By Carla Davis
More than a century ago, one of Gadsden’s native sons, Captain Patrick Lay, took the first steps toward building a hydroelectric plant on the Coosa River – a move that changed the face of Alabama forever.
Because of this riverboat captain’s vision, the state’s first interconnected electric system was created with the founding of Alabama Power and the opening of the Gadsden Steam Plant and Lay Dam on the Coosa River.
Alabama Power and the Messenger newspaper are partnering to bring this important story to students in the region. A six-page newspaper, entitled the Gadsden Centennial, has been developed to introduce fourth graders to the history of electricity in the state, and the role their region has played. It will be distributed in September to public and private schools in Gadsden, Attalla and Etowah County.
“Since its founding, Alabama Power has always played a vital role in education in our state,” Alabama Power Foundation president John Hudson said. “We believe that a good education is the cornerstone for ongoing growth across Alabama. In continuing with this tradition, we are pleased to give local students the opportunity to learn about the history of our company and how it got its start in the Gadsden area.”
Written by Dr. Leah Rawls Atkins with help from Etowah Historical Society executive director Danny Crownover, the newspaper will be released in September as part of the celebration of Gadsden Steam Plant’s centennial.
“I’ve always believed that children should know about the history of their town, their state, the country and the world,” said Atkins, author of Developed for the Service of Alabama: the Centennial History of Alabama Power Company. “I think learning history starts best at a young age.
The account of Alabama’s interconnected electric system and its connection to the Gadsden area and the Coosa River is an important story for these students to know.”
Along with highlighting the roots of electricity in Alabama, the publication includes hands-on activities focusing on safety, math, vocabulary and maps. Students are challenged to interview family and neighbors about their memories of using electricity as a child, introduced to investing and stocks, taught about the dangers of power lines and given opportunities to learn and use new words.
The newspaper also includes a two-page insert about Renew Our Rivers, a small community cleanup effort started on the Coosa River by Alabama Power employees in 1999. Since then, the project has grown into a nationally recognized volunteer river cleanup project that includes Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle.
“My purpose in writing this newspaper was to let the children of Gadsden and Etowah County meet some of the business and industrial leaders of their county and understand the role they played in creating an integrated system of electricity,” said Atkins, whose passion for sharing history with children led her to create this publication.
Chris McCarthy, publisher and editor of the Messenger, said the newspaper is proud to have a part in this project.
“A big part of our role here at the Messenger is to be heavily involved with the schools both academically and athletically, and this project will give us another opportunity to do that,” McCarthy said. “As the father of a fourth grader, I know children at that age are not too young to get involved in the community and see how they can help. I think fourth grade is a great starting place for students to learn about their community and the world around them.”
Alabama Power employees in the Gadsden area are committed to promoting education in their community and often volunteer their time at local schools.
For instance, through the Gadsden State Community College Career Coaches program, Plant Gadsden employees have hosted tours of their facility and job shadowing days, taken part in career fairs and “Are You for Real” events, and conducted mock interviews with students. Eastern Division and Gadsden employees have also served as mentors and judges in the BEST (Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology) Robotics program at area schools. Through this nationwide program, middle and high school students learn about technical fields by designing and building robots.
“Alabama Power has always been an important stimulus in the Gadsden community,” said Gadsden Mayor Sherman Guyton. “One of the many areas in which Alabama Power plays an important role is the realm of education. The implementation of programs that offer tutoring, mentoring and career education for our students has had a positive effect in our schools. Alabama Power participates in career/education fairs held throughout our community. We are very proud to be a partner with Alabama Power.”