg and Columbia to the north in Tennessee, as well as Tuscaloosa and Mobile to the south. Highway 72 helps connect the city to Huntsville and Chattanooga, Tennessee to the east and Memphis, Tennessee to the west. Interstate 65 is accessible about forty-five minutes east on Highway 72. Both of these roads cross the Tenneessee River on O'Neal Bridge, connecting Florence to Sheffield.
Alabama state highways that serve the city include Alabama 13, Alabama 17, Alabama 20, Alabama 133, and Alabama 157. Alabama 133 connected Florence and Muscle Shoals via Wilson Dam until 2002, when the new six-lane "Patton Island Bridge" (the unofficial, but locally accepted name) finished construction. The bridge is part of a new corridor that will eventually see the widening of Wilson Dam Road in Muscle Shoals to Alabama 20, and the construction of a new road from the bridge to Florence Blvd. in Florence. Alabama 157 is also an important road to Florence and the Shoals area, serving as a four-lane link to Interstate 65 in Cullman. After many years of political campaigning by local leaders to have the four-laning of the road completed, the project wrapped up in the summer of 2007. The road is known as the "University of North Alabama Highway".
Florence and the Shoals area does not have a direct link to an Interstate highway at the present time. One solution discussed over the years has been the "Memphis to Atlanta Highway", proposed to connect the two cities via a freeway through north Alabama. However, in recent years Mississippi has concentrated its funding on U.S. 78 (future Interstate 22), also known as "Corridor X". Though U.S. 72 through Mississippi is four lanes, there are no plans to upgrade it to freeway status. Meanwhile, the state of Georgia has also not committed to the necessary work to connect the freeway from the Alabama state line to Atlanta. The highway remains in the planning stages with the Alabama Department of Transportation.
Another plan recently discussed is extending Interstate 565 west from its current terminus just outside of Decatur, perhaps along Alabama 20/Alternate U.S. 72. The plan has received some support from Decatur officials, some of whom would like to see the Interstate eventually extend west of Decatur and at least into Lawrence County.
For air transportation, Florence is served by the Northwest Alabama Regional Airport in Muscle Shoals. The airport is mostly used for general aviation, but daily flights to Memphis are also offered by Mesaba Airlines- a Northwest Airlink carrier. Huntsville International Airport, offering service to eleven domestic destinations, is about an hours drive from Florence.
Local industry is also served by the Tennessee Southern Railroad, which runs from Florence to Columbia, Tennessee, and the Port of Florence on Pickwick Lake.
Florence is served by the TimesDaily newspaper. It is a daily paper containing local,state, and national news and sports, as well as classified ads. The paper is owned by The New York Times Company.
The Courier Journal is distributed in Florence and the surrounding areas. It is locally owned and contains low-cost ads for personal property, real estate, and local job opportunities. It also has brief articles of local interest as well as editorials and the nationally syndicated "Dave Says" financial advice from guru Dave Ramsey.