The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

19 hours ago

Why Sylacauga marble is known around the world

(Sylacauga Marble Festival/Facebook)

If you’ve ever visited the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. and stared up at the translucent marble ceiling, you’ve witnessed a piece of Alabama history. The ceiling is made of white marble mined in Talladega County’s Sylacauga (appropriately known as the Marble City).

In addition to lending its natural treasure to some of the nation’s most notable buildings, Sylacauga also holds the title for having the longest deposit of marble in the world. The bed of stone runs 32 miles long, a mile and a half wide, and more than 600 feet deep. The marble found in this quarry is especially desirable for two key characteristics: its purity and its durability. When paired together, these distinct qualities make Alabama marble some of the most desired in the world for large-scale buildings and monuments, as well as homes and sculptures.

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The History of Alabama Marble

sylacauga marble

The Sylacauga Quarry (Sylacauga Marble Festival/Facebook)

Marble is formed when limestone is subjected to extreme pressure and heat. In Sylacauga, the conditions are perfect for the formation of metamorphic marble. Sylacauga’s massive deposit was first discovered by Native Americans, but it wasn’t quarried until 1834, 20 years after army surgeon Dr. Edward Gantt stumbled upon the vein while passing through with General Andrew Jackson’s army.

In the years that followed Gantt’s discovery, Sylacauga’s marble business thrived. More quarries popped up, mining the marble for everything from funerary monuments to building projects to sculptures. By the 1960s, the use of the quarried marble shifted toward the utilitarian. Rather than being mined in huge chunks for building material, the marble was being ground down for use in products like cosmetics, diapers, magazine paper, fertilizer, fiberglass, toothpaste, and chewing gum. In 1969, marble was named Alabama’s state rock.

A Timeless Treasure

Sylacauga Quarry (Sylacauga Marble Festival/Facebook)

Today the charge for Alabama marble is being led by the Swindal family, who own Alabama Marble Mineral & Mining Co. (AM3). AM3’s 50-acre quarry in Sylacauga is the world’s only supplier and leading distributor of Alabama marble. Owner Roy Swindal’s goal is to reintroduce the world to Alabama marble, once again marketing it as a prized material for both commercial and consumer construction. According to the Alabama Department of Archives and History, around 30 million tons of marble have been pulled from the ground in Sylacauga since 1900. The Swindals hope to add to that number by continuing and improving upon the state’s tradition for many years to come.

Marble Mania

sylacauga marble

Sculptor Enzo Torcoletti at the Sylacauga Marble Festival (Sylacauga Marble Festival/Facebook)

It’s only fitting that a town built on marble pay tribute to the stone that brought its success. For the past 13 years, the city has celebrated its marble mining heritage with the 12-day Magic of Marble Festival. The festival, typically held in April, features several activities and events that are all free and fun for the whole family. Festival participants can take a tour of operational quarries and visit the Gantts/IMERYS Observation Point that overlooks the town’s historic first quarry. The creative side of marble is put on display at Blue Bell Park, where 25 sculptors create original pieces made entirely of marble. On the final day of the festival, the finished pieces are displayed and sold at nearby B.B. Comer Library. Other activities include a 5K run and a scavenger hunt.

If you can’t wait for next year’s festival and you want to see Alabama’s famous white marble in action now, there are several locations around the state to see it put to good use. In Birmingham, try the John Hand Building, Wells Fargo headquarters, City Federal building, or the Chamber of Commerce. If you’re in Montgomery, don’t miss the “Head of Christ” sculpture at the Alabama Department of Archives and History. It was created by Italian sculptor Giuseppe Moretti, who also happens to be the artist behind Birmingham’s Vulcan.

(Courtesy of SoulGrown)

4 weeks ago

The Saddle Guy carries on a family tradition of saddle making in Alabama

(Kevin Parrish/Contributed)

Kevin Parrish is a craftsman by birthright. At the age of 13, his father took him into the family garage workshop and started relaying the ins and outs of leather working and saddle making.

“I remember I was watching Saturday morning cartoons and he came and said, ‘Come on, it’s time to go to work,’ and from that point on, some nights during the week and every Saturday I would work with him, kicking and screaming the whole way.”

Luckily, Parrish, who owns The Saddle Guy—a saddle making and repair shop in Baldwin County, Alabama—eventually developed a passion for the talent. After attending college for a couple of years at Auburn, he returned home to Montgomery to once again work in his father’s saddle shop. This time, though, something was different. “It just kind of clicked for me,” he remembers.

