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
I’m home, y’all! I pulled up in front of the house my great-grandparents built here in Northwest Washington D.C. late last Friday night. Shadow Catcher did well on the 9 hour drive, as it has throughout this journey, and now she can take a nice, long, well deserved rest. My van will be staying here for a few months and enjoying the summer, although I myself will not be. I will keep traveling. That’s who I am and what I do. I don’t really know anything but anymore, and I don’t necessarily care to. My life is on the road and to the road I will return in a few weeks, albeit a different road on a different trajectory. This is the end of this leg of this particular journey, not the end of my travels, my adventures, my photography or this blog. Think of it as a season finale, not a series finale. I do want to take some time in this post to reflect back on the last year and a half and to look forward at what comes next. Before I do, though, I want to say an enormous thank you to those of you who have come along for the ride. Whether you’ve been with me from the start or you’ve only just joined me I appreciate every single one of you and your support over the course of this journey. I hope along the way I’ve been able to inspire you and show you places you’ve never been or perhaps those you have in a different light. I hope I’ve been able to bring a little joy into your lives, a little beauty, a little color, a little light. If I have, then I will call this whole thing a success. Thank you for being a part of this trip.
After leaving you last week, I had a few more adventures before I packed it up and headed north though, and it would be tragic to leave them out of this post. That afternoon I went out to High Falls Park near Geraldine, Alabama, and what a wonderful place that was to visit. It was a beautiful county park with a magnificent waterfall, a pleasant beach, a bridge over the river, hiking trails and a picnic area. It was a magnificent spring day and when I got there I fell in love with the place and stayed until the park closed. I swam and got some sun and read and enjoyed the sound of the falls and the warmth on my face. I returned to Fort Payne in the evening and took a few photos around town in the fading daylight before calling it a day…
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.
It’s been busy, busy, busy out here on the road this week. This week has taken me from Selma to Demopolis in Western Alabama, back through Tuscaloosa to Birmingham and then north and west through Bankhead National Forest and on to Muscle Shoals where I am writing to you from today. I celebrated Orthodox Easter, hiked to some waterfalls, shouted “Roll Tide”, ate quail, and of course took lots of photos along the way. I’m into the home stretch of this leg of the journey as I need to be home in a week and a half, so I’ve been hustling out here. I have made plenty of time to stop and smell the beautiful wildflowers though, and enjoy some hills after 4 months of flatness in every direction. HERE is the link to this week’s map if you like to follow along.
After publishing last week’s This Week, I headed directly for Old Cahawba, the first capital city of the state of Alabama. It served as the capital from 1820-1825, but regular flooding caused the legislature to move out to higher ground. The city declined over the next century and by the time of its centennial, Cahawba was all but abandoned. Today there is nothing left but a few brick columns, an old cemetery and a few foundations. There really wasn’t much to see, but I enjoyed wandering around and imagining myself back to its heyday when its citizens probably thought it was a pretty cool place. Cahawba is managed today as a State Archaeological Site. It’s only about 20 minutes from Selma and for me it was worth seeing, but I wouldn’t necessarily go too far out of my way to visit…
You can find Gip’s place using your GPS these days. It’s probably on there, but at some point you’re just going to have to trust it and keep going. And you’re just going to have to trust me that it will be worth it. Gip’s is a special place, one of the last authentic Southern Juke Joints, and the very last in the whole state of Alabama. It’s only about a half-hour from downtown Birmingham, but it’s a world away. Henry “Gip” Gipson has been hosting people in his backyard since 1952, slowly adding this and that along the way until he had created a real music venue with a stage and lights and a sound system. He was a grave digger by day, so he needed an outlet in his down time and he found that outlet in the blues. Today, Mr. Gip is almost a hundred years old, but he still enjoys welcoming people into his Juke Joint, sipping a beer and listening to great music. Since he never had a business license, local authorities shut him down several years ago. He said he might not be able to run a business without a license, but nobody was going to stop him from throwing a party in his backyard every Saturday night. And that’s exactly what it is. Bring your own drinks and make a contribution for the band and the bills and then pull up a seat and enjoy. Feel free to get out and dance too. While Mr. Gip is in a wheelchair these days, I remember when he would dance the night away with any- and everyone that walked in the door. And everyone is welcome at Gip’s Place. If you don’t believe there is a place where young and old, black and white, American and international people can get along anymore, you’ve clearly never been to Gip’s on a Saturday night. When I was there this last weekend I even saw Elvis and Marilyn there. There were people in shorts and T-shirts, and others in business suits and ties. Out front in the parking lot, there were cars and trucks of all makes and models, and even a limousine. You really have to go, and go now, because Mr. Gip isn’t going to be around forever and once he goes, it’s unlikely that the community will allow this place to continue. Even if they do, it won’t be the same without the man himself holding court on the dance floor. This place is as iconically Southern as it gets. Be sure you see it before it’s gone.
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.
