Gadsden rests quietly on the banks of the Coosa River in Northwest Alabama. Founded in 1825 and originally called Double Springs, the town was renamed in honor of American diplomat James Gadsden. James Gadsden was most famous for negotiating the Gadsden Purchase, which included parts of southern Arizona and New Mexico, the acquisition of which allowed for the building of a transcontinental railroad. The town of Gadsden was once a major riverboat port and would become a center of industry during the industrial revolution. That industry would allow Gadsden to thrive for much of the next century, but as companies left town in the seventies and eighties, the city fell on hard times. Gadsden has worked hard to redevelop its downtown area and while it’s definitely a sleepy town, it has a lot of charm. I really enjoyed my visit to Gadsden. I hadn’t been there in many years and was happy to see so many storefronts occupied and to find downtown bustling. If you ever find yourself in the area, set aside some time for a stroll downtown, a visit to the art gallery and some seafood at one of the many excellent restaurants in town. You’ll be glad you did. Enjoy these photos from downtown Gadsden, Alabama’s City of Champions.
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In this episode of American Anthology, Mike takes us on a romp through the cities, swamps and bayous of South Louisiana. First up, hear the story of the Rougarou, the legendary man-wolf that preys on Cajun children out past their curfew. Then comes the story of the German Coast Slave Revolt of 1811, the largest slave revolt in U.S. History. Next you’ll hear about the day the Civil War was put on hold so a Union officer could get a proper burial in a Southern cemetery, with officers from both sides in attendance. Then comes the fascinating story of the Baton Rouge Bus Boycott, the first of its kind during the Civil Rights Movement. Lastly comes the story of Fats Domino, a Creole kid from New Orleans who brought Rock and Roll to the world. Music for this episode comes from Teddy Johnson, owner of the legendary Teddy’s Juke Joint in Zachary, Louisiana
Hello everyone! It’s starting to get warm here in Alabama which means it’s about time for me to start heading north. And I guess I have! It’s been a great week here in Northern Alabama which started with music and history in The Shoals and is ending in the beauty of nature in Little River Canyon. I’ve jammed out in FAME Studios, been moved by the actions of the Freedom Riders and swam in a clear mountain river. This has been my last full week here in Alabama, and it’s about time to turn my headlights towards home for a while. I must say that Alabama has been one pleasant surprise after another. It’s clean, friendly and I’ve had a great time here. Whatever preconceived ideas I had or stereotypes I bought into have, as they have everywhere else, been shattered by the time I’ve spent here. And that’s really been the point of this whole trip - to see things with my own eyes and interpret them with my own mind and heart and come away with my own understanding. And it’s been amazing.
After I posted last week’s This Week, I worked until the library closed at 7, trying to get some photos edited and published and a few other things done. Afterwards, I went to downtown Florence and had a nice walk around the city and took some photos. Then, in the mood for some live music, I went and saw Katlyn Barnes sing at The Boiler Room in the basement of The Stricklin Hotel. The show was good and Katlyn really has a soulful voice and personality. When she was done, I headed out to Swampers Bar and Grille at the Florence Marriott to see Hank Erwin play. They’ve done a really great job with this bar which is full of old guitars, photos and memorabilia from the glory days of Muscle Shoals. Hank was great and this was a good place to round out my evening…
Demopolis is a beautiful town in the heart of the Canebreak region of Western Alabama. This part of the state was once covered with thick stands of a native bamboo-like species called Arundinaria. While much of this cane was destroyed to make room for cotton plantations, the area is still called the Canebreak, and Demopolis is the region’s biggest town. Demopolis was founded by a group of French expats in 1817 and given its name from the Greek for The People’s City. It would become a major transportation hub, sitting at the confluence of the Black Warrior and Tombigbee Rivers, a status which would only grow when the railroad arrived. Today, Demopolis is a quaint and quiet town of around 7,000. I really loved it there and kept thinking it’s what a Norman Rockwell painting would look like if it aged a few decades. The old brick buildings have stood up well to the tests of time and the town has a lot of charm to it. While I wish I had had a little better weather to take these photos in, I still think they show the beauty of Demopolis, a small town which is the heart of the Canebreak.