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Finally seeing a future in saddle making, Parrish spearheaded an expansion of his father’s homegrown business, renting a space in the Montgomery stockyards and slowly growing the business for the next three years. When his father passed away in 1999, he held on for a few years before closing down the shop and moving to Memphis to work at Tucker Saddlery. A short time later, Tucker Saddlery was bought by Circle Y out of Texas, and Parrish moved west.

“It was kind of like saddle college,” Parrish says. “I got to learn a lot about making techniques and work with a bunch of talented saddle makers and designers.”

When Parrish decided it was time to move home, the natural thing to do was reopen shop. He repeated history by first operating out of his garage. Once business picked up, her rented a space. In 2017, Parrish moved his business to Robertsdale, where he resides today.

There, Parrish and his team of five focus on three main areas of business: saddle making, saddle repair, and creating horse tack like bridles and breast straps. Over the years, business has steadily grown. Last year, the team produced 147 saddles, the year before it was 89, then 69, 33, and 13. This year, The Saddle Guy already has orders for 114 saddles from all over the country and expects to build around 224 total before December ends.

One of the Parrish’s main goals with The Saddle Guy is to uphold the integrity of craftsmanship his father created in their family name. He often gets saddles into the shop for repairs that he can tell his father worked on just by the quality of stitching. With every saddle or accessory his shop works on, Parrish says it’s not about perfection but rather about making something beautiful and durable out of the materials he has to work with.

“There’s just something about starting out with a table covered in material—hardware, a hide of leather, a piece of tree—and then taking all those components and fitting them together. It’s kind of like creating something out of nothing—or not nothing, but something complicated out of something simple.”

Thinking back on how he got to be “The Saddle Guy,” Parrish says, “It’s funny how things work out. I ended up following his footsteps and carrying on what he began, but it was never really intentional. So now we’re building a nice company that’s trying to keep that tradition, not only of my family but the tradition of saddle building and leather crafting, alive.”

(Courtesy of SoulGrown)

2 months ago

Learn the history behind Alabama’s 136-year-old Middle Bay Lighthouse

(Alabama Historical Commission/Contributed)

When it comes to lighthouses, Alabama isn’t exactly the Northeast, where around 150 of the country’s 1,000 lighthouses reside. Nor are we Michigan, where 115 lighthouses stand along the Great Lakes. However, what we lack in quantity, we make up for in rich history. Case in point: Middle Bay Lighthouse, located off the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, has been in operation since the 19th century.

One of three remaining lighthouses in Alabama, Middle Bay Lighthouse is quite different from the tall, tubular structures typical of traditional lighthouses. And you won’t find any black-and-white candy striping either. If you’re on the lookout for Middle Bay Lighthouse, you’ll want to search for a structure that resembles a near-circular house on stilts. The one-and-a-half story hexagonal wooden structure is built on metal pilings screwed directly into the seafloor. Known as a screw-pile lighthouse, this style of lighthouse is commonly used in bays and estuaries with soft, muddy bottoms. Today, Middle Bay is one of only 10 remaining screw-pile lighthouses in the U.S.

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Middle Bay first began operations on December 1, 1885. At the time, it was built as a lighthouse and residence for a lighthouse keeper. It used a fourth-order Frensel lens to alert ships, and Mobilians could see a white light that flashed red every 30 seconds in the bay. When fog covered the bay, a bell sounded every five seconds as a signal.

By 1935, the lighthouse was automated with electric lights and a lighthouse keeper was no longer needed. Middle Bay Lighthouse was in operation for the next 30 years, until it was deactivated in 1967. The Coast Guard planned to demolish the structure, but the Mobile Bar Pilots Association and other local citizens fought to keep the landmark, arguing that it still played a pivotal navigational role, as it was more readily picked up on ships’ radars than small, modern buoys.

The lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and was transferred to the care of the Alabama Historical Commission in 1977. In the almost 50 years since, the Middle Bay Lighthouse has undergone a series of repairs and renovations, including a near $350,000 undertaking in 2002 that included a new slate roof, the replacing of damaged wood, and swapping the 15-foot-tall pyramidal structure atop the lighthouse for a six-foot pole supporting a solar-powered red light.

Today, the lighthouse serves as a private aid to navigation for leisure boats, as well as for bar pilots as they guide ships in and out of the Port of Mobile. Middle Bay has also housed a real-time weather station for the Dauphin Island Sea Lab since 2003.

Wendi Lewis of the Alabama Historical Commission says that while the landmark doesn’t offer tours, it’s well worth a visit by private boat or via one of many bout tours offered in the surrounding area.

