The Vagabond – A history of streetlights in Gadsden, Part I


By Danny Crownover 

In the beginning of the 20th century, gas lamps were being used as streetlights. Architects realized that the safer electric light bulb had enormous advertising potential. As early as 1910, streetlights dazzled visitors around the U.S. This type of street soon became known as a White Way, defined as “a brilliantly lighted street or avenue, especially in a city’s business district.”
Gadsden’s first white way was announced February 16, 1912: “Pretty lights for big bank – The Etowah Trust and Savings Bank (located in the old American National Bank building – author’s note) is placing two white way lights on the corner of Third Street and Broad Street. The lights are arranged in Doric groups and each post is ornamented beautifully.”
Two months later in April, superintendent Zell of the local electric company said that Gadsden soon would have its own real white way. Zell said that his company was gradually putting in the posts and were meeting with great favor. Local merchants and property owners along Broad soon realized the great benefit of such an idea.
The following May, the entire business section of the city was ornamented with streetlights. Contracts were signed for Broad Street between Fourth and Fifth streets and for Fourth Street from Broad to Locust streets. Workmen soon were installing lights on those blocks, while contracts were being signed for other sections of the city. It. began to look as if Gadsden would make her entire business section a solid white way.
A local newspaper gave this report in June 1912:
“Gas and electricity in Gadsden’s White Way – The gas and electric companies have the same prices and contract for the white way posts that are being talked of. The only matter now pending is whether the people want gas or electric posts. There have been a few put up on Broad Street for samples, and both companies are in hopes of lighting up part of the town. No one seems to know, however, whether the white way will go through or not.”
Six days later, lights on the north side of Broad Street were turned on.
On July 15, 1912, it was announced that the white way off the south side of Broad Street were lit for the first time. Lights were to be placed in front of the courthouse and on Fourth Street, then down Broad Street to Third Street. When streetlights were placed from Chestnut to Broad on Fourth Street, the whole business section would be included in Gadsden’s white way. It was said that within a short while Gadsden would have the largest white way, counting area and number of lights, of any city of its size in the South.
With the beginning of World War I, streetlights were dimmed lights due to energy cutbacks. After the war, a local newspaper said, “Looking up the white way at night, with many of the lights completely out, gives one the impression of a lighted checkerboard. Get those lights back into the running again!”
In February of 1922, the local Chamber at Commerce commended the city for the white way work being done on Broad Street. The city council was working to extend the white way from the Emma Sansom monument to the post office, a distance of six blocks.
In April of 1924, a proposal for rebuilding and slightly extending of Gadsden’s white way was proposed by J.O. Henkle, the manager of the Gadsden Alabama Power Company office.
Under his proposal, lampposts that carried five lights each would be taken down and replaced by posts carrying one light of a much higher wattage.
Henkel said that it would cost Alabama Power $5,000 to make the change but that a much better light would be secured and that it will cost the city $242.50 per month for the 80 lights instead of $164.50, which currently was being paid.

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