The Vagabond – Broad Street businesses in the 1870s


By Danny Crownover

The occupants of a wooden store building on the north side of Broad Street between Court and Fifth streets in the 1870s were all one-story structures, the exception being a two-story general store at the corner of Court and Broad streets that was operated by W.T. Shook. His wife ran a dress -making establishment in the rear.

Shook later built many of the streets of Gadsden serving as overseer, while his wife ran a fashionable boarding house at Second and Broad streets.

S.W. Riddle was the building’s next occupant. He operated the first wholesale grocery store in the city. He also served as president of the First National Bank and U.S. postmaster for eight years.

Located next door on the west side was Tom Garlington’s Drug Store, which was managed by Tom’s brother Ed. The Garlingtons came from Walnut Grove.

John S. Paden ran a general store on the block, as did W.M. Browning, who was the grandfather of James Allen, a prominent lawyer and state senator from Etowah County. Mrs. Browning ran a famous boarding house.

Dean & Whaley were general merchants. L.W. Dean was a biblical scholar who could read the Bible in the original Greek. His son Bobo was a printer’s devil for the local newspaper before he became publisher and owner of the Miami (Fla.) News, which he eventually sold to Governor Cox for $450,000.

J.E. Whaley was a Methodist preacher who later moved to Attalla to become that city’s mayor. J.R. Blanchard operated the first bakery in town, and boys and girls from the first families considered it a lark to wrap his candy kisses. Blanchard’s bake oven was located in the rear of the old Gadsden Times building on Chestnut Street. F.P. Duncan, who operated a store in the area, amused passersby with his expert ventriloquism.

L.R. Price also operated a general store on Broad Street. J.T. Carson, who established the first meat market in Gadsden, occupied one of the small buildings on the block, as did Bob Barton. Barton operated the first seafood restaurant in Gadsden and was the first to offer in oysters in the shell. He was an expert oyster shucker and cooked a great steak.

Frank Richardson made boots and shoes in one small building, while Mack Commins operated a barber shop nearby.

John B. Roden operated the city’s first bookstore at the corner of Fifth and Broad streets. Edgar Welsh was the store’s manager. Crocheron Brothers General Merchandise was also in the block.

Charlie Hawkins, a noted swindler of the day, occupied one of the shallow buildings for a brief period.

U.S. postmaster Dr. W.T. Ewing and his partner W.T. Edmondson practiced medicine and had operated a drug store in the post office building.

Samuel Orr and Heath Minninnet operated a general merchandise store in the early 1870s.

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