As I was driving through Double Springs, Alabama I saw in front of the courthouse what looked like the ubiquitous small-town war memorial which I have found pretty much everywhere I’ve visited on this journey in both the North and the South. But this one was different because unfurled behind it were both Union and Confederate flags, so I hit the brakes and went in for a closer look. What I discovered was a Civil War memorial to The Free State of Winston. The plaque on the memorial read as follows:
The Civil War was not fought between the North and South but rather between the Union and Confederate armies. Perhaps as many as 300,000 Southerners served in the Union Army. The majority of the Appalachian South, from West Virginia to Winston County, was pro-Union. Winston provided 239 Union and 112 Confederate soldiers, 21 of whom shared last names.
Selma, Alabama is a stunning city. Rarely have I driven into a place on this whole journey where I have been more eager to jump out of my van and start taking photos. The downtown area is packed with historic buildings reminiscent of days gone by. The neighborhoods are full of old Victorian-era mansions that hark back to better days in the Queen City of the Black Belt. As in most of the Black Belt of Alabama, cotton was king during the antebellum period and Selma’s position right on the Alabama River made it a prime place for a thriving city. During the war, Selma was a major shipbuilding center and manufacturing town for the confederacy. The post-war years were difficult on Selma and race relations were strained way past the point of breaking as lynchings and intimidation were common occurrences. Selma became notorious during the Civil Rights Movement, especially on the topic of voting rights, and was the jumping off point for the Selma to Montgomery March. Driving or walking around Selma today, it is apparent that the city has seen better days. Buildings are crumbling and many of the old homes are boarded up and falling apart, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to picture what it once was. As in so many parts of the country, the economy in Selma is struggling and there aren’t enough jobs or money to go around. I hope for the best for the future of this beautiful city. You should definitely go for a visit, spend some time in the wonderful Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail visitor center run by the National Park Service, walk across the Edmund Petus Bridge and then just go for a ramble and see what you can find. While at first glance you may think that “Queen City” is a bit grandiose, but the deeper you look the more appropriate you’ll find it. I hope you enjoy these photos from The Queen City of the Black Belt.
Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama was built by industrialist Rick Woodward, and opened its doors for Opening Day on August 18th, 1910, making it the oldest professional baseball park still standing in the United States. In its heyday, RIckwood saw the likes of Ty Cobb, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron pass through its gates. In addition to being home of the Birmingham Barons, Rickwood Field was also home to the Negro League’s Black Barons. Local legend Willie Mays got his start with the Black Barons at Rickwood when he was just 16. The great pitcher Satchel Paige also spent several years with the Black Barons in the 1920’s. During the sixties, there was a minor league affiliate of the Kansas City (later Oakland) A’s playing at Rickwood, which included on their roster Reggie Jackson and Rollie Fingers. When the A’s left town, a new Barons team was brought in several years later, and played at the old stadium until 1987. Today, the Barons play one game a year at their historic stadium, called the Rickwood Classic. The field is still used regularly though, hosting local high school games, adult recreation leagues and even the odd corporate softball game or wedding. Since 1992, the stadium has been in the care of the Friends of Rickwood who not only maintain the stadium, but have attempted to restore it a little at a time to it’s 1948 appearance. The stadium has been used in several films including Cobb, Soul of the Game, and, most recently, 42. It is a wonderful place to visit and is full of history and nostalgia. I spent time just sitting in the bleachers and enjoying the quiet view. Next time you’re in Birmingham, go check out Rickwood Field. If you like baseball or just cool old buildings, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.
Montgomery, Alabama is a town full of history. Founded on the Alabama River soon after Alabama became a state in 1819, it became the state capital in 1846. Montgomery served as the capital of the Confederacy for four months following the state’s secession, and is where Jefferson Davis took his oath of office as President. Montgomery has also been the site of many Civil Rights battles, from the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the Selma to Montgomery March for voting rights. Martin Luther King Jr. served as the pastor for the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church for several years. Today, Montgomery is a clean and quiet city with some beautiful buildings, a great riverfront and lots of fascinating museums. I really enjoyed my visit to Alabama’s capital city and hope you enjoy these photos from my stay.
Hello everyone, it’s time for my weekly look back at the places I’ve visited over the last few days and what I’ve learned along the way. Welcome to all of my new subscribers who have come on board this week, it’s great to have you along for the ride. If you're seeing this in my newsletter in your inbox, click through on any of the stories you see to check out my photos and read the whole story on my website. Again, thank you and welcome. To all of my loyal readers, welcome back for another installment, it is always great to see you here and always appreciated when you stop by. This week’s newsletter is a little longer than usual because last week’s didn’t go out. It’s automated, so it should have, but it just didn’t. My apologies for it not coming last week, but that means you get a double dose this week! Also for those who like a map to follow along with or find anything of importance in this post, click the link HERE.
