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Florence, Alabama
City
Downtown Florence Historic District
Downtown Florence Historic District
Nickname(s): 
"Alabama's Renaissance City"
Location of Florence in Lauderdale County, Alabama.
Location of Florence in Lauderdale County, Alabama.
Country United States
State Alabama
County Lauderdale
Incorporated January 7, 1826
Named for Florence, Tuscany, Italy
Government
 • Type Mayor/Council (Since 1984)
Area
 • City 26.73 sq mi (69.23 km2)
 • Land 26.52 sq mi (68.68 km2)
 • Water 0.21 sq mi (0.55 km2)
Elevation
548 ft (167 m)
Population
 (2020)
 • City 40,184
 • Density 1,515.35/sq mi (585.08/km2)
 • Metro
147,317 (US: 281st)
Time zone UTC-6 (Central (CST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC-5 (CDT)
ZIP codes
35630-35634
Area codes 256, 938
FIPS code 01-26896
GNIS feature ID 0118442

Florence is a city in, and the county seat of, Lauderdale County, Alabama, United States, in the state's northwestern corner. It is situated along the Tennessee River and is home to the University of North Alabama, the oldest college in the state.

According to the 2010 census, the city's population was 39,319.

Florence is the largest and principal city of the Florence-Muscle Shoals Metropolitan Statistical Area commonly known as "The Shoals" (which also includes the cities of Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia in Colbert County). Florence is considered northwestern Alabama's primary economic hub.

Annual tourism events include the W. C. Handy Music Festival in the summer and the Renaissance Faire in the fall. Landmarks in Florence include the Rosenbaum House, the only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home located in Alabama, and the Florence Indian Mound and Museum.

The type of municipal government is a mayor-council system.

Geography

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Florence has a total area of 25.0 square miles (65 km2), of which 24.9 square miles (64 km2) is land, and 0.1 square miles (0.26 km2) (0.40%) is water. Florence is located on Wilson Lake and Pickwick Lake, bodies of water on the Tennessee River dammed by Pickwick Dam and Wilson Dams. Pickwick Lake was created by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), one of several alphabet agencies of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. Wilson Dam (currently operated by the TVA) was authorized by President Woodrow Wilson in 1918 and was the first dam constructed on the Tennessee River.

History

Florence was surveyed for the Cypress Land Company in 1818 by Italian surveyor Ferdinand Sannoner, who named it after Florence, the capital of the Tuscany region of Italy. Florence, Alabama was incorporated in 1826.

RegionalCare Hospital dispute

Florence is also home to a long-running dispute between RegionalCare Hospital Partners and the City of Florence on one side and Helen Keller Hospital and the RetEd Animal Shelter on the other. The city and RegionalCare are seeking to build a 280-bed hospital in a depressed area of East Florence. Helen Keller Hospital officials opposed building a new hospital and delayed the project for several years before the project was finally approved by the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals in July 2015. RegionalCare has acquired, and demolished, all the properties in a 25-acre area of East Florence with the exception of the RetEd Animal Shelter, which still opposes construction.

Demographics

Historical population
Census Pop.
1850 802
1860 1,395 73.9%
1870 2,003 43.6%
1880 1,359 −32.2%
1890 6,012 342.4%
1900 6,478 7.8%
1910 6,689 3.3%
1920 10,529 57.4%
1930 11,729 11.4%
1940 15,043 28.3%
1950 23,879 58.7%
1960 31,649 32.5%
1970 34,031 7.5%
1980 37,029 8.8%
1990 36,426 −1.6%
2000 36,264 −0.4%
2010 39,319 8.4%
U.S. Decennial Census
2018 Estimate

2020

Florence Racial Composition
Race Num. Perc.
White 28,006 69.69%
Black or African American 7,503 18.67%
Native American 122 0.3%
Asian 519 1.29%
Pacific Islander 22 0.05%
Other/Mixed 1,916 4.77%
Hispanic or Latino 2,096 5.22%

As of the 2020 United States Census, there were 40,184 people, 17,475 households, and 9,718 families residing in the city.

