How did Gadsden get started? Part one

By Danny By Danny "The Vagabond" Crownover

The Vagabond has been asked many times as to how Gadsden was started. One of Gadsden early historian and Mayor, Charles P. Smith (1863-1929) wrote about the early Gadsden and how it got started. His notes are as follows:

The Earliest Days

“Gadsden has no written history, although it has been a history maker from its inception, except in encyclopedia and in state histories, one of which was written by John Witherspoon DuBose in 1888, which dealt with small details of antebellum Gadsden, but elaborately exploiting Gadsden, its industries and prominent citizens during the early boom days of ‘87-’88.

“A most excellent work, but little known and not read by the rank and file. I had heard that it was once called Lafferty’s Landing, which is not correct. With much interest I asked a number of friends near my tender age about the way back beginning of Gadsden and found that their knowledge was about as vague and indefinite as my own.

“So I divined that it must be within the memory of some of our older citizens, so in trying to get data and ascertain the facts, I talked with Mr. J. R. Hughes, who I found to be a veritable well-spring of information. He was born in 1842 before Gadsden was Gadsden, but not an old man – not yet. His mind is clear and acute and has physically the suppleness of youth. I am of the opinion that he is the only man living here now who was born and reared where Gadsden is today.

“He has an old map of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, which was published in 1836, giving the census of the state of Alabama at 309,527 in 1830, when Etowah County was not on the map. It was a howling wilderness of Cherokee Indians with sca-ttering white families here and there, among whom was his father Gabriel Hughes and his uncle, Joe Hughes and John S. Moragne, father of Judge J. M. Moragne.

“I shall make an effort with the kindly assistance of J. R. Hughes and Judge Moragne, who was born in the vicinity in 1843 and has lived here contemporaneously with Mr. Hughes since their birth, to compile everything of interest that has happened there since 1840 until the present time.

“Not only what has happened but of the pioneer settlers who have made great contributions toward the making of ‘Greater Gadsden.’ On that line I hope the series of articles will be sufficiently interesting as to be worthy of a place in your scrap book so that you may refer to it when occasion may require and for the generations who must come in the rapid passing of time.

“Be it known therefore that in 1836 all territory lying north of Benton, now Calhoun County, on a line east of St. Clair and Blount counties, to the Tennessee River, was the last territory taken from the Indians up until that time. The whole territory of Cherokee, De-Kalb and Marshall was carved from that section. Cherokee County in 1846 and until 1867, when Baine county was surveyed out of portions of Cherokee, Calhoun, St. Clair, Marshall, Blount and DeKalb containing 520 square miles. That is Baine’s county.

“In the same year a constitutional convention was held, the delegates being elected by the carpet-baggers and the negroes, which abolished the county of Baine, which was named for a Confederate veteran, who did not stand high with the carpet-baggers of reconstruction days. The legislature, which met in December of the following year, reestablished the county, calling it Etowah, an Indian name, which signifies large tree.

“But 1 have gotten ahead of my story in order to find a beginning point, it being my purpose to deal only with the earlier history of Gadsden so far as possible in this issue. So to begin with the beginning it will be necessary to antedate a few years in order to complete the connection.

“The location was first known as Double Springs, a small trading village where J. R. Hughes was born. The home of his father, Gabriel Hughes, located near the intersection of Fourth and Tuscaloosa Avenue, almost opposite the Tripp place on Tuscaloosa Avenue was originally a log house, now weather boarded over. Gabriel Hughes was the second postmaster of Double Springs. His uncle, Joe Hughes, located at the same time on what is now the southeast corner of Fourth and Bay Streets, always known as the Aunt Katy Hughes place, and now owned by Joe N. Moragne, grandson of the original owner.

“John S. Moragne lived on the east side of the river on what is known as the Paden place, where his son, Judge J. M. Moragne, was born. These venerable sires of splendid sons owned by grants and purchases the entire part of land up to some distance beyond Sixth Street on which Gadsden is built today.

“I am finding that my space is rapidly being filled, and after all will make this a general preliminary, quitting for the time being, with a brief history of Gadsden’s first steamboat in 1845 – The Coosa. She was made in St. Louis and steamed down the Mississippi river to the Gulf of Mexico on through to the port of Mobile, thence up the Alabama river to Wetumpka, where she was completely taken apart and handed overland in Greensport, where she was again put together and started on her journey up the river to Walker’s Landing, which is now opposite the old Ewing estate.

“She was greeted by a large crowd with much enthusiasm. In fact all up the way from Greensport, the riverbanks were lined with backwoodsmen and their families who gazed on it with open-mouthed awe and amazement. It was the first steamboat ever seen on the placid waters of the Coosa.

“I find that writing history is no easy snap. In looking over my preliminary work of last Saturday, I found it utterly void of easy flow or fluency. I was ambitious to surround it with that brilliant, romantic style of James Morgan, ‘in the path of Napoleon one hundred years ago.’ I fear that I am doomed to disappointment, and am alarmed lest there be a lot on my brain, or a tangle in my typewriter, that will gum up the cards and spoil the game.

“It also means a lot of real hard work, which has always been somewhat repulsive to my dainty taste, and aristocratic airs which were born in me in dear old Dale County, Georgia, where I bore the undisputed title of being the laziest boy in the whole community round about. 

“However, I have given my system a general shaking up this week, eating fish and other brain foods in enormous quantities, mixed only with small bits of bread, and the pure sparkling waters of the Coosa for an inspiration. So I have spat upon my hands, rolled up my sleeves, and butted my head cruelly against our historic trees, determined to write it though the Echols building falls in my wild and ferocious struggles.

“Well, let’s push the button on the self-starter. In the first place as stated, the steam boats stopped at Walker’s Ferry, but the people who owned the land on which Gadsden was to be located, were insistent that the ferry or landing should be moved to the foot of Broad Street, where it is today. The people who lived at and around Walker’s Ferry were clamorous in their demand that it should remain there. It was also a small trading point in the year 1845.

“There were also some demands from people living down the river reaching as far as Greensport for the location of the town to be at their respective ferry. It seemed that Capt. Lafferty of the steamboat and W. S. Brown, chief engineer for the old T & C railway, had plenary power, and that they were the court of first and last resort. So after much wrangling and bitterness by the different factions, the owners of the land, Gabriel Hughes, John S. Moragne and Joseph Hughes, Sr., threw the trump card, by offering a large number of lots to Capt. Lafferty and Engineer Brown to change the landing to its present location.

“The town was quickly plotted and lots staked out by W. S. Brown which may be seen on Pope’s map of the original survey of Gadsden. W. S. Brown must have been an exceptionally competent engineer. After this was done Judge J. M. Moragne says that his father, John S. Moragne claimed the honor of naming the ‘child’ or the town.”

Check back next week for part two and what John S. Morange decided to call the new town.

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