The Vagabond: Historical museum in Gadsden


By Danny Crownover

For many years, several folks saw the need of a historical museum in Gadsden. The late local historian Jerry Jones was one of those persons. It had always been the dream of members of the Etowah Historical Society to have such a facility.

Danny “The Vagabond” Crownover served as EHS president for many years and managed to get an excellent local museum created. However, there is a need for a new building. Unfortunately, the museum’s present building at the Elliott Community Center in Alabama City has been closed because of the COVID-19 virus. The building is in bad shape and probably not worth saving.

Fortunately, an anonymous donor is willing to provide seed money in the future that must be matched dollar for dollar for a new building. Perhaps one day this will happen.

The following was written in 1948 by the late local historian Will I. Martin. It pertains to a new museum in our area and is true today as it was back then.

“The decision of the Wo-man’s Club to abandon the project of acquiring the Elliott Home for an [Etowah] County Museum and Civic Center was a wise one, because the plan was impractical.

“The fact that there is a widespread sentiment for a permanent building for such a purpose means that sufficient financial support can be depended upon in the future. At best, the Elliott Home would have only temporary value and might have been a firetrap to which few would be willing to trust their historical relics.

“What the county needs is a fire-proof building designed and built for a museum. That will be costly, it is true, but a structure designed for to serve for the next 50 years could be erected by piecemeal as funds were available. If the women of the county stick to their present determination, they can give us a museum that will be a credit to the State of Alabama.

“The idea was first suggested in 1946 by Circuit Judge W.M. Rayburn, who received inspiration from the many exhibits in Gadsden show windows during the Centennial Celebration of the city in 1940. Nobody suspected that the county had any such historical reminders of the past, and everybody expressed the hope that a way would be provided to collect them (and many other still in attics and cellars) under one roof for the benefit of all the people, especially for children here now and children to come.

“There are, for instance, a number of historic bells in the county that are reminiscent of old steamboats, old churches and old schools. There are firearms that date back to colonial times and through all of the wars engaged in by this nation. There are relics of Indian tribes in this part of Alabama that should be preserved, and practically every family in this county has something that would be worthwhile preserving for the history of our people.

“Judge Rayburn would like to have a museum for collecting and displaying that vast amount of war relics to be found in the county and district. He suggests that it be built near Noccalula Falls, since that great scenic asset is now the property of the city. The judge also said that the hundreds of boys coming home from the wars are bringing with them many souvenirs in the way of weapons and other interesting items picked up in Europe, Africa and Asia, and that very soon most of them will find their way to attics and basements. His idea is to provide a place for keeping and displaying articles and items for future generations.

“Judge Rayburn said that the centennial celebration of the arrival of the founders of Gadsden brought to light an amazing collection of historical documents, an-tiques, weapons, jewelry, land grants, pictures, books and the like that dated back to the Revolutionary War era and on down through the War Between the States, the Spanish-American War and World War 1. He believes that all of those exhibits and many more could be secured for a museum that would be unique in the United States. He does not doubt that the owners would be glad to turn them over to the city if a safe place is provided for their preservation and proper credit is given to ownership.

“Judge Rayburn contends that those centennial exhibits present a perfect picture of pioneer life in the south, and, in fact, of primitive America. That is reason enough for their preservation for the benefit of all the people in future years. The judge figures that the souvenirs the soldiers and sailors are now bringing home will be of immense historical value within the next 25 to 50 years, and that any money spent on a museum to house them permanently would be money well spent.

“Judge Rayburn suggest that such a museum be built near the Falls because the cataract and the park to be created on its surrounding tract of 169 acres is bound to attract a lot of tourists in the years to come.

“The idea may not be acceptable to the authorities as the prim purpose in buying the Falls property was to preserve the natural beauty just as it stands today, but regardless of any possible site, the idea is a good one.”

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