I just bought my first Billy Reid. No, not Armani or Versace. Much better!!! Billy Reid, whose creations the New York Times referred to as "Dressed to Impress, with a Southern Drawl," is the internationally acclaimed clothing designer who has recently moved his corporate headquarters to Florence, Alabama. My trip this Wednesday would be my first time to visit the new store on Court Street in downtown Florence. I had lusted after Billy Reid's fashions when I was at his flagship store on Seminary Street in Pickett Place, one of the oldest homes in Florence, over a year ago.
Of course, I had long ago despaired of ever owning a piece of clothing by Billy Reid for several reasons. First of all, Reid designs clothing primarily for men, secondly his desigms for women are usually sizes 2 to 6, and finally, haute couture is definitely way beyond my means. But yesterday, I hit pay dirt.
I drove to Florence for the express purpose of having lunch with a friend and seeing BR's new store in the old Anderson Books building (gorgeous). As soon I walked in the door, I headed straight for the sale rack. Now, as everyone knows, the words sale and designer constitute an oxymoron, but a sale is a sale. The stunning oatmeal linen shirtdress I found was actually my size, and I took it as a sign from God that I should buy it. Not to mention, that my birthday is coming up soon and that occasion always gives me carte blanche to purchase anything my heart desire (within reason).
I took some photos, drooled over Reid's fabulous cdesigns for men, his exquisite fabrics and divine leather articles, then paid for my purchase and headed down the street to Rosie's Cantina to celebrate with the best margarita in town (made from scratch for me by the manager---how did she know what I liked). Then we walked two doors down the block to top off the meal with an ice cream cone from Trowbridge's Ice Cream parlor, one of the oldest establishments in Florence (circa 1918). My friend and I had to eat the ice cream outside in the near 100 degree heat because the small ice cream and sandwich shop was completely packed, as it always is around noon. I have never eaten a cone of ice cream (chocolate marshmallow almond, to be exact) so fast.
From Trowbridge's we drove over to the Kennedy Douglas Center for the Arts to pick up a brochure for the upcoming W.C. Handy Festival which starts this weekend and runs through the first weekend in August. Then my friend drove me (being the DD, she drank tea at lunch) to a Civil War plantation house smack dab in the middle of Florence, Alabama, just off Florence Boulevard (Highway 72/Lee Highway).
Hidden in the trees behind a service station and a stones throw from the new Marriott
Courtyard hotel is an 1820's mansion that has survived almost intact for nearly two hundred years. Sweetwater Plantation was recently purchased, and the owner plans to have the restoration completed by early 2011. The house and grounds will be used as the venue for a multitude of events such as concerts, civil war reenactments, historic balls, conferences and retreats.
This amazing home was completed by Governor Robert Patton in 1835. It was used as a party house (frat boys have nothing on Governor Patton) and later occupied other famous historic figures--Union and Confederate alike. At one time it was a working plantation of nearly 4000 acres and about 250 slaves and freed men. Rumored to be haunted (photographs attest to this phenomenon as do numerous people who have witnessed a sighting), the plantation has attracted attention from ghost hunters around the globe.
In the short time that I was there, I did not see any ghosts, but then I am not given to visual perception of anything not in this dimension. However, I did have a sense of contentment and pleasure in just being in the environs, not my usual response to decaying mansions. Plus I felt that the house was happy to be used again. I look forward to seeing it with its new face.
By two pm, I was a complete puddle of water, not to mention completely sober, and glad to jump in my air-conditioned car and drive back to Elk River. There are many other stories in the Shoals, but they will have to wait for another day.
---Penne J. Laubenthal