The Vagabond – R.A. Mitchell did much to develop Gadsden


By Danny Crownover

In January of 1897, Colonel R.A. Mitchell, a Gadsden banker and town booster, was appointed agent of the Dwight Manufacturing Company’s cotton mills in Alabama City. That meant that he was to be general manager of the entire property.

The first suggestion that Mitchell take such a responsible position came in a letter from DWC treasurer J. Howard Nichols, who stated that a man of Mitchell’s extraordinary ability was wasting his talents in a position as president of a country bank. After a brief correspondence between the two men, Mitchell accepted the offer and served as DWC manager for some years.

Although he knew nothing about the cotton mill business, Mitchell was about the best man that could have been picked for the position. He had served as manager of the Montgomery Street railway system before coming to Gadsden.

Mitchell had arrived in Gadsden in the late 1880s or early 1890s. He soon become president of the Queen City Bank and president of the Gadsden Land & Improvement Company. At the time he was named Dwight Manufacturing Company’s manager, he was mayor of Gadsden. He had worked hard to locate the area cotton mills.

It was while he was engaged in that work of promotion that Mitchell became acquainted with Nichols. It was originally intended that Nichols son, H. Gardner Nichols, a Harvard University graduate, should be the local agent, but he was unfortunately killed in an accident while the mills were being completed.

Mitchell was always a firm believer in Gadsden and never failed to work for the city’s best interests. Even after he moved to Birmingham to become senior vice-president of the Alabama Power Company, Mitchell continued to work for his former city.

Mitchell bought the Noccalula Falls Tract from the Baker estate for $50,000 with the endowment purpose of holding it in trust for Gadsden, hoping that the city might someday take it over for a park. In 1946, Gadsden residents voted overwhelmingly to buy the property, and plans were made to make it the largest and finest municipal park in Alabama.

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