The growth of motor travel has brought about the rapid development of the good roads movement. Gadsden is connected with the remotest parts of the country by many fine paved highways. The coming of the bus lines in 1920 was the last step in the evolution of transportation in Gadsden. The Greyhound and the Crescent Lines serve the community.
“The next step in transportation will be to put Gadsden on a regular airline schedule. The foundation for this step was laid when a landing field was built a few years ago on property of the Republic Steel Corporation. We look forward to the not far distant day when our town will be connected with the outside world by regular airplane service.
Since the dawn of history, cities all over the world have used a specially designed standard around which to rally the loyalty and devotion of their citizens. In 1937, the [Gadsden] City Commission appointed a group of four men and five members of the Woman’s Club to create such a flag. The design they chose carries the city seal on a gold background bordered with green. This flag was officially adopted by the city on Aug. 31, 1937.
In the early days, the Coosa River was the only artery of trade leading from this section to the markets of the world. Since those days, when Gadsden was only a boat dock called Lafferty’s Landing, trade has flourished here.
At the beginning of the last century, before the steamboat was brought to the Coosa, many goods were hauled to Wetumpka, sometimes to Montgomery, and on rare occasions all the way to Mobile on flat boats.
These boats resembled modern ferry boats except that their sides were built up to protect the freight from the water. When these flat boats, piled with cotton and grain, arrived at market, cargo, boats and all were disposed of and the men in charge made their slow way home overland as best they could.
In 1845, the first steamboat, The Coosa, was purchased and introduced to the river by one Captain Lafferty. The building and launching of this boat was delightfully described by Mrs. Joseph Rufus Hughes in “A Leaflet from the Past,” which appears in the first part of this book.
The steamboat traffic steadily grew in volume as the population and wealth of the section increased. The local run went from Rome, Ga., to Greensport, Ala.
The river trade reached its height around 1885, at which time many fine steamers plied the waters of the Coosa. Competition raged between the various shipping companies, and some colorful stories are told of the trade wars of those days.
The boats were of excellent construction, and many of them boasted handsome staterooms and richly furnished bridal suites.
The coming of the railroads, however, spelled doom to this great river traffic. In the beginning, the railroads were an aid to the river shipping because they connected one river with another and thus increased the trade area of the river traffic. But as the railroads increased in numbers and mileage, they furnished a competition that could not be met by the rivers. The hauling of freight by steamboat gradually declined until the last boat made its final run and was docked forever.
While the dreams of the early believers in the river’s potentialities have never been realized, there are still those who are convinced that the bosom of the Coosa-Alabama will again bear the products of our mines, mills and fields to the remotest markets of the world.
From the earliest days until now, the business district in Gadsden has consisted of wholesale and retail establishments that have flourished on the trade derived from a large surrounding agricultural area and, in the past, from the extensive lumber business conducted here, together with business produced by the payrolls of a fast growing industry.
Gadsden’s present trade area covers a territory of 60 square miles. Gadsden has two national and two state banks. The oldest, the First National Bank, had a continuous record of service since 1887. The American National Bank (First called Etowah Trust and Savings Bank) was organized in February of 1911. The Alabama City Bank was organized in 1922 and the East Gadsden Bank in 1929.
One of the most unique services in the trade life of Gadsden is the Curb Market. It is located on Eighth Street between Chestnut Street and Forrest Avenue, in a structure with stalls conveniently arranged for the display of farm produce. The outdoor market idea dates back to the time when the City Beautiful Club conducted a vegetable and flower exchange. The regular Curb Market under the county agent was organized in 1923.
From a small beginning, its growth has been remarkable. Through the untiring efforts of the Home Demonstration Agent, who acts as Curb Master, the receipts in 1931 alone amounted to $107,702. The market has sold, since its beginning, well over a million dollars worth of farm produce to the housewives of Gadsden.
In population as the fourth [largest] city of Alabama, Gadsden is pardonably proud of taking second place industrially, being outdistanced only by Birmingham.
The first industry in Gadsden, of which a record could be found, was a hat factory owned by Allen Gaylor, located at Noccalula Falls. The Gadsden Times records a visit made to it in 1879 by delegates of the Alabama Press Association, which was meeting in Gadsden at the time.
