The Vagabond – Forrest Tree and Gadsden’s first bathtub

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By Danny Crownover

A tall cedar tree located in the front yard of the Elliott House on Forrest Avenue was removed in 1950 for the construction of the new Etowah County courthouse. The tree was located near the front entrance to the yard would have been preserved but for the fact that it died before that could happen. Mrs. J.M. Elliott, Jr., who bought the old home of her parents in 1897, referred it as the “Forrest Tree.”

Alice Camp, an early citizen of Gadsden, often spoke of tree’s history. On May 2, 1863 during the Civil War, Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest came through Gadsden during his pursuit of U.S. Col. A.D. Streight’s raiders, who were bent on destruction to Rome, Ga., and beyond. After crossing Black Creek, Forrest rode up to the Kyle home and asked to see Mrs. Kyle, who was apparently well informed about enemy troop movements in this area.

After speaking on the front porch, Mrs. Kyle suggested that she and Forrest move out into the yard under the cedar tree since she did not want her children or servants to hear what was being discussed. The information Mrs. Kyle furnished did in fact facilitate the capture of Streight and his army near Cedar Bluff. This conference under the cedar eventually led to the tree being referred to as the Forrest Tree.

At around the same time, Mrs. Elliott told Mrs. Camp the story of the first bathtub installed in Gadsden in 1870s. Colonel R.B. Kyle was operating a sawmill down on the river near the mouth of Town Creek when he conceived the idea of a bathtub. At that time, Gadsden and most of Etowah County was far away from gas, electricity, water works, plumbing and hot water backs in cooking stoves.

The colonel told Mrs. Kyle that much of the hot water in the boilers of his sawmill was going to waste and that he could use it for providing family baths. They agreed that such a plan might work to advantage, and the Kyle proceeded to build a bathroom with a wooden tub at the mill. He had a local tinsmith line the tub with tin, and after pipe connections were mad, everything was ready for hot baths.

Every afternoon, servants would pack a lot of clean clothes in a large basket that was much longer than it was wide to prevent shirts from wrinkling. The family’s children would be piled into the family carriage and driven to the mill by the coachman. Two white horses were used to draw the vehicle.

Arriving at the mill, the children were given warm baths and clean clothing. They then dressed and were driven back home. Mrs. Elliot said this was a daily habit for years, and that so far as she knew, the Kyle bathtub at the sawmill was the first ever to be installed in Gadsden.

The Gadsden Water Works was not built until 1885, and it was not until then that residents of the city began to put in bathtubs built of wood and lined with tin.

In the attic of her home, Mrs. Elliott preserved many old fashion round-top trunks filled with dresses and other clothing worn by her mother, grandmother, aunts and sisters, thus enabling her to furnish period costume for plays and the like.

Contact The Vagabond at dkcrown@bellsouth.net.

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