This post is the first of our new travel series; look for side trips (and side bars) on your way to and from The Factory—and from here to there. With this series, you’ll find some history, a bit of folk art, good diners, great bars and splendid adventures. Pack your bag, plan your road trip, and come for a visit.
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched—they must be felt with the heart.” Helen Keller
The South loves to claim people as our own. Just as many northern and coastal cities proudly label every barn and bedroom where George Washington supposedly slept, we are equally proud of our musicians’, artists’, and politicians’ southern roots. In fact, Mississippi-born Elvis Presley has no fewer than 5 “homes” across the region. Many visitors are surprised to learn that The Shoals houses the birthplace and childhood home of blind and deaf activist, thinker, writer, lecturer, and philanthropist, Helen Keller.
The Keller home, known as Ivy Green, sits on a quiet lot on North Commons street in West Tuscumbia. Initially, the 1820 Virginia-cottage style house sat on a 640-acre parcel next to a small bridal cottage, also known as the birthplace cottage and school house. The property, now only 10 acres, enshrines the life of the extraordinary woman who broke through the restraints of her physical limitations to become one of the most astonishing women of the early twentieth century.
The entire estate has such presence. The moment you step foot on the property, you immediately want to sense the place the way Helen Keller did. You close your eyes; you hear the wind through the giant trees, the sticky dew evaporating in the morning sun, the smell of early autumn and a tingle in the nose give hints at the way she may have known Ivy Green. It’s hard not to touch everything knowing it was all touched by Helen Keller.
The home is full of Antebellum architecture, artifacts, family photos, and Keller’s library of books in Braille. Her first editions are on display as well as the Braille typewriter she used to create her early works. Her childhood bed still lies in the upstairs bedroom she shared with her teacher, Anne Sullivan. The famous photographs lining the walls of the parlor and halls tell the story of a child making sense of the world around her. The photos in the museum depict the life of a woman who befriended presidents, famous writers, celebrities, and the common man. Each of Helen’s victories was also a significant victory for women’s suffrage, labor reform, and those with disabilities.
The famous well pump where Keller learned to sign W-A-T-E-R still sits right outside the back door. A preserved kitchen building and refurbished ice house sit behind the house next to the stage where Ivy Green hosts the play, The Miracle Worker, on its back lawn each June during the Helen Keller Festival.
Immaculate gardens maintained and designed by The Shoals Master Gardeners create vignettes among the ancient magnolia and oak trees that overlook the lot like wise elders. The Lions International Memorial Garden displays the many gifts given to the Keller home from all over the world. A pine tree planted from a seed that traveled to the moon and back, marble sculptures, and a gazebo are just a few gifts adorning the gardens.
It’s worth the trip to walk the same, close your eyes, and breathe the same air as this legendary woman. This real life story of fierceness and courage originated right here in our own backyard. So we’ll continue to name our hospital and streets and restaurants and just about anything worthy of praise after our Helen Keller and Ivy Green.
300 N Commons Street West
Tuscumbia, Alabama 35674
For more information, call: +1-256-383-4066
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