A Visit to Ivy Green, Helen Keller’s Birthplace

The main house at Ivy Green, Helen Keller’s birthplace

Post by guest writer, Jamie Rhein

Some historic house museums seem as if the people who once lived there just stepped out for a moment–where scenes one has read about seem to appear in each room. Ivy Green, Helen Keller’s birthplace in Tuscumbia, Alabama is such a place.

Located a few blocks from Tuscumbia’s downtown, Ivy Green’s main house and cottage are preserved with most of the furniture and several of the Keller family’s belongings in most of the rooms where they used them.

The cottage where Helen learned to trust Anne

The dining room where the infamous battle of wills between Helen and Anne Sullivan, her teacher took place over breakfast is appointed with the same dining room table, chairs and what is left of the dishes. Plates, eggs and sausages were hurled as Annie taught Helen to properly eat off of her own plate and fold her napkin when she was done eating. Annie won that battle–and many more.

Dining room where Helen and Anne Sullivan battled over manners and eggs

During our docent led tour, we were treated to this familiar tale and more as we moved from room to room. With each story and tidbit, Helen, Anne and Helen’s parents became more real, remarkable and complex. One of the favorite tales is the one where Helen locked her mother in the pantry under the front stairs as a way to show displeasure over something her mother had done.

The water pump where Helen’s world opened.

But, the best tale–and most known is where Helen remade the connection between things and words. The waterpump where Annie Sullivan fingerspelled “w-a-t-e-r”over and over again into Helen’s hand as the water ran over it is still outside. Seeing it just outside the house’s backdoor made the story three-dimensional instead of just what I read about in a book.

The small white cottage where Anne took Helen to live for awhile in order to get Helen to rely on Anne and to trust her is just steps from the main house. Like the house, the furniture is as it was when Helen and Anne stayed there. I could imagine Helen’s parents peering in the window to watch her progress with hope that their daughter’s life would not be left to suffer in darkness.

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One only has to browse the section of the property designated for the International Lion’s Club to see the impact Helen Keller made due to her fortitude, grace and intelligence and the help of her teacher. The Lion’s Club is the service organization known for its work to prevent blindness around the world and to offer assistance to those who have problems with their eyesight. Helen Keller challenged the club to “become knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness” when she attended the club’s international meeting in 1925. The club took the challenge thus forging an important relationship between Helen and the club that continues today. The cases of this exhibit and outdoor art pay tribute to the impact of Helen’s life. Some items were recently donated.

The museum room where Helen’s life is chronicled through artifacts and photos

Another part of the property that highlights the significance of Helen’s life is the room in the main house set up like a museum of display cases, photographs and signage. Items depict the scope of Helen’s life ranging from her childhood to her attendance at Radcliff, her work as a suffragette, her relationships with prominent people and her travels overseas. The scope is stunning and points to the transformative significance of Helen’s life as someone whose impact and importance should never be forgotten.

Amphitheater where the Miracle Worker play happens each summer

The grounds also include the amphitheater where the Miracle Worker is performed on weekends throughout the summer. Unfortunately, the timing of our trip didn’t include a day of the performance which is know for being a crowd-pleasing staple in Tuscumbia.

*We stayed at the Coldwater Inn a few minutes drive from Ivy Green. The hotel is lodging I recommend for its comfort, cleanliness and a bit of southern charm.

Post and photos by Jamie Rhein