The Vagabond – Exchange Hotel in downtown Gadsden


By Danny Crownover

On the northwest corner of Locust and Fourth streets in Gadsden stood the site of the old Exchange Hotel built in 1870 by Joseph Hughes, who was the son of one of the founders of the city. The Exchange (pictured at right) was architecturally similar to most hotels in those days, being built in the shape of an “L” and featuring front porches all the way across on the first and second stories.
The hotel fronted on Locust Street. The dining room was located on the first floor in the “L” that pointed to and ran down almost to the freight and passenger depot of the old Tennessee & Coosa Railroad depot.
On the Locust Street side was a row of water oaks for shade. On the Fourth Street side the shade was provided by mulberry trees that bore no fruit. The trees extended south along the Fourth Street side of the old courthouse to Broad Street
The Exchange dominated the local hotel scene until 1888 when the Printup opened. Up until that time, the Exchange was the main hotel of the city and functioned as the center of Gadsden’s social and business ac-tivity.
The Exchange was popular with drummers who arrived by train and stage lines from every direction. Some were driven in from other towns by livery stable rigs. The drummers wore flashy clothes with heavy gold watch chains stretched across fancy vests. They smoked big cigars and looked to be more than well fed. All the local youths aspired to be drummer in those days, and some of that ambition was due to the tall tales told by the knights of the grip.
Hughes built the Exchange at that location because the five-mile railroad to Attalla, which for many years was the only rail connection Gadsden had with the outside world. Hughes managed the hotel for two years and then leased it. Among others who ran the Exchange were Major W.J. Sibert, Sam Orr, J.D. McKenzie, Roger Williams, Henry C. White and George P. Billingsley.
The Exchange was torn down during the boom of the 1890s. A syndicate that purchased the site anticipated that the boom would skyrocket the price of the land. That indeed might have happened if a panic had not ensued before anybody could run for cover, after which the site remained vacant for more than fifty years.

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