By Danny Crownover
Back in the day, the Pulltight section of Gadsden was about the worst gambling, vice and wildcat liquor center in Alabama. It would have done credit to some of the outlaw strongholds of the Old West in its glory days.
Located on two blocks on North Twelfth Street between the North Carolina & St. Louis and Southern railroads between Meighan Boulevard and Tuscaloosa Avenue, Puilltight was THE resort for gamblers saloons, dance halls and vice dens.
Pulltight seems to have started in the 1870s, shortly after the Civil War. One man said that Pulltight actually was run by one person, who was sort of an ancient Al Capone. There are many tales concerning the alleged vice lord of the area. So far as is known, there were never any gambling machines such as roulette.
The area first served as a campground for farmers who had to spend the night in Gadsden if they came from a distance of 15 miles. The camp was pitched east of the center of the two-block section. A few little stores were put up on the west side of the community in order to cater the country trade. Eventually there were more than a dozen stores of about 20 feet wide and 20 feet long. Each store featured a porch with steps and a square false front.
After a crossroads community had been created, the lawless element moved into Pulltown, and soon most people of Etowah County, including the citizens of Gadsden, were afraid to pass through the area, day or night. In fact, the area was called Pulltight because a man was lucky to get through it with his money and his life.
There was, however, another cause for the area’s name. Gardner’s Spring, located at what is now Tenth Street and Gardner Street, flowed across the “Big Road” – as it was called before Twelfth Street was surveyed and mapped by the city- and created a wide pond that make it difficult to get through. It was a tight pull to get through that pond and up the little hill at the south end of the area.
The gamblers, the saloons, blind tigers and others of their ilk dominated that sinkhole of iniquity for quite a while, but the storekeepers continued to do a legitimate business until the 1890s and afterward. Many good people lived on the edge of Pulltight but could not do anything about the lawlessness that reigned there for more than a generation.
After much violation of almost every known law of the state, conditions in Pulltight really became appalling in the early 1880s when Sal Sugarfoot and her sister Mag moved their disorderly house from North Third Street downtown to a two-story house in the center of Pulltight.
There were two white wooden store buildings on the east side of Twelfth Street near the railroad that were located next door to Sal Sugerfoot’s place. Blind tigers all over the place, and every night people for blocks around could hear fiddling and the shouts of drunken men and women.
There were the saloons, gambling houses and disorderly houses uptown in Gadsden, but they had some semblance of police protection with a town Marshall around day and night.
`In Pulltight, however, there was horse racing up and down the big road and card playing and crap shooting all around. Sunday school picnickers going to Sulphur Spring on what is now Mineral Avenue and Noccalula Falls Road sometimes traveled with an armed guard.
Knife and pistol battles were common but there were only a few killings. In most of the houses in Pulltight, there was always a way to relieve the drinking farmer of his wallet and money with loose women and slick gamblers.
Farmers coming into Gadsden from Blount and Marshall counties had to pass through Pulltight. The area was the funnel for the highways to Attalla and Big and Little Wills Valley and Lookout Mountain. There was no other way into Gadsden from a large section of Etowah.
The old stagecoach road of Tuscaloosa Street (also called the Hightown Path) skirted the north edge of the place. Travelers along that route frequently stopped long enough to get tipsy and then get fleeced.
Several farmers who became alarmed at the situation changed their camping ground to Drunkard’s Spring, which was located on the top of Lookout Mountain just across the road from two concrete reservoirs of the city water works.