Alabama Power Company’s Gadsden Steam Plant 100th anniverary – Part 3


For the next few weeks the Messenger and the Vagabond will be doing a partnership with Alabama Power Company for the 100th anniversary of the Gadsden steam plant.

The Vagabond has contacted Alabama’s famous historian, Leah Rawls Atkins, for her expert information.

Leah wrote a very thick book on Alabama Power Company a few years ago  called Developed for the Service of Alabama,  The Centennial History of the Alabama Power Company 1906-2006. It is a must-read fabulous book.

From this and research from the Vagabond’s files, we will show that Gadsden and its area was important in the starting of Alabama Power Company.

Willam Patrick Lay

Last week we talked about Willam Patrick Lay, who was born in Cherokee County on June 11, 1853. Captain Lay was the son of Capt. Cummins Lay and a grandson of Capt. John Lay.

His father and grandfather were local heroes, legendary river men who operated flatboats and then steamboats on the upper Coosa River.

Lay grew up near a gristmill, and as a young boy during the Civil War he spent hours watching the wheel turn, dreaming about what else falling water might accomplish.

Lay was far more a business man than the title “Captain” implied, but he carried it with pride all his life.

In 1902-03, he constructed a small dam and hydro plant at the old Wesson Mill on Big Wills Creek to supply electricity and water to the city of Attalla.

In 1903 Lay sold the plant before it was completed, as he explained, “to devote my entire time to the Coosa .”

Although it was three years later when Lay incorporated Alabama Power Company in Gadsden on Dec. 4, 1906, Attalla has proudly claimed to be the birthplace of Alabama Power.

Certainly, out of Lay’s dream to harness the Coosa River came Alabama Power Company.“

He sold the Wesson Mill property in Attalla in November 1904 to A.L. Dupre and wife, J. R. Brown and wife and Adophus Brown and wife, all of Attalla, who on the 4th day of November 1904 formed a corporation called the Etowah Light and Power Company.

It operated until 1915 when Captain Lay purchased the corporation to become the fourth company under an umbrella as The Alabama Power Company.

Lay wrote in a letter about his Big Wills Creek project:

“Mr. C.A. Kittredge, Manager Alabama Power Company., Gadsden, Alabama.

“Dear Sir, In response to your request that I give you a short historical sketch of the little water power plant I developed on Big Will’s Creek in 1902  and 1903. I will say this:

“ conceived the idea that such a development would serve three purposes:

“First, to supply the city of Attalla electricity, second, to pump water into a tall stand pipe which would furnish Attalla with water, and third, to demonstrate the possibilities and economy of hydro-electric power for which I had been contending for a number of years preceding.

“I began the construction of this small plant in the fall of 1902, but feeling that winter would be a bad time to carry the work on, I suspended work until the spring of 1903. During that year I built the dam across Big Will’s Creek at what was known as the old Wesson Mill (which I had previously bought) and also the transmission line into Attalla.

“By that time I had run out of funds and had not been able to make a contract with the city of Attalla for the consumption of power.

“I found myself with the major part of the work done but without money to complete the entire plant.

“I was confronted with the necessity of dealing with an element which seemed quite anxious to beat me out of the project.

“Furthermore, I was giving all of my time to the small plant on Big Will’s Creek and losing time on the big project which I had been advocating for a long time, the general development of the Coosa River for navigation, power, and amelioration of floods.

“I decided to sell the little plant and devote my entire time to the Coosa.

“After considerable delay an agreement was reached with a small bunch of Attalla citizens who bought the entire project, put in a generator, and completed the plant just as I had planned it.

“I want to add that it is proved to be very successful.

“The height of the dam was 17 feet, and the capacity was about 75 horse power.

“Trusting that this is the information you desire, I am, with kindest personal regards, Yours Truly, W.P. Lay.

Colonel Oliver Roland Hood

Recently the Vagabond talked about two other Alabama Power originators from Gadsden… R.A. Mitchell and W.P. Lay.

The third was Colonel Oliver Roland Hood, an eminent Gadsden attorney, and civic leader.

As one of the three incorporators of Alabama Power Company in 1906, he was the author of it’s charter.

For 35 years he was closely associated with William Lay in the development of electric power in Alabama.

His law firm was Hood and Murphree Attorneys in the old Stocks Building.

Hood lived at what is now the Women Club on 862 Chestnut Street.

His house is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The house is a two-story brick Classic Revival house built around 1904.

In 1954 the Gadsden Women’s Club purchased the property to house their organization which was founded in 1923.

He was born July 31, 1867, in Ashville, St. Clair County, Alabama and died in Gadsden March 1, 1951. He is buried in Forrest Cemetery.

Hood was the son of Noah A. and Mary I. (Cooper) Hood, with his father being a Baptist Minister.

Mr. Hood was also educated in the public schools of St. Clair County; high school in Ashville and went to the University of Nashville and Peabody Normal College, both in Nashville, Tennessee. Hood had an A. B. and the L. S. degrees

Mr. Hood during his life was President of the Gadsden Loan and Investment Company and Vice-President of the Sauquoit Spinning Company of Alabama.

He was a director in a number of business corporations. His office was located in the old Gadsden National Bank Building.

Mr. Hood was a member of the First Baptist Church and also a 32nd degree Mason; Knight of Pythias.

He was also a member of the Gadsden Country Club; Southern Club, Birmingham, Alabama.

Oliver married Julia Riddle, the daughter of S. W. and Margaret (Swan) Riddle. She was born in Gadsden and received her education in private schools. They have one daughter, Margaret Hood who later became Mrs. Felix C. Bowman.

Next week…. part 4, the Gadsden steam plant.

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