2010

According to the 2010 census:

2000

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 per square mile (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 or Latino 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.

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.

Museums

  • Kennedy Douglass Center for the Arts is the center for numerous cultural activities, exhibits and events. The center showcases artists from around the Southeast United States, 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 museums are open Tuesday - Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, Sunday 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM and are closed Monday.
  • The Indian Mound and Museum is the largest of its type in the Tennessee Valley Region. The earthwork mound, which measures 310Hx230Wx42D (feet) and is named Wawmanona, was built circa 500 A.D. It is thought to be a locale for tribal ceremony and ritual. The museum displays Native American artifacts from the Mound and the surrounding area, which represent different cultures dating back 10,000 years.
  • Pope's Tavern is a renowned historical stop; it served as a hospital for Civil War soldiers from both the Union and Confederate armies. It also served 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 of Handy's personal papers, artifacts and other items he donated before his death in 1958.
  • The Rosenbaum House, at 601 Riverview Drive, is the only building in the state designed by the nationally known 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 six 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 be seen in the form of 24 Greek columns, as well as the Jackson Family cemetery. Both are on private property and not open to the public.

Festivals

The festivals are listed in order by month that the event falls on the calendar.

  • The Sam Phillips Music Celebration is a week-long event the first week of January. It celebrates the life of Sam Phillips 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 and the discovery of many acclaimed artists, such as Elvis Presley, he also recorded gospel, rhythm & blues, country and rockabilly. This festival started in 2005. For more information, contact WQLT/Big River Broadcasting at 256-764-8121.
  • The George Lindsey/UNA Film Festival started in 1997 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 was a UNA (then known as Florence State College) graduate. The event takes place in April.
  • Arts Alive, in May, first started in 1986. Artists from around the Southeast gather in Wilson Park for two days to show and sell their work.
  • The Spirit of Freedom Celebration is an annual Fourth of July tradition, presented by the Shoals Radio Group (WLAY-FM, WVNA-FM, WMSR-FM, WMXV, WVNA and WLAY). 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 p.m. 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, gospel and others. The festival, the largest in the Shoals area, also includes educational events, art shows, athletic competitions, great food and more.
  • Every September, Florence is the termination point for riders in the annual Trail of Tears Remembrance Motorcycle Ride, which terminates in nearby McFarland Park. The ride is in remembrance of a dark chapter in American history in which Native Americans were shipped off to Oklahoma and the Midwest 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 fair. Activities include arts and crafts, magicians, reenactments and musical performances. Festivalgoers are also invited to dress in period clothing.
  • First Fridays in Florence is a growing arts and music event occurring every first Friday from April to December in downtown Florence. The nine months of art and music nights began in 2005. The city's downtown development efforts, including First Fridays events, were featured as a "wise" community in the EPA Smart Growth publication This is Smart Growth.

Other attractions

  • 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 a playing surface with the ability to withstand up to six inches (152 mm) of rainfall. Capacity is 14,125. From 1986 to 2013, the stadium was home of the NCAA Division II Football Championship Game.
  • 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 citizens and the students at the University of North Alabama.
  • The city of Florence is the home of Billy Reid's flagship store.
See also: List of Registered Historic Places in Lauderdale County, Alabama

Recreation

Parks

FlorenceAlabamaFrom9kFeet
Aerial view of Florence
  • 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 area, 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 was 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 Children's Museum of the Shoals is also on the park property.
  • Florence Sportsplex has baseball, softball, and soccer fields. It located at the corner of Alabama Highway 20 and Gunwaleford Road.
  • 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 0.75 miles (1.21 km) fitness 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 disc golf course, a golf driving range, and lighted walking trails. Situated along Pickwick Lake, the park is also used by fishermen, boaters, and swimmers.
  • 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 picnic shelters, a playground, and an interactive fountain.
  • Veterans Memorial 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, 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. The park has a pavilion, picnic tables, nature trails, and bicycle trails. Swimming, fishing and canoeing are some of the park's recreational activities.
  • Wilson Park is located in the heart of downtown, across from the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library. Its grounds are used for numerous festivals and events. The original Plan of Florence in 1818 showed the area as a Public Walk. In 1924, the park was renamed in honor of former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, shortly after his death.

