This is a two-part story. Its part-I deals with everything about Tuscaloosa except the University of Alabama. It has appeared in Feb 2018 issue of Smart Photography, India’s leading imaging magazine. Go ahead and read Black Warrior Alert – Tuscaloosa.
Black Warrior Alert – Tuscaloosa
Tuscaloosa. If there ever was a word with a truly Native-American twang, it is this! While our world may have many Delhis and New Yorks, it has only one Tuscaloosa. No wonder their Tourism Department calls it the #OneAndOnly.
Named after a tribal chief, Tuskaloosa (meaning Black Warrior), it is a town in Alabama with a population of just under 1,00,000; 35% of them, students. This is not surprising since it houses the University of Alabama.
Few travellers visit Tuscaloosa unless, of course, their work takes them there. But then, when it is not fashionable to check out a destination, why would the bucket-list-ticking-travellers want to go there? Sadly, they are missing out. And you’ll know why as you read on.
Black Warrior River
Tuscaloosa is located on the banks of the Black Warrior River. This river has often been used by NASA as an integral part of its complex transportation system for moving huge rocket assemblies between Huntsville (the Rocket City) and Houston (the Rocket Launch Centre).
On a normal summer day, you could find Regatta teams practicing here with their oarsmen’s blades cutting large swaths through water, as their coxswains reduce the river’s resistance with their dexterous steering manoeuvres. Travellers can unwind on a lazy afternoon on a pedal wheel cruise.
The Delectable Southern Cuisine
As a town in a southern state, it offers more than a smattering of exotic southern fare in relaxed environs. Be it a fine-dining outlet like ‘301’, a relaxed street café like ‘5’, a local breakfast favourite (The Waysider) or a typically Southern Eatery favoured by the locals (Nick by the Sticks), the food you get will leave you smacking your lips.
‘301’ is an erstwhile train station that has been painstakingly converted into a tastefully appointed restaurant. While the décor gels with the authentic, the menu is innovative. You can drool away and partake in its signature Rise and Shine Burger, the local favourite, Shrimp and Grits, a homely dessert, the Bread Pudding, or a delicious beverage, the Alcoholic Root Beer with Ice Cream.
Some of the other must-eat dishes in this town include Uptown Chicken, Baked Avocados, Pork Chops, Paneed Chicken, and Rib Eye Steak. A typical Southern breakfast you must try consists of biscuits, ham, eggs, pancakes, and honey.
The City and its Landmarks
As you drive through the city, you will find the American Civil War history strewn around its pleasant, wide thoroughfares. A couple of churches – the First Presbyterian Church of Tuscaloosa and the First United Methodist Church – form an integral part of the uprising of the African-Americans against the repugnant practice of Slavery.
There are mansions like the Jamison Home, the Murphy Residence (now converted into Murphy African-American Museum), the Battle-Friedman House & Garden, and more, that have been witness to the world’s most famous struggle against slavery.
While the Civil War played a key role in shaping the modern-day Tuscaloosa, another important chapter in its history was more recent. During the African-American protest in the 1950s and 60s, there were about 125 peaceful protestors who were suppressed brutally at the First African Baptist Church. This was a landmark event that led to the people feeling disgusted with the goings-on and shaped the societal norms that got established subsequently.
During a 20-year period from 1826 to 1846, Tuscaloosa was also the capital of Alabama. The Capitol Building got burnt down in 1923, but near the ruins, the town authorities have now established a Capitol School.
The architecture of the spanking new Federal Building and the Courthouse would remind you of the Parthenon!
The Paranormal in Tuscaloosa
For those who love their travel to haunted places, there is Dr. Drish’s house. The state preservationists consider this majestic antebellum house, completed in 1837, to be one of the most distinguished amalgams of Italianate and Greek-Revival styles in Alabama. Apparently, Dr. Drish’s wife haunts it.
As the lore goes, when Dr. Drish died, his last wish was that certain candles be burnt at his funeral. But his wife wanted the same candles used for her own funeral. So, she hid them. As a result, when she died, no one could find those candles, and they were never burnt. Her spirit, it is said, got angry. And ever since, this house remains haunted.
Approximately 25-km to the east of Tuscaloosa, you would find the only Mercedes-Benz manufacturing facility located in North America. It was established around the turn of the century. It boasts a production capacity of 300,000 vehicles and exports worth over a billion dollars!
While the plant is spread over a massive area of around 1000-acre and has multiple on-road and off-road test tracks, its Visitors Centre gives a glimpse into the history and evolution of these iconic automobiles. Some of the shiniest sets of wheels are on display here.
The Best of American Art
As you drive back from this gigantic facility, just on the outskirts of Tuscaloosa lays another hidden gem – The Tuscaloosa Museum of Art. It may seem surprising, but this museum is located in a building whose architecture is unmistakably Japanese. It displays around 1000 works of art.
Jack Warner gathered this collection over many decades as investments for Gulf States Paper – a company that now forms a part of Westervelt Company. The Westervelt Company was asked and it graciously agreed to share this collection for display. Not surprisingly, this is considered to be one of the greatest collections of American Art anywhere in the United States.
In fact, many of the works depict the battles fought by the Native-Americans with the Union army. And, some of the works display the gruesome Native-Americans warrior rituals like scalping their victim. A life-sized statue of the Black Warrior is also on display just outside the museum building.
While I have talked at length about the various facets of Tuscaloosa, I have studiously avoided any reference to the University of Alabama, its tradition of excellence in sports, the various museums it maintains, and its remarkable campus, as that would form the second part of this travel story. I promise that will be equally exciting! So, do stay tuned for the next issue.
Want to read about another Alabama town? Read ‘Huntsville – A Doorway to the Past and the Future’.
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