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June 21, 2005   Email to Friend 

Tuscumbia Celebrates Two Rebirths In June
Fran Sharp

Ivy Green, the birthplace of Helen Keller, will be in the spotlight June 22-26 when Tuscumbia welcomes visitors to the Helen Keller Festival.
The birth of a child is a wondrous event; but a rebirth may be spiritual or physical--inspired by the discovery of communication or simply the wish to go home again. Two rebirths are celebrated in Tuscumbia in June--the first a woman, the second, a town.

The Helen Keller Festival will be held June 22-26 in Tuscumbia to honor not only Helen Keller and her miraculous accomplishments, but to celebrate the success of her teacher, Anne Sullivan.

Helen Adams Keller was born June 27, 1880 in Tuscumbia, a small rural town in northeast Alabama. The daughter of Capt. Arthur Henley Keller and Kate Adams Keller, she was born with full sight and hearing. When baby Helen was 19 months old, she became very ill with what doctors then called "brain fever," now believed to have been meningitis. Her parents celebrated her survival, only to discover she was blind and deaf.

The Festival began in 1979 as a tribute to Helen Keller and the achievements of this remarkable woman who came to be known as America's First Lady of Courage. Events and attractions center around "Ivy Green," Helen's birthplace, where the little house she lived in with Anne Sullivan, her loyal teacher, still stands.

More than 75,000 people are expected to attend events held throughout the city and at Spring Park, including The Shoals Car and Truck Club Car Show planned for downtown. The Festival, a volunteer project, has grown to include award-winning arts and crafts vendors, art exhibits, athletic events, a parade, concerts and performances of William Gibson's world-famous drama, "The Miracle Worker."

The play is performed weekends in an amphitheater June 10 to July 16 at Ivy Green with professional actors, authentic costumes and sets. Tickets are $10 for reserved seats; $7, general admission. Ticket includes a self-guided tour of the Keller home and the grounds.

Tuscumbia Reborn

One dare not leave Colbert County without taking in the miraculous rebirth of Tuscumbia's Main Street, thanks to "father" and local industrialist Harvey Robbins. Robbins--retirement challenged and despondent at the regression of his hometown--decided to invest $1.5 million in the people and places he grew up knowing and loving. "Spruce the place up some," he said. "We wanted to move back home."

Soon, a 48-foot-high waterfall appeared in Spring Park; a magnificent train was chugging around the park on 4,000 feet of track; and visitors were awestruck by a new fountain boasting music and a light show.

Robbins kept going, renovating Main Street and Sixth Avenue into a delightful array of shops, restaurants and memories--not the least of which were made at The Palace drugstore more than 52 years ago where Harvey courted Joyce Ann, the love of his life, over thick milk shakes.

Currently, the big news is the renovation of the old railroad depot where a museum is being established to commemorate Tuscumbia as the oldest railroad town west of the Allegheny Mountains. Some railroad cars already are in place, and for the kids, there's an interactive, "you-drive-the-train" simulator.

You Say You're Hungry?

dale's Restaurant, is alive and sizzling in Florence. Once a successful national chain established by the Daole and Levine families in the late 1940s, the chain dwindled to one restaurant, which was purchased in 1962 by Tommy Campbell and Chuck Tompkins. Special nights at dale's are an Alabama tradition, and guests still come from all around to enjoy grilled-to-order steaks, not to mention that signature sauce. Today, the sauce is distributed nationwide by the Levine family.

City Restaurant is no frills. It just serves outstandingly good food, especially an old-fashioned breakfast with homemade biscuits. Owner and cook Cory Cox knows how to fry an egg.

Claunch Café in Spring Park offers daily lunch specials from 11 to 2. Try Pecan Chicken Salad with fresh fruit and Lemon Tea Bread, a favorite of the "Red Hat Ladies." Homemade pies, cakes and ice cream delights include Hibiscus Nectar, a Sunday afternoon special.

Davidson BBQ at Spring Park invites visitors to grab a cue, spread a blanket, and watch the light show.

Pilot House on Main Street has a nautical theme and specializes in seafood, steaks, chops and "momma's pot roast, slow-cooked to perfection." Patio dining, a kids' menu and blueberry pie make this a favorite spot for drinks, lunch and dinner.

Ragazza Italiana Restaurant and Bakery on Main livens up Tuscumbia palates with specialty breads, cakes and cookies. Step through the arch next door to enjoy wood-fired oven pizzas. Be adventurous; try Pizza Margherita with olive oil and garlic rub, roma tomatoes, baby mozzarella, fresh basil and aged parmesan. Shopping Anyone?

Audie Mescal is named for owner Leslie Keys Cassady's grandmother, a woman of fine taste and class, and now her granddaughter offers fine clothing for such ladies.

Promenade offers original formalwear and accessories, and the shop features a stage where patrons can "walk the walk." Owner Rebecca Underwood opened her store as part of the Tuscumbia renovation and has already expanded twice.

Christmas and Holiday Corner is the place to go for Christmas and holiday goodies as well as fine collectibles. Owner Bonnie Walker says Fenton glass is a favorite of patrons.

Romans Piano has the finest pianos ever seen outside a museum. Handmade new or antique, each is a creation of beauty.

Cassetta Gallery offers two- and three-dimensional contemporary art, along with vintage posters, jewelry and gifts. Martha Stevens and Sandi Stevens will be happy to assist.

Robbie's, one of the town's newer stores in an 1800 building, offers decorating items for the home as well as gifts and floral arrangements.

Alpha Embroidery will monogram or embroider items purchased at the shop or brought from home.

Coldwater Seed and Supply Co., Inc. stocks seeds, muck boots, fertilizer, chicks, feed and Burt's Bees products. Below, a shopper gets a lesson on planting potatoes at the store.

Coldwater Books is a favorite place for book signings and the latest works of local authors. The piano on site is available for recitals and classical and jazz performances.

More To See And Do

Quench your yearning for a real, old-fashioned malt at The Palace Soda Fountain on Main Street. This is where inspiration knocked Harvey Robbins off his wallet and jumpstarted Tuscumbia's renovation.

Spring Park is in bloom. Ride the park's train, above, to get a wonderful view of the manmade waterfall, fountain of beautiful colors and the nightly light show. Visit Spring Park Farmers Market May through October for fresh produce and other homemade goodies.

Nearby Wilson and Wheeler Lakes offer fishing and recreational boating with fantastic views of the Muscle Shoals area. Watch for the barges cruising the Tennessee River.

Tennessee Valley Arts Center on North Water Street has a rare exhibit of aboriginal art (petroglyph) and rotating exhibits of visual arts.

Alabama Music Hall of Fame on Highway 72 West is dedicated to more than 500 musical achievers ranging from country to opera.

Colbert County Courthouse, circa 1881, is located in the Historic District of North Main Street.

For information on the events and places in this article, phone the Colbert County Tourism and Convention Bureau, 800-344-0783 or the Festival at 888-329-2124.

Freelance writer Fran Sharp lives in Alabaster.



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