Other recreation

  • Blackberry Trail Golf Course - a municipal golf course
  • Broadway Recreation Center
  • Florence Harbor - a full service marina on Tennessee River (Pickwick Lake) mile marker 256
  • Handy Recreation Center - has a pool
  • Royal Avenue Recreation Center - has a pool

Transportation

Florence, Alabama O'Neal Bridge by Noah McDonald
O'Neal Bridge over the Tennessee River

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 east 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 Tennessee River on O'Neal Bridge, connecting Florence to Sheffield.

Alabama state highways that serve the city include State Route 13, State Route 17, State Route 20, State Route 133, and State Route 157. Alabama 133 connected Florence and Muscle Shoals via Wilson Dam until 2002, when the new six-lane "Patton Island Bridge" 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. State Route 157, a road to Florence and the Shoals area, serves as a four-lane link to Interstate 65 in Cullman. the project was completed 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. One solution discussed 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 (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. 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 Decatur, along Alabama 20/Alternate U.S. 72. The plan has received support from Decatur officials.

Florence is served by the Northwest Alabama Regional Airport in Muscle Shoals. The airport is used for commercial and general aviation, It is served commercially by Boutique Air which provides several daily flights to Atlanta and Nashville. Huntsville International Airport, another option for Florence residents, offers service to eleven domestic destinations, and is an hour's drive from Florence.

Local industry is served by the Tennessee Southern Railroad (TSRR), which runs from Florence to Columbia, Tennessee, and the Port of Florence on Pickwick Lake.

Climate

The climate in this area is characterized by hot, humid summers and generally mild to cool winters. According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, Florence has a humid subtropical climate, abbreviated "Cfa" on climate maps.

The average temperature of Florence is 59 F (15 C). The average yearly precipitation in Florence is 57.06 in (144.9 cm). On average, Florence gets 2.25 in (5.7 cm) of snow per year, which is above the average for Alabama of 0.57 in (1.44 cm).

While Florence is almost 300 miles (480 km) from the Gulf of Mexico, strong hurricanes have brought severe weather to the area. For example, in 2005, the path of Hurricane Katrina came very close to the city, causing nearly 70 mph (112 kph) winds and some storm damage.

Education

UNA HarrisonPlaza
Harrison Plaza, University of North Alabama

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. International students now compose roughly 10% of the student population. The university is situated on 130 acres (53 ha) and surrounded by historic neighborhoods. It is located just north of the downtown business district. Kilby Laboratory School, grades K – 6, is affiliated with the university and is the only laboratory school in the state.

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 merger between the previous two city high schools, Bradshaw High School and Coffee High School. Florence High is located at the former Bradshaw site in the eastern part of the city. The merger also led to the creation of Florence Middle School (grades 7–8) and the Florence Freshman Center (grade 9). The middle school is located at the former Coffee High campus, east of downtown, and the Florence Freshman Center is located at the Florence High School campus.

There are five private schools in Florence: Riverhill School for K-6, St. Joseph Regional Catholic School for grades K–8, and Mars Hill Bible School, Shoals Christian School, and Florence Christian Academy, which are multi-denominational, K–12 schools.