“Middle Bay Lighthouse is an important part of Alabama’s—and the nation’s—maritime history,” she says. “It’s an unusual attraction … but the thrill of seeing this historic structure up close and personal is worth the voyage.”

(Courtesy of SoulGrown)

4 months ago

8 perfect Alabama date ideas for Valentine’s Day

(Photographer: Chris Granger/Alabama Tourism Department)

Treat your sweetheart to the best our state has to offer with one of these unique date ideas for Valentine’s Day.

Go for a hike

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(Photographer: Chris Granger/Alabama Tourism Department)

There’s nothing more romantic than sharing a beautiful view with the one you love. Luckily, Alabama is filled with gorgeous natural features that are begging to be explored. Chase waterfalls at Little River Canyon in Fort Payne, DeSoto Falls in Mentone, or Noccalula Falls in Gadsden. If mountains are more your speed, head to Cheaha State Park or Monte Sano State Park where you can extend your day hike into a weekend away with a cabin rental or some good old-fashioned tent camping.

Spend the night at a charming B&B

(Pixabay)

With Valentine’s Day falling on a Sunday this year, a weekend getaway is an ideal way to spend the holiday. Have the quintessential Southern experience with some R&R in the renovated historic homes at Magnolia Springs near Gulf Shores or Lake Guntersville Bed & Breakfast, where you can enjoy decadent French toast with a view of the lake.

Impress your date with a gourmet pre-fixe meal

valentine's day
(Helen/Facebook)

If going out for dinner and drinks isn’t in the cards due to COVID this year, you can still celebrate with a gourmet meal from the safety of your home. Birmingham restaurants Helen and Automatic Seafood & Oysters both are offering prix-fixe four-course meals. Helen’s is $100 for two and includes rabbit dumplings and a chocolate peanut butter tart. Automatic’s is $100 per person and features crab beignets, oysters, caviar, and poached lobster.

Sit and sip at a local vineyard

(Ozan Winery & Vineyard/Facebook)

Share a bottle of wine against the romantic backdrop of one of Alabama’s many vineyards. Ozan Vineyard & Winery near Calera is offering a socially distant Valentine’s Day Wine, Spirit, and Sweets deal where guests can choose between five wine tastings or four spirit tastings both paired with sweet treats. For something extra special, add on a train ride from the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum Depot as part of the winery’s special Valentine’s Day experience.

Pack a picnic for a garden stroll

(Bellingrath Gardens and Home/Facebook)

Wicker baskets and red-and-white checkered blankets never lose their charm. Find the perfect spot for a picnic at Bellingrath Gardens near Mobile, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, or the Huntsville Botanical Gardens. Bonus points if you source your picnic goodies from local cafes and sandwich shops.

Explore Alabama’s most romantic town

(Alabama Tourism Department/Contributed)

With streets lined with Spanish moss-draped trees and spectacular views of Mobile Bay, Fairhope is as picturesque a town as it gets. Explore downtown’s twinkle-lit Frenchmen’s Quarter where you can indulge in chocolates at Fairhope Chocolate or peruse bookshop/bar Page & Palette. Cap off a romantic weekend with a couple’s massage at The Grand Hotel’s world-class spa.

Take a cooking class 

valentine's day
(Grand Bohemian Hotel Mountain Brook, Autograph Collection/Facebook)

The only thing better than eating a delicious dinner together is cooking a delicious dinner together. While it may be difficult to attend an in-person cooking class this year, Williams & Sonoma is offering a virtual class from Top Chef Claudette Zepeda where you’ll learn to make umami-glazed roasted chicken with Peruvian potatoes and vanilla crepes spiked with pineapple vinegar cajeta. For Birmingham lovebirds, the Grand Bohemian Hotel offers Kessler cooking classes where you’ll perfect homemade pasta, gourmet tapas, or expertly grilled dishes. For oenophiles, try the hotel’s 90-minute wine blending class.

Spend Valentine’s weekend on the farm

valentine's day
(Pursell Farms/Facebook)

Spoil your valentine with a romantic weekend among the rolling hills of Pursell Farms. Stay in the newly built luxury 40-room inn, take a bike tour of the expansive grounds, and play a round of golf together. For adventurous couples, book a UTV mountain experience or an afternoon clay shooting. As part of the Valentine’s Weekend at The Farm package, you can enjoy a chef-prepared four-course dinner for two at Pursell’s signature restaurant Arrington, as well as 20 percent off treatments at the Spring House Spa.

Tara Massouleh McCay is a writer and editor based in Birmingham, Alabama. She was previously associate editor at Birmingham magazine and has been contributing to local and regional publications since 2015. She loves sports, spicy food, and above all the art of storytelling.