Some of the hats were manufactured of wool and some of fine beaver fur. The company wove its own hatbands and even made its own dye.
In 1883, A.L. Crawford came from Terre Haute, Ind., and built the first iron furnace, which was known as the Coosa Furnace, which is now extinct. The furnace was incorporated for $150,000 and was situated near the river, east of the Southern Railway Depot.
The Southern Manufacturing Company began business also about 1883 under the name of Hicks and Kennibrew. The company’s first shop was on Chestnut Street near the old county jail. The company later moved to North Sixth Street and is now located at Tenth and Gardner Streets.
Mr. Thomas B. Gwin, whose family still operates the business, organized the present company, which now manufactures sash, doors, mill work and various lumber products. The company also deals in all kinds of building materials. Under normal conditions, the company employs approximately 200 men.
One of the early industries was the Elliott Car Works, built in 1887. While this industry no longer exists, it was important in the industrial life of the town for the reason that Captain J.M. Elliott, Jr. was one of the very first of our own leaders to seek to develop and promote Gadsden.
In 1895, the Dwight Manufacturing Company of Chicopee, Mass., built its first unit in Alabama City, now within the corporate limits of Gadsden. This unit has grown from a small beginning to a present operation of 480 cards, 62,988 spindles and 2,376 looms. The plant employs approximately 2,500 people and manufactures sheetings, drills, sateens, osnaburgs and fabrics used in mechanical trades. Cabot A sheeting, the first product manufactured by this mill 42 years ago, is still in great demand. These goods are shipped throughout the world.
The A&J (Agricola and Jones) Manufacturing Company was launched here in 1901 with only $3,000 paid in capital. Today the company employs 250 men who draw annually $200,000 in wages. This concern is owned and financed locally. A complete line of gas, coal and wood cooking stoves are manufactured. No other company of its kind in America approaches this one in the completeness of the line produced.
The Alabama Steel and Wire Company, organized by capitalists from Ohio, built the first steel plant in Gadsden in 1905. This plant was acquired by other interests in 1913 and operated under the name of the Gulf States Steel Company for twenty-five years. On April 8, 1937, the Republic Steel Corporation bought it and immediately announced a 50 percent increase, which brought their production up from 400,000 to 600,000 tons annually. This plant manufactures pig iron, steel ingots, billets and slabs, merchant bar steel, concrete reinforcing steel, angles, channels, agricultural bar shapes, rods, plain, galvanized and smooth wire, plates for ship building, staples, nails, barbed wire, galvanized roofing, wire fencing, and many other forms of steel products.
A new bolt and nut factory will soon produce 12,000 tons annually. As the result of a continuous safety campaign, the number of accidents in this plant has been reduced 90 percent in twenty-five years. Republic Steel employs over 3,500 people who divide a monthly pay roll of $300,600.
One of the most romantic stories of business ever told is that of the birth and early struggles of the Alabama Power Company. The full story can be found in a recently published book called Soldiers of Progress and Industry.
The company was organized in Gadsden in 1906 with a paid in capital of $5,000. Today, it owns six great power plants on the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers, and the value of its properties runs into the millions of dollars.
The leadership that made this fine organization possible is one of the great prides of our town. This company pioneered in the world in the coordinated development of waterways for the threefold purpose of producing electrical power, and promoting flood control and navigation.
The Alabama Power Company is engaged today in a campaign of rural electrification that has already raised this state to a position of leadership in the consumption of electrical power in the nation.
In 1907, the Tri-City Gas Company was organized with local and outside capital. On Aug. 3, 1925, the company was purchased by the Southern Gas and Power Corporation of Greensboro, N.C. The local plant again changed hands in 1927, this time being acquired by the Southern Cities Public Service Corporation of Chicago, Ill. In May of 1937, the control of the Alabama Division of this company passed to the Southern Natural Gas Company of Birmingham, which now operates the business under the name of the Alabama Gas Company.
In February 1930, natural gas replaced manufactured gas. Also in this year, the service was extended for the first time to Alabama City and Attalla. From this time, there has been a marked increase in the local use of gas for all purposes.”