How did Gadsden get started? Part Six


The Vagabond has been asked many times about how Gadsden was started and its early years. One of Gadsden early historian and mayor, Charles P. Smith (1863-1929) wrote about the early Gadsden and how it got started. He continues:

Chapter VI—And Still More Pioneers

“No history of Gadsden would be complete without a record of Col. R. B. Kyle who since he came to Alabama has been a builder and promoter. Col. Kyle was born in Rockingham County, North Carolina, May the 24, 1826, which makes him 88 years of age, probably the oldest man living in Gadsden today. James Kyle, his father, originally came from county Tyronne Ireland, born of Scotch-Irish parentage, coming to America in 1820 and settling in Rockingham County, N.C.; later marrying Elizabeth Jones of Henry County Virginia.

“Afterward James Kyle engaged in a tobacco business in Leaksville, N.C., and died in 1836 a very wealthy man.

“His widow, Mrs. Elizabeth Kyle was married in 1836 to Col. Joseph Kyle, of Columbus, Ga., a large and successful merchant by whom he was reared and educated. Col. Kyle therefore came of that sturdy progressive and aggressive stock of Scotch-Irish blood of which every American citizen will boast of today if there be a drop in his veins.

“In about 1850 Col. Kyle married at Columbus, Ga., Mary Allen Thornton, a daughter of Dozier Thornton.

“They were without children a number of years for which both were anxious, finally sending for Dr. J. E. Wyeth of Guntersville, Ala., who made rather a discouraging report, whereupon he sent Dr. Wyeth to Mobile to find a boy for his adoption.

“He brought back a likely young fellow 6 or 7 years of age, apparently of foreign descent who was adopted as Ben Kyle.

“Shortly afterwards a daughter was born to them, Mary Allen, the only issue of their marriage.

“Mrs. Thornton Kyle died within two months after the birth of their daughter, Mary Allen, who married Marcus A. Foster in 1873.

“After the death of his first wife he married Virginia Nuckles, of Columbus, Ga., in 1856, the union of which was blessed with many children.

“Of the four born before the war none survived except Mrs. J. M. Elliott, a woman of superior education, and refinement, noted for her social leadership, her cordial manner toward all, and commendable work in charity and the helping of God’s poor in the entire community.

“Col. Kyle moved from Columbus, Ga., to Cherokee county, Ala., and became a citizen on March 3, 1853, located on the north side of Coosa river near King’s Hill, 14 miles east of Gadsden.

“His father-in-law, Dozier Thornton, who came with him from Columbus, Ga., was a man of considerable means for that day and time, and at once began hunting investments for his surplus capital.

“Col. Kyle states that in the mean time, they jointly bought about 4,000 acres of land laying for the greater part on the south side of the Coosa river at the mouth of Ball Play creek; (a large portion of which is now owned by Gid Kershaw) and he at once began clearing up a plantation, most of the land being in thick underbrush and woods.

“D. Thornton continued riding over the country trying to find lands on which to locate some relatives and in doing so made frequent trips to Gadsden, then a small village of 75 to 100 population in about 1854 to ‘55.

“The Colonel says he first came to Gadsden in 1856 to attend a mass meeting of the citizens of Cherokee, DeKalb and St. Clair Counties, (this part of Etowah being in Cherokee).

“This meeting was called for the purpose of hearing President Hale of the N.E. and S.W. railroad whose charter made Gadsden the northern terminal and Meridian, Miss., the southern terminal.

“This meeting was held in a church midway between Third and Fourth street, Gadsden’s First Methodist afterwards sold to the Presbyterians.

“He was much impressed with the looks of the people, being largely made up from the vicinity of the old pioneers Gabriel Hughes, John S. Moragne,

“W. E. Lucy, Sr., and others heretofore spoken of in these series.

“He was forcefully enthused with ideas advanced by President Hale of the great natural advantages for a location for a railroad center and merchandising and manufacturing purposes.

“In 1857 Mr. D. Thornton went into the mercantile business with W. E. Lucy, Sr., one of the best known and highly esteemed pioneer merchants of the village.

“It seemed that some difference arose between Thornton and Lucy which Col. Kyle was called upon to arbitrate which resulted in Thornton buying out Lucy’s interest and turning it over to Col. Kyle to run with a good salary and one-fourth interest in the profits.

“Later D. Thornton and Co. desired to be released of all responsibility which Col. Kyle undertook to do by organizing a company composed of W. B. Winn, A. W. Watson and himself under the name of Kyle, Winn and Co., building a store on the present location of the Etowah Bank and Trust Co., 26 feet front by 125 feet length, which was the largest store in North Alabama at that time, doing an immense business and making a great deal of money until the war which brought about a dissolution of the firm and the destruction of its business.

“This pretty well covers the activities of Col. Kyle up to ‘61.

“He returned here however, after the war where his greatest life work began and continues until now which will be properly considered in the later series of these writings.

“It remains only to say that some prominent men’s memories are different in regard to the purpose of President Hale endeavoring to locate a railroad from Gadsden to Meridian, thinking it more than likely that he spoke in the interest of some other railroad to be surveyed out of Gadsden, probably to Dalton, Ga.

“What is now known as the A.G.S. railroad was then known as the Wills Valley railroad from Chattanooga to Attalla, and that the N.E. & S.W. railroad was to be a continuation of the Wills Valley railroad with an ultimate terminal at Meridian, Miss., which afterwards became known as the Alabama and Chattanooga railroad.

“Be that as it may, all memories are more or less vague covering such lengths of time. We will try to reconcile in a correct way, so that all will agree, and the truth be known.

Next week — a new adventure.

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