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


Recently The Vagabond pulled up an article called “Early History of Northeast Alabama.” In it was a section called “A history of Gadsden” by Charles P. Smith, who was mayor of Gadsden in 1905-1906.

Charles P. Smith was known as “The Hooter of Owls Hollow” who wrote his reminiscences for the Gadsden Evening Journal. He wrote six extremely interesting and historically valuable essays, beginning November 14 and ending December 19. He 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 V

Some More Pioneers

“Well, we finished the roll call of the Christophers last week. That is, if any of them got loose Mother Christopher and myself failed to find them. We will now take up the Curry, related to the Christophers coming here somewhat earlier.

“Benjamin Curry, Sr., and his eldest son, Thomas A. Curry, went into the business of blacksmiths here about 1848 to ‘49 on the southeast corner of Second and Broad streets, where they continued until the death of his father. 

“A. A. and Fayette Curry then took a shop on the north side of Broad Street between Second and Third streets, formerly occupied by J. A. Turnage, black smith, who moved to Arkansas, dying there. The Curry’s continued the shop until the war, after which Fayette and Benjamin Curry, Jr., a younger son, joined the company of Capt. A.A. Hughes going with the 10th Alabama Regiment to Virginia, where both were killed in battle. 

“Two other sons, Crate and Amos, died many years ago. There were two girls in the old family, Elizabeth, who married Mr. Willis, and Ernaline, who married Mr. Ashley, all of whom have passed to the great beyond. Thomas A. Curry entered the army, remaining there for about one year, when he was honorably discharged on the account of ill health. During the war he drove the stage running from Jacksonville to Guntersville.

“Thomas A. Curry married Miss Annie Hardy at Newnan, Georgia, in 1859, after the war, going to the old Curry place on Sutton Road, where he remained until his death a few years back. 

“To them were born Ben, now city stock law officer; Bart, now engineer on the L&N Railway; June, now alderman from the third ward city of Gadsden; and Carrie, now the wife of J.P. Sitz, the well known hardware merchant. 

“It might be said incidentally at this point that both the Currys and William Christopher ran large shops, almost amounting to factories employing many men in the building and repairing of wagons, carriages, buggies, etc., in addition to regular blacksmith work. I am also distressed that many dates of men and events are unavailable and that I am compelled to follow the families of these pioneer citizens up to the present. 

“It was my purpose to deal only with antebellum Gadsden, I still intend doing so as far as possible. 

“Among the well known people before the war was Dr. Williams, a prominent physician who lived on Chestnut Street fronting Riverview Park, and H.W. Pickens, who is remembered as a modern nimrod and hunter; his oldest son W.H. Pickens is now a wealthy merchant of Livingston; Miss Jennie, who married Will Acker and moved to Ensley; and Mrs. W.T. Wimpee, the eldest daughter living here at this time. 

“The primitive school of this community was taught by J.D. McMichael in 1843 to ‘44. He was an odd, but highly educated man of broad information and continued the school until appointed Gadsden’s first postmaster. 

“The school building was an old fashioned log construction, standing near the Dr. Edmondson place probably in the middle of Sixth street, convenient to a spring which was at the west end of Kyle’s warehouse on Locust street. 

“Miss Caroline Greene succeeded McMichael, a most excellent and beloved woman, who taught until about 1848 to ‘49. 

“She was succeeded by William Myrick, Sr., who was the father of Abner and William Myrick, Jr., and the grandfather of Gyles Myrick, all of whom are known throughout the county as good substantial farmers and citizens, Gyles being at present in the lumber manufacturing business and has acquired considerable city property in addition to good farms in the county. 

“They say that the older Prof. Myrick had a “little motion all his own” in punishing the boy scholars. He would call them up when occasion demanded and tell them to ‘ride the horse to water,’ which meant putting them across his lap, belly down, getting them in correct shape for the rod which was not spared. And the girl scholars, I never heard, but pro-bably “spanked their little hands” with a little ruler. 

“Prof. John W. Potter succeeded William Myrick in the log school house in the early ‘50s. He was a most proficient teacher whose school grew larger as the town and community increased in population. 

“Later the old log house was abandoned and a large two-story frame building was erected on the present site of the Kyle Opera House (now cut up into stores and offices). 

“Prof. J.W. Slack was called as principal to this great and growing school. Prof. Slack was a man of preeminent ability and superior education. He was assisted by his wife, Mrs. Susan Slack, a brilliant woman, highly educated and refined, teaching many different languages. 

“The school grew by leaps and bounds, many families of surrounding counties sending their children here to be educated. 

“Many young men of Gadsden and counties round about were there until the call to arms in 1861. This school was regarded as the best equipped and  most potential influence for good of any in this section of North Alabama. 

“It shows plainly that back in the pioneer days of Gadsden that the young people were ambitious for an education, and were earnest seekers for the “Power of Knowledge.” 

“Prof. J. W. Slack was born Aug. 6, 1824, at Washinton, Wilkes County, Ga. In 1845 he was married to Miss Susan Edwards of Greenville, Ga., who was born Nov. 7, 1823. 

“In 1854 they moved to Gadsden, taking’ up the school heretofore mentioned. Eleven children blessed this union, only two of which are now living. Edward S. Slack at the age of 16 entered Wheeler’s Cavalry Brigade, after six months coming home on a furlough, and died of typhoid fever within two weeks. He was a brave and fearless soldier. 

“Fannie Edwards was married in 1865 to Benj. Hodges of Gadsden. John Calhoun married Mary E. Hodges of Ashville. Florence Kate married Daniel K. Hodges, of Ashville, from which union came Miss Dana, now a much loved and beautiful character, the widow of the late James C. Tolson. Six others died in infancy. 

“Dr. John C. Slack is a physician and planter at Acme, New Mexico. Ed T. Slack is well located and prosperous at Frederick, Okla. Both the doctor and Ed are well known and much esteemed by the citizens of city and county today. 

“Prof. J. W. Slack passed away on April 12, 1885 after a short illness at the family residence, “Forrest Hill” in South Gadsden, after which he was buried with all the honors of a Confederate veteran, church and educational worker. 

“Mrs. Susan Slack survived him until Sept. 20, 1907, when a fatal fall caused her death. She always kept up her educational and literary pursuits, as well as keeping fully posted on the current events of the day. The splendid work of these grand old pioneers made their impress, seen in their pupils, who are among the leading, wealthy, and brainy citizens of Gadsden today.

“I have fallen far short of at least two prominent families that I had blocked out for today’s article. Be patient, I will get them all yet.

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