The Vagabond – History of streetcars in the Gadsden area Part II


Although a precise detailed history cannot be written about Gadsden’s street railway and steam dummy systems, the following tentative history has been pieced together.

Sometime during 1886, Col. R.B. Kyle and Herman Herzberg and their associates petitioned the Gadsden City Council to grant the Gadsden Land & Improvement Company a franchise to build a horse car street railroad in the growing town. 

As president of the land company, Col. Kyle named the new street railway venture the Gadsden Street Car Company. Plans called for the line to be constructed from the Hotel Printup on Fourth and Locust streets via Fourth, to Broad, to Fifth, south to Walnut, to Eleventh, to Forrest Avenue, to Ninth and via Ninth to the tracks of the Tennessee & Coosa River Railroad, which was later incorporated into the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway Company.

Shortly thereafter, the city council adopted the report of a special committee set up to consider the proposition. A judiciary committee was appointed to draft the necessary ordinances to regulate the new undertaking.

In I887, Gadsden’s first horse car line – actually operated by mules – was completed and service began. The horse cars were quite leisurely in gait for a much slower era. This is borne out by a cute story told of one of the horse car drivers, a chap by the name Brown.

It seems that on one trip as Brown reached Eleventh Street and Forrest Avenue, a lady was waiting to board his car. After stepping up to enter, she suddenly changed her mind and explained that she would have to get off the car as she had forgotten to change her clothes.

Imagine the lady’s surprise when, after returning sometime later to again begin her journey, operator Brown was perched on the steps of his car, having waited the duration for his nickel fare! 

The horse car route started at Locust and Fourth streets, where the Printup Hotel was located. The route went south down Fourth, turned west on Broad to a block away and turned south on Fifth until it reached Walnut Street. From there, the route went west on Walnut Street all the way to Eleventh Street north to Forrest Avenue eastward and ended at Seventh Street.

In the 1880’s, many towns were beginning to experiment with steam dummy locomotives. Mules had proven too slow for an ever-growing and faster moving society. It was found that if regular steam locomotives were enclosed in a rectangular box pulling conventional coaches, horses and other animals that might otherwise be frightened by the snorting steam locomotive (and cause local communities to frown upon the steam dummy’s existence) could be fooled to not be concerned with their being in operation.

In mid-August of 1888, work was underway to convert the street railway into a steam dummy operation. The line was extended as originally proposed from its then terminus at Ninth and Forrest the short remaining distance along Ninth to the Tennessee & Coosa River Railroad tracks. 

In late October of 1888, the dummy line was opened for business. On its first day, the service took in some $13.10. M.L. Foster was made the company’s general manager and Ab E. Paschal became its first conductor. Will Hudgins was the first engineer and Louis Lane the first fireman.

In 1869, the Alabama & Chattanooga Railroad – later the Alabama Great Southern, and even later a division of the Southern Railway System – was completed through Attalla from Chattanooga southward. The railroad did not enter Gadsden but rather operated through Gads-den‘s neighbor to the west, Attalla. To provide Gadsden with direct connections with AGS passenger trains, it was proposed that the steam dummy be extended further west through Alabama City to the depot at Attalla.

To this end, on Aug. 8, I889, Obal Christopher, J.S. Stewart and T.W. Gil-more of Attalla filed incorporation papers for the Alabama Street Car Company with an authorized capitalization of $25,000. On that same date, the Attalla Board of Aldermen granted the company the right to lay its tracks through the streets of that city. Shortly thereafter, the company was authorized to open subscription books for its development.

In the meantime, hard times befell the owners of the existing dummy line, the Gadsden Land & Improvement Company. On Feb. 11, 1890 at its annual meeting, the company authorized the sale of the operation to a local influential businessman, Captain J.M. Elliott, Jr.

Elliot is considered one of the pioneer mining developers of Etowah County during the post-Civil War period. He was president of both the Round Mountain Coal & Iron Company and the Elliott Pig Iron Company, and later opened the Elliott Car Works in Gadsden for the manufacture of railroad cars.

One stipulation of the sale of the dummy line was the promise from Elliott that he extend the dummy line to Attalla as envisioned, and also to Bellevue Highlands on Lookout Mountain.

The Gadsden Land & Improvement Company previously had authorized the building of a majestic hotel on the mountain, and the street railway to the mountain was for the purpose of serving the hotel.

On March 3, 1890, the Gadsden & Attalla Union Railway Company was organized by Elliott and associated with Obal Christopher, J.S. Stewart and T.W. Gilmore.

On March 15, 1890, Elliott was granted a franchise for the extension by the City of Gadsden. Records show that he held $13,000 in stock in the original corporation and Christopher, Gilmore and Stewart had $1,000 each. On March 29, 1890, Probate Judge James A. Tallman issued the organization its certificate of incorporation and Elliott was to assume control of the company on April first of that year.

In 1872, Major W.P Hollingsworth and Colonel R.B. Kyle, president of the original horse car line, began to build the Tennessee & Coosa River Railroad from Gadsden via Attalla to Guntersville. The line had not been completed to Guntersville as envisioned as late as 1890, and the existing track to Attalla remained unused.

Since the dummy line already operated to the Tennessee & Coosa River tracks on Ninth Street, the Gadsden & Attalla Union Railway sought and was given permission to use the T&CR’s tracks to Attalla. Hourly steam dummies soon were operating the five-mile distance between the two cities.

By 1893, however, the Tennessee & Coosa River line was completed into Guntersville, and the trunk line railroad informed Elliott that his dummy line would have to vacate the former’s right-of-way, since by 1891 it merged into the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway.

Elliott went to the Alabama State Legislature and soon had the go-ahead to build his own line west from Gadsden via Alabama City. 

Tracks were laid along Garner Street from Ninth Street, across the old T&CR westward through Alabama City and Kyle Avenue and ended in Attalla at the side of the famous Attalla Hotel on Fifth Avenue.

Besides meeting all Alabama Great Southern passenger trains, the steam dummy carried the mail between Attalla and Gadsden. On nearly every trip in the early years, the dummy had to stop to clear the track of cattle and the like. Early engineers on the line included June and Bart Curry from an old pioneer family. Conductors included Dan Aderholt, Lee Alexander and Ab Paschal.

The small dummy locomotives were supposed to operate without undue noise and a minimum of smoke, but in reality, and although they were faster than the mule, they generated considerable smoke and noise, and their trail of smoke in business and residential districts eventually coated nearby buildings with a layer of soot. Still, the dummy locomotives furnished excellent transportation in Gadsden and other metropolitan cities.

Nest week – Part II

Be sure to visit the Etowah Historical Society & Heritage Museum located at 2829 West Meighan Boulevard in Gadsden. Museum and office hours are Monday through Friday. 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Also visit the society’s website at

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