Tag Archives: The Shoals

TREND VS. SUCCESSION

TRENDS VS. SUCCESSION

”From a scientific point of view, it can be said he [Thoreau] documented for the first time how ecological succession works … The mechanism was animals and weather. Squirrels carry acorns so oak trees replace pine when the pines are cut down. And pine seeds blow over to replace the oak.” – Richard T. Forman

I started writing this piece about two weeks ago. I was talking about succession over trend with a colleague and she asked me to put down my thoughts about how that worked. And so I started…and as I was writing, the question of trend began to appear in the press and this story seems on one hand less important and on the other hand more important. I’ll let you be the judge. In any case, thank you for coming here. Thank you for reading:

There is a small stop at milepost 330.2 on the Natchez Trace Parkway called Rock Spring Nature Trail. I’ve been going to this spot on the Natchez Trace since I was a little girl. Perk, my maternal grandfather, used to take me (and all of the cousins) there en route to Colbert Ferry park on the “other side” of the Tennessee River from our home. From there, we would launch his small fishing boat and run the trotline of baited hooks for catfish (more on this boat and Perk’s trotline coming soon).

Rock Spring is a natural aquifer that merges with Colbert Creek where this nature trail now stands. The creek is a small, meandering stream of rare beauty (see the photo above)—named after George Colbert—who ran the Ferry that crossed the Tennessee River along the Trace before the days of a bridge.

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TRAVEL: STAGGS DINER

TRAVEL: STAGG'S DINER

“It is scientifically impossible to leave here unsatisfied.”
-Staggs’s Customer Taylor Smith

Less than five short miles from The Factory is a diner so well known in the Shoals community, locals simply call is “Staggs”—no elaboration is necessary. It is a place where social and economic barriers are ignored or discarded; everyone eats at Staggs, from mayor to millworker.

Staggs Grocery is located in East Florence, Alabama, an area that was once proud home to a booming textile district. The same family has run the market for generations. Taylor Wylie established the business as a meat market over a century ago, but the building was destroyed by fire. It was taken over by Wylie’s son in law, Lester D. Staggs, Sr., and his brother Webb Staggs and revamped into a meat market and grocery catering to families and workers in the textile district. Lynn Staggs, who currently owns and operates Staggs with his wife Pat, took over management after the passing of his father, L.D. Staggs, Sr.

TRAVEL: STAGG'S DINER

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THE HEART: ZACHARIAH CHANIN

THE HEART: ZACHARIAH CHANIN

At almost any workplace, you can hear employees talk about their co-workers with a closeness and familiarity; after years of working alongside one another, your officemates can (in some cases) begin to feel like family. In the past, that has actually been the case here at Alabama Chanin. Studio and dye house directress Diane Hall has worked alongside her daughter—who has also been one of our artisan stitchers. Some of our other artisans have been sisters, mothers and daughters, aunts and nieces, cousins, and almost any other combination of relations. And all these years, it never occurred to me that I would have the opportunity to work with my son, Zachariah, known by everyone here as “Zach.”

The company that has become Alabama Chanin started in New York City, first in Brooklyn Heights and then at the Hotel Chelsea on 23rd street, in a borrowed apartment that was my first hand-sewing studio. The apartment was three rooms and a tiny kitchen. The front room, looking out over 23rd street, housed my bed, ironing board, and sewing center; the middle room was Zach’s. In those early days, he was enlisted to carry wet fabrics to the laundromat around the corner, keep me company on jaunts to the 26th Street Flea Market, and generally assist where needed.

I guess I should have known that he would eventually come to assist me in my design efforts. In fact, at my graduation from the School of Design at North Carolina State University, they asked Zach to stand, as he had completed most of my college education with me. He stood to a round of applause as the youngest “designer” to graduate from the program. (He is blushing as I write this…)

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BLUEWATER CREEK FARM

BLUEWATER CREEK FARM

Each week, as the Factory Café staff puts together our menu, they take into consideration the produce and meats available to them from our local farms and merchants. We have developed long-time relationships with growers like Jack-O-Lantern Farms, who provide us with homegrown, seasonal vegetables—using no pesticides, herbicides, or synthetic nutrients. In recent months, we have also begun working with Bluewater Creek Farm, a family-owned sustainable farm in nearby Killen, Alabama.

