The Vagabond – Boarding houses of note in Gadsden

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By Danny Crownover

Danny Crownover

During the late 1870s and 1880s, much of the cultural, business and social life of Gadsden centered around four high class boarding houses conducted by prominent local families. One in particular was the Keeling old home located at the corner of First and Broad streets, a large two-story colonial white that stood on the site of the city’s first hotel, the Turrentine Inn.

The first boarding house at the Keeling home (pictured at right) was run by the DeYampert family in the 1870s. Mrs. Laura Barret, who was a Keeling, inherited the property, and for many years conducted an exclusive boarding place patronized largely by leading professional and businessmen and those of means who came to Gadsden for special projects. The house eventually was torn down and the site was occupied by a radio broadcasting station and stores.

Another boarding house of the same order and period was that of Mrs. S.A. Hart at Broad and Sixth streets. The Hart family was also a prominent one, and it was considered a great privilege to be patrons in the home. Mrs. Hart and her daughter Della personally supervised the meals. The place was popular up into the 1890s.

One of the most popular boarding houses of the period was conducted by Mrs. W.M. Browning in her two-story white colonial located at North Sixth Street and the N.C. & St. Louis Railroad.

Mrs. B. was a fine businesswoman, and it was said she would have been a success in any sort of business undertaking. She gained a wide reputation for serving great quantities and wide varieties of the best food available.

Old Keeling House / Submitted photo

The other of this quartet of famous eating places in was the boarding house conducted by Mrs. W.T. Shook in a two-story colonel home located at Second and Broad streets. She eventually became Mrs. W.H. Wilson and enjoyed the same sort of patronage as the other three boarding houses. It was not unusual for all four houses to have a waiting list.

A number of other fine boarding houses operated during the same time frame. The Thornton home in the early 1870s that was much talked about because of its fine atmosphere and exclusiveness. Also a colonial structure, the house was located on the south side of Locust Street between Fifth and Sixth streets.

The late local historian Will I. Martin became a boarder at the Thornton house at the age of one. He moved back to the family farm at the age of two before checking in as a boarder at the DeYampert home at the age of three.

Contact The Vagabond at dkcrown@bellsouth.net.

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