The Vagabond – A History of Gadsden 1836-1900 Part 5 – Final


The Vagabond recently pulled up an article from the Etowah Historical Society library called “Early History of Northeast Alabama,” which contained a section called “A History of Gadsden” by Charles P. Smith, the mayor of Gadsden in 1905-1906. Smith was known as “The Hooter of Owls Hollow” who wrote his reminiscences. He wrote six extremely interesting and historically valuable essays, beginning on Nov. 14 and ending on Dec. 19. Smith is a writer of unusual ability and his style is easy, flowing and somewhat elaborate, with spontaneous bits of wit and humor bursting out all along. It makes his essays exceedingly attractive and readable and shows a very decided literary turn. We end the Charles P. Smith story this week. As far as The Vagabond knows, there were no more articles after this entry.

“No history of Gadsden would be complete without a record of Col. R.B. Kyle, who has been a builder and promoter since he came to Alabama. Col. Kyle was born in Rockingham, County, North Carolina, on May 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 Tyrone in Ireland, born of Scotch-Irish parentage, coming to America in 1820 and settling in Rockingham County, N.C. He later married Elizabeth Jones of Henry County Virginia.

“Afterward, James Kyle engaged in a tobacco business in Leaksville, N.C., and died a very wealthy man in 1836. 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 at Columbus, Ga., Col. Kyle married 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, 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 of 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, who married Marcus A. Foster in 1873.

“After the death of his first wife, Col. Kyle married Virginia Nuckles of Columbus, Ga., in 1856, the union of which was blessed with many children. Of the four children born before the war, none survived except Mrs. J. M. Elliott, a woman of superior education and refinement. She was noted for her social leadership, 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. [His home was] 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 meantime, 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). Col. Kyle 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 he 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). 

The meeting was called for the purpose of hearing President Hale of the N.E. & S.W. railroad, whose charter made Gadsden the northern terminal and Meridian, Miss., the southern terminal. The meeting was held in a church midway between Third and Fourth streets. Gadsden’s First Methodist [Church] afterwards [was] sold to the Presbyterians.

“Col. Kyle 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. Col. Kyle was forcefully enthused with ideas advanced by President Hale of the great natural advantages for a lo-cation 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. 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. D. Thornton & Company later 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 & Co., building a store on the present location of the Etowah Bank and Trust Co. 

The building was 26 feet front by 125 feet in length, which was the largest store in North Alabama at that time. [The company did] an immense business and made 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 1861. He returned here 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 Col. Kyle 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. 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 & 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.”

Note: The Etowah Historical Society is looking for some mannequins for a future museum project. If anyone happens to have some that they may wish to donate, please call 256-613-6844.

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