Notable people

  • Walt Aldridge, songwriter and record producer
  • Malcolm Armstead, professional basketball player
  • Ron Billingsley, former professional football player
  • Whitney Boddie, professional basketball player in the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA)
  • Sterling Bose, jazz trumpeter
  • Jeff Brantley, former Major League Baseball pitcher
  • Jeff Briggs, video game developer and CEO of Firaxis Games
  • Roger Briggs, composer
  • Greg Burdine, member of the Alabama House of Representatives
  • Thomas Burrows, professional baseball player
  • The Butler Twins, Detroit blues musicians
  • Jerry Carrigan, drummer and record producer
  • Stewart Cink, PGA golfer, 2009 British Open Champion
  • John Coffee, General during the War of 1812
  • Dennis Condrey, professional wrestler and member of The Midnight Express
  • Oscar De Priest, the first African American to be elected to Congress from outside the southern states and the first in the 20th century
  • Bud Dunn, horse trainer who won the Tennessee Walking Horse World Grand Championship twice
  • Ronnie Flippo, U.S. Representative from 1977 to 1991
  • Byron Franklin, former National Football League (NFL) wide receiver
  • Donnie Fritts, musician and songwriter
  • Braxton Garrett, professional baseball player for the Miami Marlins
  • Eric "Red Mouth" Gebhardt, singer-songwriter
  • Donna Jean Godchaux, singer, The Grateful Dead
  • Brett Guthrie, U.S. Representative from Kentucky
  • Elbert Bertram Haltom, Jr., former United States federal judge
  • W. C. Handy, blues musician, known as "father of the blues"
  • Dorrit Hoffleit, astronomer
  • Kelvin Holly, musician, guitarist for Little Richard, The Amazing Rhythm Aces
  • John Hood, Rear admiral in the United States Navy during World War I
  • Patterson Hood, guitarist, singer and songwriter for Drive-By Truckers
  • Autry Inman, rockabilly musician
  • Tammy Irons, member of the Alabama State Senate
  • Jason Isbell, musician
  • Thomas Jeter, fencer
  • Jim Jones, football player
  • Buddy Killen, former owner of Killen Music Group
  • Julianne Kirchner, swimmer
  • Hank Klibanoff, professor at Emory University
  • Adam Lazzara, musician and lead singer of Taking Back Sunday
  • Lenny LeBlanc, songwriter
  • Jesse Marsh, comic book artist and animator
  • Dewey Martin, actor
  • Floyd Matthews, former member of the United States Navy
  • Alison McCreary, Miss Alabama 1996
  • Fran McKee, first female Rear Admiral in the United States Navy
  • John McKinley, U.S. congressman, senator, and associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
  • Don Leslie Michael, recipient of the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War
  • Tom Monroe, disc golfer
  • Melba Montgomery, country music singer
  • Charles Moore, civil rights photographer
  • John Mortvedt, soil scientist at the Tennessee Valley Authority in Muscle Shoals
  • Harryette Mullen, professor at the University of California, Los Angeles
  • Emmet O'Neal, 34th Governor of Alabama
  • Sam Phillips, record producer, discovered Elvis Presley
  • Norbert Putnam, record producer
  • James T. Rapier, U.S. Representative from 1873 to 1875
  • Billy Reid, fashion designer
  • Milton P. Rice, former Attorney General of Tennessee and former Secretary of State of Tennessee
  • Freddie Roach, American football player and coach
  • Al Romine, former professional football player
  • Jonathan Rosenbaum, film critic
  • Wimp Sanderson, former college basketball coach
  • Dred Scott, of the Dred Scott vs. Sanford case
  • Oscar Streit, former professional baseball pitcher
  • T. S. Stribling, 20th-century novelist
  • Randy Tate, former Major League Baseball pitcher
  • Mark Thompson, radio personality and member of The Mark & Brian Show
  • Chris Tompkins, musician and Grammy-winning songwriter
  • Lamonte Turner, University of Tennessee Basketball player
  • Frank R. Walker, rear admiral in the United States Navy during World War II
  • Gary Weaver, former professional football linebacker
  • White Dawg, crunk rapper
  • John Paul White, guitarist, singer and songwriter for Grammy Award-winning duo The Civil Wars
  • Josh Willingham, former Major League Baseball player, member of 2014 American League champion Kansas City Royals
  • S. A. M. Wood, Confederate States Army general
  • Larry Woods, former professional football player
  • Tom York, television and radio personality
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