It’s been another great week out here on the road. The wisteria is in bloom which always makes me smile and always tells me spring has arrived. All kinds of flowers are starting to bloom everywhere in Louisiana, and the real spring festival season has arrived. Fun, excitement, and pollen are all in the air. This week, I left lovely Natchitoches and made my way slowly up to Shreveport for a weekend of festivals and good times. From there, I made my way all the way across northern Louisiana to the Mississippi River and south to the town of Tallulah where I am writing this from today…
If you’ve been following along with this blog, you know I have visited some truly stunning small towns along the way. I don’t think any of them can compare, however, to beautiful Natchitoches, Louisiana. While you probably won’t be able to pronounce the name, you can’t help but be drawn in by this beautiful old colonial town on the banks of the Cane River. Originally established as a trading post by French explorers, the town gets its name from the Natchitoches Indians who lived in the area and traded with the colonists. The town was officially established in 1714 and would pass from the French to the Spanish and finally to the United States after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Natchitoches has all of these cultures on display through its architecture and cuisine. I was especially impressed that the town has its own full time horticulturist who creates and cares for the wonderful flower displays which are placed all over the historic district. I love flowers and these really add to the charm and beauty of the town. Everyone I met during my stay was friendly and helpful and proud of their little corner of the state. Natchitoches is home to some charming B&B’s, delightful restaurants and beautiful places to walk and sit and enjoy the atmosphere. If you ever find yourself looking for an escape from the grind of the city, Natchitoches will definitely take you back a different era and a simpler pace of life. In my very humble opinion, it is the prettiest small town in the South.
These photos come from the Creole plantations located along the Cane River in northeastern Louisiana. Even reading that sentence back makes me smile as it sounds as remarkably Southern as it is. The word “Creole” is a complicated one, as it has evolved over time. Technically it means something which comes from the new world but with old world roots. People born in Louisiana of Spanish and French decent were referred to as “Creoles”. The word also encompassed architecture and food born in the region but using traditional knowledge. Today, it tends to mean people of mixed heritage including those of European, African and Native American descent. Regardless, these early settlers to the region began mostly as subsistence farmers and over time grew into large plantation owners. As cotton became king in the south, many of these plantations got on board, purchasing hundreds of enslaved people to do their manual labor. The plantations grew and thrived. After the Civil War and the the 13th Amendment to the Constitution freed the slaves, many stayed on as sharecroppers and tenant farmers, as the plantation and cotton were the only things they had ever known. Some of these plantations remained in business into my lifetime owned and worked by generation after generation of people from the same families.
The first photos in this collection come from the Magnolia Plantation, a part of Cane River Creole National Historical Park. Once owned by the LeComte Family, this large plantation was worked by 275 enslaved people in its heyday. While the Big House is still owned by the family and is closed to visitation, the overseer’s house, plantation store, blacksmith shop, cotton gin building and slave cabins are all open to the public as part of the park. I especially enjoyed learning about the “pigeonnier”, a pigeon coup in which their droppings were used as fertilizer and baby pigeons were sometimes eaten as a delicacy. Today only 8 of the original 71 slave cabins remain, but were occupied by plantation workers until 1970. This plantation is fascinating to wander around and learn about the people who lived there…
There are a LOT of photos in this post. Mardi Gras parades in Louisiana are some of the most vivid, colorful, vibrant, sensory overloading events in the whole world. The colors, the costumes, the floats, the music and the excitement are all overwhelming. They are joyful and happy events marking the biggest celebration of the year in the state. Photographing them is a true joy, and all of these photos make me extremely happy. In these photos I want to show you the floats, the riders, the spectators, the bands and walking groups that make up the Mardi Gras parades. There are also a few of my favorite kind of Mardi Gras shot - trying to capture beads in mid-air between thrower and catcher. There are six parades featured in this post. The first is the Krewe of Slidellians from Slidell, Louisiana. The following night parade is from the Krewe of Rio in Lafayette. The next daytime parades were the Krewe of Carrolton followed by the Krewe of King Arthur on the same day taken from Lee Circle in New Orleans. There are two photos from the Krewe of Nyx nighttime parade in New Orleans, and finally are a few from the huge Spanish Town parade in Baton Rouge, the pinkest event I’ve ever witnessed. I know there are probably too many photos for one post here, but it was hard to cut it down to just the ones I included. I hope you enjoy them and I hope you can feel the excitement and happiness I tried to capture here. More than anything, I hope they make you smile.