The Vagabond – A History of Gadsden: 1836-1900


The Vagabond recently pulled up some papers called “Early History of Northeast Alabama,” which included a section called “A History of Gadsden” by Charles P. Smith.

Smith was born in Sulphur Springs, Ga., on May 20, 1863. He attended schools in Sulphur Springs and Trenton and graduated from the Chattanooga High School at the age of 17. The next year, Smith went to work as a salesman for Vance & Kirby Hardware Company of Chattanooga. In 1887 he married Miss Minnie Holly of Gadsden and entered the hardware business in the city. 

For the next 27 years, Smith was associated with W.L. Echols and with the firm of Smith, Echols, and Bennett, one of the largest stores of its kind in Northeast Alabama. Because of declining health, Smith retired from the business in 1914 and became an insurance salesman. As such, he built up one of the most remunerative agencies in Alabama.

Described as “one of the most prominent businessmen and civic workers in Northeast Alabama,” Smith was mayor of Gadsden from 1905-1906, during which time he began a progressive program which resulted in the paving of Gadsden’s city streets. Smith was also active in the Rotary Club, the Chamber of Commerce, the YMCA and Gadsden First Methodist Church. 

During World War I, Smith did “a prodigious work as a member of the Etowah County Draft Board as head of the Four-Minute Speakers program.”

Shortly before his death on February 16, 1929, Smith donated his large personal library to Gadsden High School. Upon his death, The Gadsden Times reported that Smith “was a man of the highest character. He loved his fellowmen [sic] and was never more pleased than when he was doing something for the community. His death has removed a great leader, one whose place will not be easily filled.”

Smith, whose body was buried in Gadsden’s Forrest Cemetery, was survived by his sons, Charles Jr., Kirby and Marion; a brother, Basil, of Chattanooga; and a sister, Mrs. S.D. Doty of Lakeland, Fla.

Shortly before his retirement from the hardware business in 1913, Smith was persuaded to write his reminiscences for The Gadsden Evening Journal. Under the name of “The Hooter,” Smith wrote six extremely interesting and historically valuable essays, beginning Nov. 14 and ending Dec. 19. He is a writer of unusual ability. His style is easy, flowing and somewhat elaborate, with spontaneous bits of wit and humor bursting out all along, making his essays exceedingly attractive and readable and showing a very decided literary turn.  

We began this week with Charles P. Smith story: Chapter I – The Earliest Days

“Gadsden has no written history, although it has been a history maker from its inception, except in encyclopedia and in state histories, one of which was written by John Witherspoon DuBose in 1888, which dealt with small details of antebellum Gadsden, but elaborately exploiting Gadsden, its industries and prominent citizens during the early boom days of 1887-1888. [It is] a most excellent work, but [was] little known and not read by the rank and file. 

“I had heard that Gadsden was once called Lafferty’s Landing, which is not correct. With much interest I asked a number of friends near my tender age about the way back beginning of Gadsden and found that their knowledge was about as vague and indefinite as my own. So I divined that it must be within the memory of some of our older citizens.

“In trying to get data and ascertain the facts, I talked with Mr. J.R. Hughes, whom I found to be a veritable wellspring of information. He was born in 1842 before Gadsden was [called] Gadsden, but not an old man not yet. Mr. Hughes’ mind is clear and acute and [he] has physically the suppleness of youth. I am of the opinion that he is the only man living here now who was born and reared where Gadsden is today. 

“Mr. Hughes has an old map of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana published in 1836, giving the census of the state of Alabama at 309,527 in 1830, when Etowah County was not on the map. [The area] was a howling wilderness of Cherokee Indians with scattering white families here and there, among whom was his father, Gabriel Hughes, his uncle, Joe Hughes, and John S. Moragne, [the] father of Judge J. M. Moragne. 

“I shall make an effort (with the kindly assistance of J.R. Hughes and Judge Moragne, who was born in the vicinity in 1843 and has lived here contemporaneously with Mr. Hughes since their birth) to compile everything of interest that has happened since 1840 until the present time. Not only what has happened, but of the pioneer settlers who have made great contributions toward the making of  ‘Greater Gadsden.’ On that line, I hope the series of articles will be sufficiently interesting as to be worthy of a place in your scrapbook, so that you may refer to it when occasion may require and for the generations who must come in the rapid passing of time.

“Be it known therefore that in 1836 all the territory lying north of Benton, now Calhoun County, on a line east of St. Clair and Blount counties to the Tennessee River, was the last territory taken from the Indians up until that time. The whole territory of Cherokee, DeKalb and Marshall [counties] were carved from that section. Cherokee County in 1846 until 1867, when Baine County was surveyed out of portions of Cherokee, Calhoun, St. Clair, Marshall, Blount and DeKalb [counties] containing 520 square miles. That is Baine’s County. 

“In the same year, a constitutional convention was held. The delegates [were] elected by the carpetbaggers and the blacks, which abolished the county of Baine, which was named for a Confederate veteran who did not stand high with the carpetbaggers of Reconstruction days. The legislature, which met in December of the following year, reestablished the county, calling it Etowah, an Indian name that signifies ‘large tree.’

“But I have gotten ahead of my story in order to find a beginning point, it being my purpose to deal only with the earlier history of Gadsden so far as possible in this issue. So to begin with the beginning, it will be necessary to antedate a few years in order to complete the connection.

“The location was first known as Double Springs, a small trading village where J.R. Hughes was born. The home of his father, Gabriel Hughes (located near the intersection of Fourth [Street] and Tuscaloosa Avenue, almost opposite the Tripp place on Tuscaloosa Avenue), was originally a log house [and] now weather boarded over. Gabriel Hughes was the second postmaster of Double Springs. His uncle, Joe Hughes, located at the same time on what is now the southeast corner of Fourth and Bay streets, always known as the Aunt Katy Hughes place, and is now owned by Joe N. Moragne, grandson of the original owner.

“John S. Moragne lived on the east side of the river on what is known as the Paden place, where his son, Judge J.M. Moragne, was born. These venerable sires of splendid sons owned by grants and purchases the entire part of land up to some distance beyond Sixth Street on which Gadsden is built today.

“I am finding that my space is rapidly being filled. I will make this a general preliminary, quitting for the time being,”

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