The Vagabond: Local happenings in 1904


By Danny Crownover

One of the funniest and strangest things ever to hap-pen in Gadsden occurred in 1904 just after Broad Street had been paved with high-grade white chert, which yielded great clouds of gritty

dust when any sort of wind blew up. The dust had a very cutting edge like that of broken glass.

When the wind was particularly heavy, some merchants closed their doors because the dust always damaged and sometimes ruined the stocks of merchandise.

At that time, the city council somehow was talked into buying a street sweeper such as was used on paved streets in big cities. The excuse was that the merchants swept all trash and debris into the gutters and streets, causing unsightly and unsanitary conditions.

Council members thought that it would be a good idea to use that sweeper on Broad Street.

Every time the machine was used, it kicked up a cloud of dust from the chert paving that almost suffocated the people on the streets. Many complaints were made but that sweeper was brought out every day, mostly during the busy shopping hours.

Pedestrians frequently ran into the nearest store when the dust came along in big clouds. The merchants and clerks closed their front doors. Everyone inside stayed there until the dust settled.

Back in the late 1880s or early 1890s, most of the society young men suddenly began wearing large ribbon badges that were printed with the word “stag.” There was quite a number of these boys around town, who flocked to the churches and did not hesitate to explain that they were “through with the girls.” They solemnly promised each other not to make a single date with girls during a long period of time.

It was an “Adamless Eden” in Gadsden for a week or so, and then fewer boys were wearing badges. The boys gradually gave up. They had been beaten at their own game when the girls showed that they too could play at the “boycott game.” After the girls picked up more arduous beaus from the younger set, the old loves all of a sudden began to rekindle.

Another thing that one used to see was farmers riding into Gadsden with one or perhaps two empty jugs tied to the horns of their saddles. When the farmers started home, both jugs would be filled with whisky. That was in saloons days, of course. All kinds of men carried their liquor jugs on the horns of their saddles for everybody to see, including preachers.

In 1904, Gadsden celebrated the Fourth of July in a big way with 10,000 visitors. Local folks assisted in every possible way.

Young people had complete charge of the preparations, while old-timers would have nothing to do with the event.

The old-timers had not forgotten that on July Fourth, 1883, more than half of the business section was destroyed by fire, which probably was of incendiary origin. A drunken mob had almost caused the destruction of the entire city by interfering with the volunteer firemen.

The young people insisted on a noisy July 4th observance and won out. Committees were named to carry out a fine program. Louis L. Herzberg was grand marshal and his aides were Thornton Ramsey, A.W. Woodliff, B.R. Pe-gram, T.S. Kyle, and W.G. Bellenger. Judges for the parade were O.R. Hood and E.W. Whipps. Judges for the horse and mule races were J.M. Sullivan, O.E. Cowan and W.G. Bellenger. Thornton Ramsey was the judge for the men’s and boys’ races.

The July 4th parade, which was over a quarter of a mile long, included carriages with distinguished visitors and local officials, the Etowah Rifles, several brass bands and Confederate Civil War veterans.The floats were beautifully decorated. The Anniston Fire Department brought over its two-horse hose wagon that was awarded $100 in prize money.

The first celebration of any kind to be held in Gads-den was on July 4th, 1845. The steamboat The Coosa landed at Walker’s Ferry, one mile above the location that Gadsden had picked out for a ferry landing for the event. The boat instead landed at Double Springs, the first name for what is now Gadsden.

The Coosa was built at Cincinnati and brought down to New Orleans under its own power. From that city, the boat steamed to Mobile and up the Alabama River to Wetumpka, where it was knocked down and hauled overland to Green-port, where it was put together again and brought to Gadsden under its own power by its owner, Captain James Lafferty.

At that time, Gadsden was being surveyed into 221 city lots, most between Locust and Chestnut streets and First and Sixth streets. The new unnamed town located in Cherokee County offered to name itself Lafferty Landing and to give Captain Lafferty one-third of the lots if he would agree to the town serving as his official port. Lafferty took the lots but refused to have the town named in his honor.

The new boat (the first to ply the Coosa River) had U.S.M. Coosa lettered on the side of its pilot house. Many gathered to see the boat when it arrived in Gadsden. Only one person could halfway read, and he spelled out the letters for the benefit of the others. He said that the lettering read, “Use ‘em Susie.”

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