It’s been a busy and fascinating week out here on the road. Wildflowers are blooming everywhere here in Alabama and it is truly magical to see all the beautiful colors along the side of the road. We’ve had some pretty serious April showers here as well, but when the sun is out the temperatures have climbed into the 80’s. I’ve made a big loop this week from southeast Alabama to west-central Alabama, and gotten a lot of history to think about along the way. From the Civil War to Civil Rights, this part of Alabama is both fascinating and tragic. I spent a few days in the state capital of Montgomery and am winding the week up here in beautiful Selma. I’ve had my hustle on this week, but with the longer days I’ve been able to cover a lot of ground.
When I finished writing last week’s This Week post, I did, in fact, head on to Dothan, a small city which I really enjoyed. Dothan is in a region called The Wiregrass which extends into southwest Georgia and the Florida panhandle. The downtown area was compact and walkable and absolutely packed with beautiful murals and statues. I really enjoyed just wandering around and having a look and, of course, taking lots of photos. I love when I can explore somewhere that’s totally new to me and somewhere where I go in with no idea of what I’ll find there. Sometimes it’s a real treat, as was the case here. I strolled around until well after the sun was down, and then went for a wonderful dinner at the local and family run Hunts Seafood Restaurant south of town. I got a half-order of oysters there which was enough to feed me twice. It’s always a good sign when you pull into a small-town restaurant on a Wednesday night and the parking lot is completely packed…
Mobile, Alabama is truly one of the most beautiful cities in America. With a population hovering around 200,000, Mobile is large enough to feel like a big city, but small enough not to lose its charm. The downtown area is a colorful mixture of old and new, classic and modern, ornate and utilitarian. It seemed that each time I turned a corner, I found a scene which I just had to capture on film, and I spent three days doing just that. This post will show you the results and, I hope, the many different faces of Mobile. It is a city whose history stretches back over 300 years and yet is full of modern touches and recent additions which seem to add to, instead of detract from, that history. Still, the one characteristic of Mobile which stood head and shoulders above the rest is the one which cannot be captured on film: the kindness and friendliness of its people. I hadn’t been to Mobile in several years and was happy to find it as welcoming as ever. I must admit I was charmed by The Port City. I left a little bit of my heart there and can’t wait to go back and find it.
Hello everyone, another week has past and it’s time for another edition of This Week on the Road. It’s been a pretty great week out here in Southern Alabama, beginning with a much needed and well enjoyed visit to the Gulf Coast and a few minutes on the beach. I also spent some wonderful time in beautiful Mobile, a city which I really enjoyed. The week ended with a long drive across the south of the state heading east, through rural farmland and quaint little towns. It’s been a great first week here in The Heart of Dixie, and I’m looking forward to everything the state has to offer in the coming few weeks. HERE is this week’s map if you want to follow along as we go!
When I finished posting my This Week article last week, I did, in fact, get out of town. I love New Orleans, and it’s always hard to go, and it was particularly hard with French Quarter Fest starting the following day, but it was way past time for me to get out of Louisiana. I scooted down to the interstate, and took Route 10 all the way to Alabama. I hate the interstate and its never-ending monotony, but it’s great when you have places you have to be and a limited time to get there.
When I got to Alabama, I headed southwest on 188 to beautiful Bayou La Batre. You may remember the name from Forrest Gump, as it is where Bubba was from and where Forrest went to start his shrimping company. It really is a shrimping town, and if you’ve been following along with me on this journey, you know I’m a sucker for old shrimping boats. The fleet there was really beautiful, and I stopped off to have a look and take some photos. While I was stopped, a young man of maybe 9 or 10 named Matthew pulled up…
Out on the prairie in the heart of Acadiana sits the tiny old railroad town of Rayne, Louisiana. Originally called Pouppeville, the citizens decided to rename their town Rayne in honor of the engineer who laid the tracks. In the early 1900’s, three brothers started a frog leg business, shipping frog legs all over the country, and Rayne got a reputation as the Frog Capital of the World. They truly have run with their nickname and frogs are everywhere you look in this quiet little town. They even host a Frog Festival every May! I loved walking the streets and taking these photos, and this post is just a sampling of all the frogs to be found in Rayne. They made me smile and reminded me that life is too short to take too seriously. How can you take things too seriously when you are constantly surrounded by frogs? Kudos to the citizens of Rayne for keeping their sense of humor and bringing a lot of joy to their town streets. Your town made me want to jump for joy!
St. Francisville, Louisiana may be small, but it sure packs a big punch. This beautiful Southern town got its start way back in 1809. It was built on a hill overlooking the older French settlement of Bayou Sara, which was at one time the largest port on the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Memphis. For 74 days back in 1810, St. Francisville served as the capital city of the independent Republic of West Florida when it ousted its Spanish occupants before being annexed by the United States. In the years leading up to the Civil War, St. Francisville was the supply center and main town for surrounding plantations, perfectly situated for trade on a bluff high above the river. Today it contains a fascinating collection of antebellum, creole and Victorian homes, and some beautiful churches and businesses as well. I spent a lovely afternoon there, wandering the quiet streets and taking these photos. The few people I met on my stroll were remarkably pleasant and kept pointing me towards even more beautiful parts of town for me to shoot. The river has been high this year, and you’ll see a few photos at the end of the flooding in the area. St. Francisville is a wonderful escape from the big cities and offers a magical combination of small-town charm, fascinating history and delightful people. You should definitely put it on your list!