4 months ago

5 ways to safely celebrate Mardi Gras in Mobile this year

(mardi bras excelsior)

While many associate Mardi Gras with the revelry and debauchery of New Orleans’ Bourbon Street, the holiday actually began right here in Alabama. Mardi Gras was first celebrated in 1703 when Mobile resident Joe Cain led an impromptu parade down the port city’s streets in an attempt to bring joy to post-Civil War misery. Today, Mobile continues the 300-year tradition by hosting a family-friendly celebration that still packs the party with brilliantly colored floats, rancorous parades, and grand balls for nearly a million merrymakers each year. 

This year, Mardi Gras Day (also known as Fat Tuesday) falls on February 16. In a typical year, festivities begin early with more than 40 parades rolling through the streets of downtown in the two weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday. However, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s parade schedule has been canceled. Despite the cancellation, Mobile still plans to celebrate safely and in style. Check out our guide to having a safe and spirited Mardi Gras in Mobile this year. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

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Join the Porch Parade

mardi gras in mobile
Visit Mobile/Instagram

For residents and visitors used to a jam-packed schedule of parties and parades, this year’s Mobile Porch Parade is bringing the same “good times” vibes but in a COVID-safe format. More than 300 participants have registered to dress their homes in their Mardi Gras best as part of the self-guided “parade.” The Porch Parade provides several neighborhood maps for easy planning, or you can create your own route and enjoy all the purple, green, and gold goodness from the comfort of the sidewalk, your bike, or your car. Rumor has it some homeowners have enlisted the help of local float artists to create one-of-a-kind installations for the occasion!

Pay a Visit to the Mobile Carnival Museum

mobile mardi gras
Tad Denson/Visit Mobile

With a tradition of exclusive societies and lavish displays, Mardi Gras is known for its complicated and riveting history. Get the full background on Mobile’s version by exploring the Mobile Carnival Museum. In 2005, the historic museum opened with 14 gallery rooms filled with Mardi Gras costumes and memorabilia, including gowns, robes, crowns, and scepters of previous Kings and Queens of Mobile Mardi Gras. For $5, you can wander the many rooms solo, or schedule a tour with curator Edward Ladd.

Try the Seasonal Treats

mardi gras in mobile
Pollman’s Bake Shop/Facebook

A true Mardi Gras celebration calls for the immersion of all five senses. Pollman’s Bake Shop, the first bakery in Mobile to sell king cakes, is your spot for the traditional cinnamon pastry. If you prefer your sweets in liquid form, several local coffee shops make seasonal king cake lattes and hot drinks, or you can opt for a king cake bushwhacker from Ed’s Seafood Shed. Of course, you can’t leave Mobile without indulging in the city’s own signature Mardi Gras treat, the MoonPie. Mobile is so obsessed with the spongey marshmallow sandwiches that not only are they the leading parade throw, but the city’s annual New Year celebration culminates in the dropping of a giant MoonPie from the sky. For the ultimate mash-up, head to Rouses supermarket for a MoonPie king cake. 

Cheers with a Local Beer

mardi gras in mobile
Serda Brewing/Facebook

Packing into a crowded bar isn’t a COVID-friendly Mardi Gras practice, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still get your drink on (at a safe distance!). Swap the dark dive bar for a spacious local brewery with plenty of open-air seating, and you’ve got a recipe for success. Mobile offers a growing roster of local breweries creating craft beers of all styles from hoppy IPAs to tart goses and clean lagers. For optimal outdoor space, we recommend Serda Brewing, Braided River, or Old Majestic Brewing Company. Nothing says Mardi Gras like an afternoon spent brewery hopping in the mild Alabama winter.

Get in the Spirit at Toomey’s Mardi Gras

mardi gras in mobile
Toomey’s Mardi Gras/Facebook

Ever wonder where everyone gets their crazy costumes and out-there Mardi Gras accessories? What about the millions of beads and masks? For everything under the sun related to the carnival season, look no further than Toomey’s. You could spend hours perusing the superstore’s 70,000 square feet and still not see it all. Beware: Few visitors make it out without a few trinkets and souvenirs of their own to commemorate their Mobile Mardi Gras experience.  

For more on Mobile’s 2021 Mardi Gras season, visit mobile.org/events/mardi-gras

Tara Massouleh McCay is a writer and editor based in Birmingham, Alabama. She was previously associate editor at Birmingham magazine and has been contributing to local and regional publications since 2015. She loves sports, spicy food, and above all the art of storytelling.