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Helen Keller’s birthplace is not the only must-see point-of-interest in Tuscumbia

It may be the most notorious shrine in Alabama, but Ivy Green is not the only interesting place to see in Helen Keller’s hometown.

Among north Alabama’s oldest cities, Tuscumbia has a couple of the state’s top tourist attractions. In addition, nearby places like the Tennessee River’s Pickwick Lake and Wilson Lake provide a lot of fun possibilities in this region that is often referred to as the Quad Cities and The Shoals.

Visiting Ivy Green will always be a must for visitors, but there are other places in the downtown area that need to be on your go-to list, especially if you want to find out about the city’s rich history in person. Keep reading for some useful insight about Tuscumbia.

Visiting the place where Helen Keller met Anne Sullivan will awe and inspire you

Built by Helen Keller’s grandparents, Ivy Green was listed with the National Register in 1970, and has been a museum since 1954. The 200-year-old house, well and small cottage remain much as they were when Helen was born there on June 27, 1880.

The present-day amphitheater and set in the back yard were originally built about the time of Helen’s 100th birthday in 1980. Major improvements have been made in recent years so more people from all over the world can enjoy the annual outdoor production of William Gibson’s The Miracle Worker. Since 1962, attendees have enjoyed seeing the inspiring story portrayed on the very site where Anne Sullivan first persuaded the young Helen to believe that a blind person can still have a meaningful life. Typically, a dozen performances take place during the summer weekends of June and the first half of July.

For those who want to learn about, or salute the life of, one of Alabama’s most-renowned natives, a visit to Ivy Green is well-worth the admission price even when the play is not taking place.

Did you know that Helen received an Academy Award for the 1955 documentary film about her life? For nostalgia fans, Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke portrayed Anne and Helen in the Broadway play of The Miracle Worker from 1959 to 1961 before doing the same for the award-winning motion picture. The movie was nominated for five Academy Awards in 1962 with Bancroft taking home the Oscar for Best Actress and the 16-year-old Duke getting the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Resources for your trip to Ivy Green:

The historic downtown is one-of-a-kind

In Tuscumbia, the fine historic courthouse is found just north of the primary historic commercial strip on Main Street. It’s like a bookend. A steep hill leading to Spring Park is the other bookend, and the town’s historic heart is in between. The variety of late 1800s and early 1900s commercial buildings provide a good deal of nice streetscapes:

It’s a combination that makes this old downtown unique, and a great place for a sidewalk tour.

Above, the state’s oldest remaining block of connected commercial structures — the c. 1840s seven-building Commercial Row located on 5th Street — is another feature that makes Tuscumbia unique.

The c. 1888 train depot, above, is located a block west of Commercial Row and a block southwest of the courthouse. Some train cars, a turntable and a roundhouse are found at the property making it a must-see for railroad fans.

Many other historic structures are within walking distance of the courthouse.

Above, from top left, the c. 1890s Womble House; the Methodist Church and Clark Building — both built in 1926 — across from the courthouse; the oldest portion of the First Baptist Church that was remodeled in 1903; and the c. 1852 St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Tuscumbia has been the county seat of Colbert County since 1867. The courthouse was built in 1881, but it was gutted by a fire in 1908. The architect responsible for the 1909 rebuild kept the original walls and arched windows, but everything else was new including four tall columns on each side, and the beautiful clocktower. Columned porticos are now only found on three sides due to two large 20th-century additions.

It appears that most of downtown Tuscumbia’s historic houses, churches and commercial buildings were combined in 1985 into one nationally registered group: the 600-plus structure Tuscumbia Historic District.

The city has one of the state’s most fascinating histories

Just months after Alabama became a state, it was incorporated under the name Occocopoosa. But it was officially renamed Big Spring in 1821. They finally settled on a name that stuck in 1822 in honor of the Chickasaw chief, Tuscumbia.

Several notable citizens moved to the pioneer town, including Helen Keller’s grandparents, right before — or soon after — its official founding. The town grew rapidly in the mid-1830s and continued to enjoy a steady pace of growth for decades. 

Tuscumbia Landing was built nearby in 1824 on the Tennessee River. The New Orleans and Tuscumbia Steamboat Company started using it soon after. America’s first frontier railroad west of the Allegheny Mountains was completed between Decatur and Tuscumbia Landing in 1834. A military road had already been built through the town in 1817-1819. All this led to it becoming a significant regional transportation hub, and later, a strategic Civil War site.

Several interesting historic houses are near Ivy Green

The c. 1840 William Winston House (above) was listed with the National Register in 1982. It’s on the high school campus, only 3/10 of a mile from the front gate of Ivy Green.

If you are a historic-places enthusiast, there’s more you’ll want to see in the residential area near Ivy Green and Deshler High School. 

Pictured, from top left: The c. 1888 Queen Anne-style Almon House, another c. 1888 Queen Anne-style house on the corner of North Commons Street and Main Street, and the c. 1870 house next door to Ivy Green.

In addition, the Tennessee Valley Museum of Art sits between Ivy Green and the Almon House.

Spring Park’s lovely vistas can be worth the trip to Tuscumbia on their own

Whether walking or driving, you can find park on the south end of Main Street. Just more than 200 years ago, the first settlement was located at the spring.

Today you’ll find a park with a picturesque waterfall, lake with a jet fountain, carousel, kiddie train, lots of green space, bridges, some statues and plaques telling about the native American heritage, and more. Ducks, geese and other waterfowl can often be found there.

A trip to Tuscumbia makes the perfect itinerary additional for any trip to the greater Shoal’s area

With a population in the city limits of about 8,500, Tuscumbia is part of the Census Bureau’s Florence-Muscle Shoals Metropolitan Area which has a total population that will soon surpass 150,000 persons.

Two other downtowns within five miles — Sheffield and Florence — are filled with historic wonders. World-famous Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and FAME Recording Studios, and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame are all within 3 miles of downtown Tuscumbia.

Check out my article, Where to enjoy the best historic sidewalk scenes in Alabama’s Florence.

See also, The top 25 downtowns in North Alabama for heritage tourism.

Be sure to visit the Colbert County Tourism & Convention Bureau’s website before you plan a trip to the Shoals.


National Register of Historic Places

Encyclopedia of Alabama