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Historic Highlights
By Lynn Grisard Fullman

"I find that fact and fancy look alike across the years that link the past with the present."

The observation belongs to one of North Alabama's most revered and famous natives, Helen Keller, a deaf and blind woman who spent her lifetime working to improve life for others like herself.

Born in Tuscumbia, Miss Keller was the product of a region steeped in history. Today, museums, monuments and celebrations remember earlier years - times when nomadic tribes thousands of years ago sought shelter in caves, when Indians roamed virgin woodlands, when Europeans learned for themselves this was a land rich in resources, when statesmen made crucial decisions.

A quick listen to area names - Sequoyah and Noccalula, for instance - hints at the influence of Native Americans whose heritage here is thick. Evidence of their having called the land their home remains in places like the Indian Mound in Florence (yes, you can scale it and even have a picnic on top) and the statue to an Indian maiden near Gadsden.

There are historic towns, including Mooresville which is older than the state itself. EarlyWorks, which includes the Alabama Constitution Village, is the place where history comes alive as carpenters and homemakers recreate what life was like when Alabama gained its statehood.

The early 19th century has left its mark on this region where cotton once was king, ante-bellum wealth was abundant and a civil war left its scars.

That brother-against-brother conflict was, in part, staged in this region where fortresses were erected, headquarters were set up and soldiers scrawled messages which remain on the walls of a Huntsville depot. In Cedar Bluff, the centerpiece of a several-acre park is a Confederate cold blast furnace; and in Florence, Pope's Tavern and Museum once was used as a hospital for wounded soldiers, both Yank and Reb.

The coming of the railroad through the North Alabama region had an impact as well, giving rise to towns, new residents and new growth. But, to some towns like tiny Mooresville which refused to allow the railroad to intrude, growth was stunted, evidence of the impact of the transportation link.

Although trains no longer whistle through town, there is music of another sort. As though a symphony, before time began, was hired to play in the background, life in North Alabama has been set to music.

Florence was home to the blues king W.C. Handy who still is honored annually with a festival staged at his birthplace which is open year-round for tours. The nationally known country music band ALABAMA got its start in Fort Payne where a museum still pays tribute to "the boys" who each summer converge to headline a music fest. Other greats are remembered at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame where music giants annually are inducted alongside the likes of Nat "King" Cole and Hank Williams.

Music still echoes through the valleys and hills with Double Springs the setting for an outdoor drama, which brings to life Winston County's struggle against secession during the Civil War. Another outdoor drama, "The Miracle Worker," is staged on summer weekends outside Helen Keller's birthplace.

People living in this region annually pay tribute to their roots with a host of festivals. Hartselle, for instance, each September hosts Depot Days; Eva hosts Frontier Days in late September; Athens in May hosts Homespun which includes demonstrations of early American folks art.

Other festivals fete the region's musical roots. Bluegrass Superjam is held in April and November in Cullman; and in October Athens is the setting for the Tennessee Valley Oldtime Fiddlers' Convention.

Some events honor vital links in North Alabama's history and show the people's spirit. Winfield, for instance, hosts Mule Day in September; Decatur in April and again in September honors the racking horse, and Russellville in August - when the slurping is good and temperatures sizzling - holds a Watermelon Festival.

Early explorers, Civil War soldiers and Indians are gone, leaving in their footsteps a people who know they have inherited their own Garden of Eden.

So, tune up your rocking skills and sit a spell, because North Alabama welcomes those wanting to know more about its yesterdays.

For information on special events and travel destinations in North Alabama, call the North Alabama Tourism Association, formerly the Alabama Mountain Lakes Association, at (800) 648-5381 or (256) 350-3500, visit their web site at www.northalabama.org or e-mail the staff at info@northalabama.org.

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