Before I leave Tuscaloosa behind, I want to tell you some of my impressions of this interesting and vital southern city. After two weeks in a place, you sort of feel that you know it, although not in the way you would after living there a while. But Tom and I like to explore and we feel like we saw most of Tuscaloosa and have some ideas about the city.
Tuscaloosa has been inhabited since the 1500’s when the Native American Creek (they call themselves Muskogee) people established a village along the Black Warrior River. The city is named after Chief Tushkalusa, who led his people and was defeated in battle by Hernando de Soto in 1540 at the Battle of Mabila. The current city was founded in 1819 and now has a population of almost 100,000. Tuscaloosa is known as the “Druid City” because of the number of water oaks planted along its main boulevards. Water oaks are so-called because they have a leaf that appears to have a drop of water at the end of it. Supposedly the water oaks were revered by Druids in Celtic history, thus the nickname of the city.
Tuscaloosa was the state capital from 1826 to 1846. A series of locks and dams on the Black Warrior River opened up a waterway to the Gulf coast and business thrived. During the Civil War, Croxton’s Raiders burned all but four of the buildings at the University and faced a group of Cadets from the University as their only opposition to taking over the port. Tuscaloosa has been hit by several significant tornadoes. A tornado in 1840 destroyed most of the buildings in town. 69 tornadoes have torn through the town since 1952 with the tornado in 2011 causing the most significant damage, injuries and loss of life.
The University of Alabama, with 35,000 students is the cultural and economic heart of the town. The University was established in 1827. The campus is beautiful with dormitories, classroom buildings, and fraternity houses all made out of the same red brick in a southern colonial style. The University has all the land from University Blvd to the river, and this area is lined by eclectic shops, restaurants, and bars. There are just as many people walking along University Blvd at 11 p.m. as there are at 11 a.m. And you can forget about finding a hotel room, camping spot, or parking space on football game days.
The city has its neighborhoods – Downtown, Northport (tendy and upscale), West End, Eastside,
Cottondale, and Southside. Southside is along the interstate and has all the chain stores and restaurants. Downtown is driven by the University and has the more interesting places to eat. We enjoyed DePalma’s – some of the best Italian food anywhere – which was quite a surprise to us. We also ate a Dreamland Bar-B-Que, which is a must-see in Tuscaloosa. Southern BBQ doesn’t offer you a variety of sauces – you have the house sauce and that is it. So you either think the house sauce is the best ever or you go elsewhere. Another night we ate at Cypress Inn which was in Northport on the north side of the river. Cypress Inn is known for its “famous” white barbecue sauce, so we tried some of it and thought it tasted like a spicy ranch dressing. Not our idea of a barbecue sauce. We found a list of “100 Things to Eat in Alabama Before You Die.” It tuns out the white barbecue sauce from Cypress Inn and the ribs from Dreamland were both on the list!
We were a little disappointed that Tuscaloosa did not have any bike trails. There is one multi-use trail known as the Riverwalk along the southern and northern shores of the Black Warrior River, but it is heavily used and only three miles long. We walked along it and enjoyed it, but it would not have been suitable for our tandem.
We enjoyed our time in Tuscaloosa, especially walking around the university and trying some of the unique restaurants. It is a good place to visit if you are ever down this way.