BLUEWATER CREEK FARM

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TRAVEL: THE ROSENBAUM HOUSE

TRAVEL: THE ROSENBAUM HOUSE

“Organic buildings are the strength and lightness of the spiders’ spinning, buildings qualified by light, bred by native character to environment, married to the ground.” — Frank Lloyd Wright

When visiting the Shoals area, or anywhere in Alabama for that matter, you should take time to visit the Rosenbaum House in Florence, Alabama. Nestled among otherwise ordinary Southern homes, this gem of craftsmanship and architecture is a perfect example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian style of design and is the only home he built in Alabama. Constructed nearly 60 years ago, the house was inhabited by the Rosenbaums (the home’s sole occupants) until 1999, when the family donated the property to the city of Florence. The home has been completely restored to look exactly as it did when the Rosenbaums lived there. Walking through it, you can feel the life and love that seeps from it still.

In 1938, Stanley Rosenbaum, a young Harvard College graduate who lived in Florence and worked in his family’s movie theater business, married New York fashion model Mildred Bookholtz and brought her home to Alabama. As a wedding gift, Stanley’s parents gave the newlyweds two acres of land and a small sum of money with which to build a home. The couple optimistically turned to world famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, known for his innovative design approach and affordability. The Rosenbaums asked Wright to build them a home with three bedrooms, two baths, a large kitchen, a study, a living room large enough to accommodate Mildred’s piano, and all for the sum of $7,500. To their surprise, Wright agreed.

TRAVEL: THE ROSENBAUM HOUSE

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TRAVEL: TROWBRIDGE’S

TRAVEL: TROWBRIDGE'S

I’d wager that every native, and recent guest, to The Shoals would urge future visitors to set aside time for lunch at Trowbridge’s Ice Cream Parlor and Sandwich Shop. The universally beloved local eatery is a backdrop for so many of our memories, and it has managed to serve up simple, delicious food for decades, while keeping its unpretentious charm. The green awning and the window advertising “Sandwiches, Ice Cream, Sundaes” are as iconic to residents as any official logo or state seal.

The little shop was opened in 1918 by Paul Trowbridge and is still run by his grandson. The story (as it was told to me) says that in 1917, Mr. Trowbridge was traveling to North Carolina for a dairy convention and stopped in Florence on the way. He loved the lush area and the town enough to move his family from Texas to Florence and opened Trowbridge’s shortly thereafter.

TRAVEL: TROWBRIDGE'S

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TRAVEL: THE SHOALS

Northwest Alabama - Amos Kennedy

As our new travel series expands, we realized that we have never laid the groundwork by adequately defining and describing the community that we call “The Shoals.” Since Alabama Chanin’s inception, love of community has been the cornerstone of our inspiration, design philosophies, and production practices. Shared stories of our region’s history, our neighbors, and our food, have inspired our work and brought visitors from afar. Reflecting on how much we talk about our home—The Shoals—I thought we should (finally) explain exactly what that term means.

“The Shoals” is a reference to the low-lying shoals of the Tennessee River in Northwest Alabama, at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, along which the cities of Florence (where The Factory is located), Sheffield, Muscle Shoals, and Tuscumbia are situated. The name “The Shoals” is also a shorter way of saying the Florence-Muscle Shoals Metropolitan Area—also known as the “Quad Cities”—which spans two counties and is home to somewhere in the neighborhood of 70,000 people. Before each city was named, the region was called the “Muscle Shoals District”; it was supposedly named such by Native Americans who found that navigating the strong current of the Tennessee River in this area almost impossible—and paddling upstream required a great deal of “muscle.”

