The area of present-day Lauderdale County and Florence was originally part of the Chickasaw Nation, which ceded its lands to the federal government in several treaties during the early nineteenth century. Shortly after the last Chickasaw treaty was signed, the federal government held the first land sale in the area. The Cypress Land Company purchased the land that Florence now occupies, anticipating that it would become a major commercial town because of its location on a hill overlooking the Tennessee River. General John Coffee, a partner in the Cypress Land Company with future U.S. president Andrew Jackson, commissioned Italian engineer Ferdinand Sannoner to survey the land in 1818. Coffee was so pleased with Sannoner's work that he asked the surveyor to name the town; he chose Florence, his home in Italy. The city of Florence was established on March 12, 1818, and immediately took its place as the county seat, but it was not incorporated officially until nearly a decade later in 1826. Although the city did become an industrial, agricultural, and commercial center, it did not flourish to the extent the founders in the Cypress Land Company had anticipated.
Along with the early development of industry and the opening of the University of North Alabama (UNA) in 1885, the docking and shipping business in Florence has played a major role in the city's economic history. Florence's docking and shipping area, known originally as North Port, was at one time the northernmost port along the Tennessee River because of then-impassable shoals further north. The port enabled the town to flourish and evolve into a commercial center, shipping imported goods upriver from New Orleans and other areas. Supply wagons would then transfer these goods from the port to surrounding towns. The Port of Florence today still plays a significant role in connecting northwest Alabama and southern Tennessee to other major ports in the South. The Tennessee Southern Railroad maintains a partnership with the Port of Florence, providing access to the port, as well as conducting barge, rail, and truck operations.
Florence’s population at the time of the 2010 Census was 39,319. Of that number, 75.0 percent identified themselves as white, 19.4 percent as African American, 3.6 percent as Hispanic, 1.9 percent as two or more races, 1.4 percent as Asian, 0.4 percent as Native American, and 0.1 percent as Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander. The city's median household income was $32,839, and per capita income was $20,699.
The workforce in present-day Florence is divided among the following occupational categories:
· Retail trade (16.1 percent)
· Arts, entertainment, recreation, and accommodation and food services (12.5 percent)
· Manufacturing (9.1 percent)
· Professional, scientific, management, and administrative and waste management services (8.8 percent)
· Construction (7.3 percent)
· Other services, except public administration (6.6 percent)
· Finance, insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (5.2 percent)
· Information (2.9 percent)
· Public administration (2.5 percent)
· Transportation and warehousing and utilities (2.2 percent)
· Wholesale trade (1.7 percent)
· Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (1.2 percent)
The Florence Public School System has three elementary schools, two middle schools, two high schools, and five private schools. Florence also has the Florence Freshman Center, which is for ninth grade only, as well as the Florence Learning Center, which includes middle school and high school grade levels. UNA, which celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2005, is the oldest four-year public university in the state.
Highway 72 and Highway 43 both offer connections to Florence. Many visitors travelling from Birmingham, Huntsville, cities in the neighboring state of Tennessee, and even Atlanta, Georgia, take advantage of these two routes. Alabama 157 is another important highway that acts as a four-lane link to Interstate 65 approximately 45 minutes outside of Florence. In 2007, the completed highway became known as the University of North Alabama Highway. Florence has one airfield, the Northwest Alabama Regional Airport, which is a small airport in the Shoals, that provides facilities for general aviation. Local industries continue to use the Tennessee Southern Railroad from Florence to Columbia, Tennessee, as well as the Port of Florence on Pickwick Lake along the Tennessee River.
Events and Places of Interest
There are many events and places to visit in Florence. The Indian Mound and Museum interprets the Tennessee Valley's largest domiciliary mound, a human-made mountain of dirt and natural debris that served as the base for homes during the Woodland period of Native American prehistory. Also commemorating the Native American history of the region is the annual Trail of Tears Motorcycle Ride, held every third Saturday in September. Other events include the Frontier Days Celebration and the Freedom of America Celebration held on July 4 each year.
Barske, Carolyn. Florence. Images of America Series. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing, 2014.
The Heritage of Lauderdale County. Clanton, Ala.: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 1999.