The Vagabond – Downtown Gadsden in the old days


In 1884, store displays were quite different from today. While walking down Broad Street the other day, The Vagabond got to thinking of the difference in window displays by the stores of the good old days and the present time.

As a matter of fact, there were no window displays in those days. Everything was piled on the sidewalks. Several general stores moved much merchandise out on the sidewalk every morning to advertise its wares.

In the collections were a cheese hoop, filled millet seed, beeswax, tallow, muskrat hides, well ropes tied in a bundle, plow lines tied the same way, oaken well buckets, cedar water buckets, horse collars, trace chains, plow gear, field hoes, brooms, axe handles, bundles of sewing thread, cotton checks and the like.

On the edge of the sidewalk next to the gutter, one could find several small grindstones chained together, stock sweeps, scooters, and heel bolts wired together and other heavy items. Some of the general stores had churns, jars and jugs out front and ribbon cane in season.

These were the enterprising stores. Most of the other kind of stores were heavily shuttered at night. Electric lights had not come to Gadsden, so all business houses depended on kerosene oil lamps. Now, of course, businesses are well lighted with electricity. Most of them have beautiful outdoor signs.

One of the peculiar sights back then were the clothing dummies on the sidewalks. The dummies exhibited coats, vests and pants, shirts, collars and ties. Some had hats. These dummies were tied to doorposts but were frequently blown down. All of them had iron frames.

In September of 1884, Gadsden was suffering from a long and hot dry spell. The dust was from three to 12 inches deep on the streets of Gadsden. It was almost unbearable.

Going back to the 1870s and 80s, the section from Third and Fifth streets was almost invariably filled with farm wagons, most of which were the covered type. A few were prairie schooners more familiar in the west.

A large proportion of the wagons were drawn by oxen, but there were plenty of horses and mules. There was rarely a one-horse wagon from the country. Some of the wagons had wooden axles that were lubricated with pine tar. One could hear them squeaking and groaning for miles.

If a farmer lived 10 miles or more from Gadsden, it took him two days to come and go from town because of the condition of the country roads, which were well-nigh impassible the year-round. Most of the farmers brought their families along and in the fall would spend the night in the camp yard and camp house, provided free of charge by the merchants of the city.

When the teams first reached Broad Street, they were unhitched and the wagons were allowed to stand wherever they stopped.

They frequently were parked across the steppingstones across Broad Street in the same intersections that provided water for the visitors and the stock.

There are some photographs around town that show scores of covered wagons parked on Broad Street between Third and Fifth streets, but some have the wrong date on them. There are several that are said to show a street scene in 1873, and the same picture in another place is said to have been taken in 1878.

As a matter of fact, all of these pictures were taken between the years of 1881 and 1883 for the reason that they show the Kyle Opera House that was constructed in 1880. Next to the theatre on the east side is the little office and drug store of Dr. Joseph N. Bevans, who was mayor of Gadsden in 1878 and 1895. That store was destroyed by the big fire of July 4, 1883.

Regardless of the date of the scene, it is never seen without a slight touch of nostalgia, for those were really good old days.

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