The Vagabond – Old friends reunited in Gadsden


By Danny Crownover

Guy Denson, the descendant of a pioneer and prominent family in Etowah County, left Gadsden in early boyhood in order to obtain success and fortune. He came back to Gadsden from California after an absence of 45 years to visit with friends and relatives and marvel at the growth of his native city.

Denson was the son of Crick Denson, who was elected Etowah County Sheriff at the age of 27 and who died in office in 1885, and Emily Jelks, the daughter of the Charles N. Jelks, an early settler of the Rock Springs community located just outside Gadsden.

Denson also was a nephew of the late U.S. Congressman William. H. Denson and a cousin to Judge John Denson and Attorney Will A. Denson of Birmingham. Guy Denson had one brother, Frank, and one sister, Mrs. Lee McGriff, of Birmingham.

After leaving Gadsden in 1900, Denson began his business career as a clerk in the Loveman Department Store in Birmingham. He soon decided to study engineering and became associated with the noted engineering firm of Ford, Bacon and Davis. Denson aided in building and rebuilding streetcar lines in almost every sizeable city in the South and eventually was sent to San Francisco to direct the rebuilding of that city’s street railway.

During World War I, Denson was called into the U.S. Army and given the rank of captain. He eventually became the youngest engineer in the army.

After the war, Denson returned to California and gradually drifted into the real estate and hotel business. He built, owned, leased and operated numerous hotels in California and Southern Oregon. He finally settled down as owner and operator of the Hotel Johnson in Visalia, which was center of one of the richest agricultural sections in California. Denson soon became one of the leading businessmen of the city.

During Denson’s 1945 visit to Gadsden, one of the first friends he visited was Mack Commins, a retired barber and businessman. Mack cut Guy’s hair when the latter was four years old, and despite the difference in their ages, they soon became fast friends. After talking over old times, Denson and Commins went to a photographer and had their pictures taken separately and together.

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