By Danny Crownover
In 1939, a tourist passing through Gadsden on his way home to Kentucky from a brief stay in Florida wanted to know if the locals really appreciated the wonderful white way of the Gadsden-Atalla Boulevard, for he said that it was the longest and most beautiful he had ever seen.
The passerby was told that it was indeed appreciated, but with the streetlights being old news with the natives, there was not much bragging about it and that everybody who passed over that wide and perfectly lighted highway invariably expressed admiration and wondered how it all came about.
This white way was extended from Seventh Street downtown to Attalla and was designed, built and maintained by the Alabama Highway Department. Hailed as another step forward by the state department, the white way was formally opened and dedicated on the night of December 12, 1939, with 4,000 witnesses as city commissioner J.H. Meighan threw the switch that put the system into service.
In dedicating the area’s appreciation of the project, state highway director Chris J. Sherlock explained that it was the first intercity illuminated highway in the South, and as head of the highway department and as the representative of Governor Dixon, he was pleased to present white way to the people of Attalla and Gadsden.
State highway patrol chief T. Weller Smith explained the part that proper lighting could play in bringing about a reduction in the highway accident fatality toll. He praised the highway department for its program to widen and improve the roads of the state and for provisions made on the most heavily traveled thoroughfares for four-lane traffic.
Alabama State Junior Chamber of Commerce President Howard Clark of Birmingham was introduced, along with Bill Hopper of the Anniston Club. The project was sponsored by the Gadsden Junior Chamber of Commerce, which Meighan said was one of the finest accomplishments of any organization in Alabama.
Walter Mills, who was president of the local Jaycees at the time, served as master of ceremonies.
Sherlock said that the project was attracting national attention and was destined to be copied in other states. He predicted that the local boulevard would be heavily traveled but that the lighting system would save many lives.
“Just as this beautiful white way dispels the gloom and darkness of night along the highway, so will good government in Alabama be lightening and brightening the high road of progress and happiness of our people,” he said.
Meighan said that the people of the area and the tourists generally appreciated the brilliantly lighted boulevard, which the state built and presented to the cities of Atalla and Gadsden. The neighboring cities used the thoroughfare with the full appreciation of its great value to one of the biggest industrial centers of Alabama.