The Vagabond – Gadsden’s first industry was hat making

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Outside of a few small sawmills, the City of Gadsden’s first industry was a hat-making plant in the late 1860s that was located at Noccalula Falls and operated by Allen Gaylor and his family.

The plant was located near the falls in 1868. Several houses bordered both sides of a street leading to the natural stone steps down into the amphitheater of the falls’ cataract.

The Gaylor’s were originally from Virginia, where they were experienced hat makers, a trade their ancestors followed in England.

The Gaylors, who wove their own hatbands and made their own dyes, brought wool from the local carder, and after it had been assembled, it was chopped finely with a sharp axe. The material was then piled on a long table, where the cord of a large hickory bow stretched lengthwise on the table was struck with a stick as was it buried in the wool. The vibration separated the fibers into small threads. The wool was then soaked in lye and pressed into a compact mass. The next step was to mold the wool into various shapes of hats.

Dry or wet, wool could be used as a formidable weapon. It is a matter of record that a roll of wool was used to kill a calf and another a pig. Some fights occurred during which a Gaylor hat was used to telling effect. Some schoolboys used them as weapons. At least one man went to the state legislature wearing one.

Back in the day, local politicians expressed their undying love for the Wool Hat Boys, a reference to those who wore a Gaylor hat. Gaylor hats were also made of fine fur, which many of the wealthier Gadsden citizens bought and wore. In fact, R.B. Kyle had his picture taken wearing a Gaylor top hat made of beaver fur.

The Gaylors also turned out coonskin caps with tails that were popular in the days of Daniel Boone. When the Alabama Press Association held its annual convention in Gadsden in 1879, APA members were taken to see the Gaylor hat factory as one of the premiere sights of the city.

Unfortunately, the last vestige of the hat factory disappeared many years ago.

Contact The Vagabond at dkcrown@bellsouth.net.

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