The first automobile accident in Gadsden was believed to have been around August of 1903. The mishap was nearly fatal for R.L. Adams and R.A. Mitchell, two of the most prominent men of the city.
A resident of Atlanta, Adams came here to become manager of the joint offices of the Western Union Telegraph Company and the Southern Bell Telephone Company. He pioneered in building long distant telephone lines out of Gadsden and was one of the best hustlers among the big businessmen Gadsden has known. Many remembered Adams affectionately.
Mitchell came here in about 1891 to become president of the Queen City Bank. He had been in Montgomery, where he was manager of the city electric car line. When the accident occurred, Mitchell was the agent for the Dwight Manufacturing Company. He later became senior vice president of the Alabama Power Company, a position he held when he died.
Some few years later, the R.A. Mitchell School near Noccalula Falls was named in his honor. Mitchell served the city as mayor and was always ready to help boost Gadsden.
Mr. Adams was driving his locomobile, which was a steamer and generally understood to have been one of the first cars in Gadsden. Adams was one of the first six people to bring an automobile to Alabama.
It was during the week of Aug. 17, 1903 that Adams took Mitchell for a sightseeing trip around the city. They drove up to Lookout Mountain and around through Bellevue highlands.
Coming back, Adams took the route down the mountain by way of the Bellevue Hotel, a route that affords a beautiful view of the city. He was guiding the car with a lever in front that moved from side to side, the present driving wheel not being in use at that time.
Adam was going at a rate of 20 miles per hour when suddenly he lost control. Like a bullet, the car turned and shot off the road into the treetops on the mountainside.
The road ran (and still runs) on the edge of the precipice, and the slightest variance would cause disaster. Adams and Mitchell had a narrow escape from death. As it was, they were seriously hurt and they couldn’t understand why they were not killed. The car leaped off the highway in front of the hotel. As it went on the edge the car turned over, reversed itself and fell on a large rock, right side up.
The plunge took the car to the valley below, a distance of several hundred feet. The fall was evidently cushioned somewhat by the treetops. Some of the trees were bent to the ground.
Guests at the hotel saw the car passing, and when they heard the crash they rushed to the rescue. They found both men unable to move, but both were conscious. For years, the men discussed the accident, and both declared that they were saved in a miraculous way.
It was a long time before Mitchell felt comfortable in an automobile.
Next week: More about R.L. Adams