It is believed that prehistoric Native American tribes crossed into North America during the Ice Age and followed herds of buffalo into the Northern Alabama region. This area was settled by what became the Woodland Indians (1000 BC – 900 AD) who built several ceremonial and burial mounds in the area. The largest in the area—tucked away between the local farmers co-op and the scrap metal yard—holds artifacts dating back over 10,000 years. I’ve been told that this holy site is believed by many to be part of a chain of important spiritual points in North America and has been visited by holy people of many different tribes across North and South America. Our friend Tom Hendrix’ wall is a living testament to the spiritual nature of our ancient Indian community.

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TRAVEL: THE GARAGE

TRAVEL: THE GARAGE

About two hours south of The Shoals is Birmingham, Alabama’s largest city. It is a city built on railroad industries and iron and steel production. Birmingham has been called “The Iron City” and “The Magic City,” and it has a contentious past as a central player in our nation’s civil rights struggle. But today’s Birmingham has much to offer in the way of history, art, food, culture, and nightlife.

One of our favorite spots is The Garage, run by our long-time friend Kay Woehle. Kay’s father, architect Fritz Woehle, bought the building that houses The Garage in the 1970s. Back then, the former garage (pictured in the old, bent black and white photos shown here) was being repurposed as storage space.

Fritz converted part of the building into a design space and leased the remaining space to other artists and small business owners. The Garage—known for years as The Garage Café—was opened in one of these spaces by Jimmy Watson in the mid-1990s. After Jimmy passed away earlier this year, the Woehle family took over management of the bar.

TRAVEL: THE GARAGE

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PICTURES TAKE YOU PLACES @ THE SHOALS

PICTURES TAKE YOU PLACES @ THE SHOALS
Flags or Fences

Shreveport, Louisiana; Lexington, Kentucky; Atlanta, Georgia; Nashville, Tennessee; Austin, Texas; Jackson, Mississippi; Birmingham, Alabama; Corbin, Kentucky; Knoxville, Tennessee; Oxford, Mississippi; or The Shoals, Alabama.

No matter where Phillip March Jones finds himself, he takes photographs of the extraordinary ordinary, the peculiar still life: unusual signs, unfinished fence projects, garden rails, giant farm animals, and confusing natural anomalies.

The photos here—part of his Pictures Take You Places series—were captured last month in and around The Shoals.

Check out his recently released book: Pictures Take You Places

PICTURES TAKE YOU PLACES @ THE SHOALSGarden Rails

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TRAVEL: IVY GREEN + HELEN KELLER

TRAVEL: IVY GREEN + HELEN KELLER

This post is the first of our new travel series; look for side trips (and side bars) on your way to and from The Factory—and from here to there. With this series, you’ll find some history, a bit of folk art, good diners, great bars and splendid adventures. Pack your bag, plan your road trip, and come for a visit.

xoNatalie

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched—they must be felt with the heart.” Helen Keller

The South loves to claim people as our own. Just as many northern and coastal cities proudly label every barn and bedroom where George Washington supposedly slept, we are equally proud of our musicians’, artists’, and politicians’ southern roots. In fact, Mississippi-born Elvis Presley has no fewer than 5 “homes” across the region. Many visitors are surprised to learn that The Shoals houses the birthplace and childhood home of blind and deaf activist, thinker, writer, lecturer, and philanthropist, Helen Keller.

The Keller home, known as Ivy Green, sits on a quiet lot on North Commons street in West Tuscumbia. Initially, the 1820 Virginia-cottage style house sat on a 640-acre parcel next to a small bridal cottage, also known as the birthplace cottage and school house. The property, now only 10 acres, enshrines the life of the extraordinary woman who broke through the restraints of her physical limitations to become one of the most astonishing women of the early twentieth century.

The entire estate has such presence. The moment you step foot on the property, you immediately want to sense the place the way Helen Keller did. You close your eyes; you hear the wind through the giant trees, the sticky dew evaporating in the morning sun, the smell of early autumn and a tingle in the nose give hints at the way she may have known Ivy Green. It’s hard not to touch everything knowing it was all touched by Helen Keller.

TRAVEL: IVY GREEN + HELEN KELLER

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