The Vagabond – A History of Gadsden: 1836-1900 Part II


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, who was 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 continue with the Charles P. Smith story:

Chapter II

The Port of Gadsden

“I find that writing history is no easy snap. In looking over my preliminary work of last Saturday, I found it utterly void of easy flow or fluency. I was ambitious to surround it with that brilliant, romantic style of James Morgan, ‘in the path of Napoleon one hundred years ago.’ 

“I fear that I am doomed to disappointment and I am alarmed lest there be a lot on my brain, or a tangle in my typewriter, that will gum up the cards and spoil the game. It also means a lot of real hard work, which has always been somewhat repulsive to my dainty taste, and aristocratic airs which were born in me in dear old Dale County, Ga., where I bore the undisputed title of being the laziest boy in the whole community round about. 

“However, I have given my system a general shaking up this week, eating fish and other brain foods in enormous quantities, mixed only with small bits of bread, and the pure sparkling waters of the Coosa [River] for an inspiration.So I have spat upon my hands, rolled up my sleeves and butted my head cruelly against our historic trees, determined to write it, though the Echols building falls in my wild and ferocious struggles.

“Well, let’s push the button on the self-starter. In the first place, as stated, the steamboats stopped at Walker‘s Ferry, but the people who owned the land on which Gadsden was to be located were insistent that the ferry – or landing – should be moved to the foot of Broad Street (where it is today). The people who lived at and around Walker ‘s Ferry were clamorous in their demand that it should remain there. It was also a small trading point in the year 1845. 

“There were also some demands from people living down the river reaching as far as Greensport for the location of the town to be at be at their respective ferry. It seemed that Capt. Lafferty of the steamboat and W.S. Brown, chief engineer for the old T&C Railway, and plenary power, and that they were the court of first and last resort. So after much wrangling and bitterness by the different factions, the owners of the land, Gabriel Hughes, John S. Moragne and Joseph Hughes, Sr., threw the trump card by offering a large number of lots to Capt. Lafferty and Engineer Brown to change the landing to its present location. The town was quickly plotted and lots [were] staked out by W.S. Brown, which may be seen on Pope’s map of the original survey of Gadsden. W.S. Brown must have been an exceptionally competent engineer. 

“After this was done, Judge J.M. Moragne said that his father, John S. Moragne claimed the honor of naming the ‘child,’ calling it Gadsden in honor of his personal friend, General Gadsden, who as a famous patriot, statesman and leader in South Carolina, built the original home of John S. Moragne. General Gadsden was given a commission with full power to negotiate what is known as Louisiana Purchase, which he successfully accomplished. [It was] an epoch-making period in the history of our nation, immortalizing the name of General Gadsden for all time to come. 

“Now follows a brief review of how the old T&C became a factor in the location of the town. Gabriel Hughes, the father of J.R. Hughes, prior to the arrival of Capt. Lafferty’s steamboat, made a visit to W.S. Brown at Guntersville. [Hughes] represented himself, John S. Moragne and Joseph Hughes, Sr., who owned the town site. Hughes used an impressive argument as to why the survey should be made, to a point near the present L&N station, out in what was to be called Railroad Avenue (now Broad Street), a little west of [the] present Hart place and on east side of the river. The argument was evidently strong and no doubt liberally seasoned with promises galore, etc., and so on, ad infinitum.

“John S. Moragne, in the meantime, had inoculated Capt. Lafferty with a similar seductive dose. It seemed but little trouble for this court, of first and last resort, to patiently listen to the clamors of others and locate the town as it did, which was wisely done as has been amply attested in subsequent events that has truly made Gadsden the beautiful ‘Queen City of the Coosa.’

“In order that this history may be easily understood; take First Street running north of Broad Street to Town Creek, and south of Broad Street to Hughes Spring branch, and all lands lying west of the river, where the first buildings of embryo Gadsden actually began.

“On the northwest corner of First and Broad streets, Whorton (who was an uncle of the Whorton boys in the drug business now) built the first drugstore. Adjoining north [was] the general store of Melvin Crownover. Next north [was] the general store of William Brothers. 

“The further development of First Street was the Turrentine Hotel, built by Gen. D.C. Turrentine on the southeast corner of First and Broad streets where the Barrett home is [located] today, a portion of which is a part of the Turrentine Hotel. Gen. Turrentine successfully ran this hotel a number of years, Gadsden was on the old stage line from Rome to Tuscaloosa, which laid overnight, here going and coming. 

“General Turrentine was a man of much note and in-fluence in the community in being aggressive and progressive [in] acquiring large acreage in the suburban section of the town on which he built a beautiful home, being known now by many until it was torn down to make room for the onward push of Gadsden. He was the father of Mrs. R.O. Randall and Miss Carrie Turrentine, deceased, who are well known and much loved for their beautiful Christian characters. 

“I mention only two of this large family. The others stood high and were much respected in the communities in which they lived. General Turrentine was a man of high ideals, being a profound Christian man and for 25 years continuously was superintendent of the First Methodist church Sunday school. His splendid farms have been turned into a beautiful residence section, worth now from $2,000 to $3,000 per lot. General Turrentine’s remarkable foresight of coming events caused him to have planted the grand old oaks seen on Turrentine Avenue today, which the late, lamented and much loved Maj. R.O. Randall irreverently called ‘Robber’s Row.’ 

“On the south side of Fifth Street, small stores were built and occupied by a party by the names of Grimes, also Dunn. The re-sidence sections on south side fronting First Street were the homes of Dr. Williams, Dr. P.G. Cobb and Melvin Cromwell. On the north side [were] the homes of Mose Daniels and Steve Edwards. I never met these distinguished pioneers, nor am I able to get any data as to their descendants, but they evidently were right on the job working for what they saw with a prophetic eye the coming city. 

“Gadsden‘s first postmaster was J.D. McMichael, a very erratic but well-educated character. McMichael tramped into the hospitable home of Gabriel Hughes, where he remained a year or two without price or pay until he was called to high office in the gift of the village.

“So endeth the second chapter, and I am doggone glad of it. I am tired, worn out, and want a drink of sparkling and refreshing Coosa River water.

“P.S. – Meantime the ‘Coosa’ was running right along from Rome to Greensport, stopping at the port of Gadsden, ‘gwine and ercomin.”

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