“And your young men shall see visions…” Part III


The Vagabond recently came across a pamphlet written by the Woman Club called A little book about Gadsden, which tells about the early periods of the Gadsden area. For the last two weeks we have been reporting on this old pamphlet. It continues….


“Gadsden civic leaders were preparing for a big development program in this year, following the huge public land sale in which almost three quarters of a million dollars worth of property changed hands. The newspapers published a special illustrated edition showing the principal public buildings and interesting views of the town. Other papers in the state and over the South were impressed with this edition, which created much favorable comment. (The paper also contained several articles regarding the remarkable growth of the town in the last few years and cited the many improvements that had been made.)

Many of those [persons] who had bought land began plans to erect houses.The building boom continued on a big scale. The owners of the Printup Hotel, which had just been completed, let a contract for $18,000 worth of furnishings for the modern structure.

Stockholders of the Rome & Decatur Railroad held a meeting and voted to begin laying track for the new line as quickly as materials could be obtained. Headquarters for the railway were in Rome, and a number of Gadsden men went up by steamboat to begin work on the new road. Real estate agents continued to do a heavy business, and large tracts of land surrounding the city were being subdivided and platted into lots which were to be placed on the market.” (Excerpt from Will I. Martin’s Fifty Years Ago In Gadsden Columns published in 1938).

Moragne Park, one of the loveliest spots in Gadsden, [located] on the west banks of the Coosa, was given to the city on February 20, 1909, by the descendants of John S. Moragne. The deed stipulated that the city be responsible for the perpetual upkeep of the Katy E. (Katherine Moragne) Hughes Cemetery.

East Gadsden was incorporated into Gadsden in 1925. The two sections of the city are connected by a handsome Memorial Bridge built in 1926 and named to commemorate the service of the Rainbow Division in the World War.

Alabama City was founded by special act of the legislature in 1891 as the result of the efforts of Captain J. M. Elliott, Jr. It was planned as an industrial community that would connect the railroad at Attalla with the river, then important as an artery of trade. On July 13, 1932, this thriving industrial center merged with its older neighbor and became a part of Gadsden.

This brought the city li-mits into touch with those of our sister city, Attalla, whose Indian name means, “My Home.” While Attalla is not within the corporate limits of Gadsden, its growth and activities have been so bound up with that our own that a history of Gadsden would be incomplete without some mention of the neighboring community. It has been and, still is, our main railway center.

One of the earliest pio-neers, Joel C. Lewis, whose descendants have been prominently identified with the growth of Gadsden, came from South Carolina in 1836 and settled with his family in what is now East Gadsden.  

The making of a city

We have seen how Gadsden grew from the first small plotting of lots to its present area of 12.75 square miles. The population has grown from three families to approximately 42,585 persons. Seventy-eight percent of our people are native white, 21 percent are colored, and 1 percent are foreign. This wonderful growth in less than a hundred years is attributable not only to Gadsden’s fine resources of mine and field but to the civilizing forces of its various governmental and religious agencies.

Gadsden is peculiarly blessed by its situation in a section rich in every material resource. According to state and government geologists, Etowah County abounds in millions of tons of limestone, iron ore and coal. Almost all of the coal used in Gadsden, both industrially and domestically, is mined in Etowah County.

We also have a fine asset in our climate. Dr. Howard Odum in his great study, “Southern Regions,” quotes an English economist as saying that only one other place on the earth’s surface offers so much for the creation of a great civilization as the southern region of the United States.

One of the main blessings in the list of our superior gifts he named was climate. 

We have in Gadsden a mean temperature of 63.9 degrees and an average rainfall of 52.82 inches. In 1936, the last year of which the statistics are available, the hottest month, August, averaged 81.55 degrees, and the coldest [month], December, averaged 41.21 degrees.

Very few places on the globe can match these figures.

Because of one of the finest Heath Departments in the United States, Alabama has an expectation of life that is higher than that of the country at large. In the state, Gadsden is near the top of the list of healthy cities. The 1936 report of the State Board of Health records the three cities with the highest death rates in the various categories of diseases. Gadsden is not included in a single instance.

Our water department is not surpassed anywhere. People have come to Gadsden from distant states to study it. There are three reservoirs with a capacity of 2,742,500 gallons of finely filtered water. The source is [the] Coosa River.

Our police department dates back to 1866, when it consisted of one marshal. This was Dave Lewis, son of Joel Lewis. In 1887, the present police department was organized. Today it has modern equipment with radios on all cars, a fingerprint bureau and a well-stocked arsenal. 

The fire department is over sixty years old. It first consisted of a bucket brigade that drew the water laboriously from wells. On July 4, 1883, three-fourths of the buildings on Broad Street burned. A brick building near Fifth Street stopped the fire. The first apparatus to be bought was a hand pump on wheels that operated at the nearest well.

Gadsden then became the proud possessor of a horse-drawn fire engine. Today our fire department is of the best. There are four well-built stations with the finest of firefighting equipment.

Work is now under way to enlarge certain water mains and sewers. When this [project] is finished, the fire insurance rate will be reduced to the lowest rate quoted by the Southeastern Underwriters Association.

The Department of Public Welfare of Gadsden was organized in 1935.

City government

Gadsden was incorporated March 9, 1871. On June 27, 1883, a new charter was granted by an act of the legislature, which provided a mayor and council form of government. This form of government continued until 1931, when by a further act of the legislature the commission form of government was inaugurated. Among the notable improvements completed for the growth of Gadsden under the commissioners are an amphitheatre; an armory and improvement of armory grounds; an auditorium and improvement of grounds; the opening of Forrest Avenue to Attalla; the building of several schools and improving old school buildings; a branch library in Alabama City; a bookbinding project; a ce-metery chapel; cemetery driveways and curbing; a city map; curbs, gutters and street paving in many parts of the city; the erection street markers; Gadsden High School Stadium; sewers and sewer outfall in Alabama City; and a water works intake. These were WPA and PWA projects.


Transportation has been called one of the three physical necessities for the building of a civilization. Raw material and energy are the other two). In the beginning, all transportation and travel in this region was by boat or stagecoach. Early boat traffic is discussed in another place.

The stage ran through this section before the founding of the town. One line came from Tuscaloosa and went to Rome, Ga. (Tuscaloosa Street was so called because it was traversed by this route.) Another [stage line] passed through Gadsden from Huntsville to Rome. A much-traveled [stage] line connected Gadsden and Jacksonville.

The first railroad, the Alabama Great Southern (now a part of the Southern System), was built in 1869 through Attalla. 

In 1872, Major W.P. Hollingsworth and Colonel R.B. Kyle built the Tennessee and Coosa Railroad from Gadsden to Attalla. This road was later extended to Guntersville and finally passed into the hands of the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway Company.

In the late 1880s, Captain J.M. Elliott, Jr. constructed Gadsden’s first streetcar line. It was built to give Gadsden hourly connection with the main railway at Attalla. He extended the line to North Gadsden, Noccalula Falls and out to Walnut Street. A dummy engine was used before it was electrified in the late 1890s. In recent years, the rails have been removed from the streets and motorbusses have been introduced.

Another division of the Southern Railway is the Rome and Decatur, built in 1887. Besides the Southern and the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis, two other railway lines serve Gadsden – the Louisville and Nashville, which was built in 1888, and the Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia, which was finished in the 1890s. 

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