Recalling Clayton Mill and the old Etowah County Jail

By Danny 'The Vagabond' CrownoverBy Danny 'The Vagabond' Crownover

This week the Vagabond talks about the old Clayton Mill and the old county jail.

There are a few out there who can remember at least one of these if not both.

Clayton Mill

Clayton Mill was located on Black Creek a mile or so below Noccalula Falls on the home place of Charles A. Clayton and his wife Nancy Richards Clayton.

The mill was located about 50 yards north of the present-day Etowah County Rescue Squad building. This acreage was part of a tract of land originally granted to Joseph Clayton (father of Charles) by the federal government in 1855.

Around 1895, Charles Clayton granted Dwight Cotton Mill the right to build a dam across the creek on his property and to construct a pump station to supply water for the new textile mill.

This dam formed a sizable pond and provided sufficient water power to operate the grist mill Mr. Clayton erected soon after the dam was completed.

The mill ground corn into meal for the Claytons and their neighbors.

Nora Clayton, the youngest of the Claytons’ 10 children, remembered a bell at the mill which was rung when someone wanted to swap his corn for meal.

It was her task at a very young age to go to the mill to make the exchange.

She also remembered her brothers’ summertime chore of diving into the mill race to remove trash lodged there.

She remembered  how uneasy this operation made their mother, for fear the boys would tangle with a water moccasin.

The mill and pond were a popular subject for early photographers, who found its scenic beauty intriguing.

One of these early photographs appeared in the rotogravure section of the Birmingham News.

The millpond was also a popular fishing spot with a number of Gadsden natives. A group of local doctors stocked the pond with bream and bass and spent many happy hours fishing there.

The pond was sometimes used for baptismal ceremonies by some of the local churches.

Old County Jail

The old Etowah County jail was located on North Third Street, generally in the vicinity of Meighan Boulevard.

It was in use from the early 1900’s until 1950, when the next courthouse and jail were completed and occupied.

The old building  was then torn down.

The old castle-like structure architecture conformed to the federal style of county jails popular at the time, complete with turrets and cupola.

The cupola is said to have been the gallows room; but it is believed there were no hangings in the jail.

In 1922, Mr. Hoyt Pope married Miss Fanny Leath. She was the daughter of Sheriff Bob Leath, and was Hoyt Pope soon was appointed Deputy Sheriff.

During Sheriff Leath’s eight years in office, the Leaths and the Popes lived comfortably in five bedrooms and a large living room on the ground floor.

The Pope children have happy memories of living there.

Meals for the family and for the prisoners were prepared by the jail’s hired cook.

The cook worked under the supervision of the sheriff’s wife and the prepared meals were taken to the prisoners on the floors above by the cook and the hired janitor.

There was no “trusty” as “trusties were prone to let other prisoners out when nobody was looking.”

Built to house about 50 prisoners, the jail was not often fully occupied.

On occasion the Etowah County jail accepted prisoners transferred temporarily from other counties.

According to the custom of the time, the sheriff, like other county officers, was paid on a fee basis for all services of his office, including the service of his wife as jailer.

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