Gadsden, Alabama is another one of those towns I became familiar with during my antique-finding runs,
but never took the time to explore its downtown area until this trip. As many of you know, Gadsden is
the southern starting point for the annual "Longest Yard Sale."
I fell in love with it from the moment I saw its Downtown Historic District. From its magnificent old town layout and well preserved buildings to the beauty of the Coosa River running through the area, Gadsden is definitely one of those places I would like to revisit as soon as possible.
Gadsden, Alabama, the county seat of Etowah County, is located on the Coosa River about 56 miles northeast of Birmingham and 90 miles southwest of Chattanooga, Tennessee. As of the 2010 census, the population of the city was 36,856.
Gadsden was at one time in the 19th century Alabama's second most important center of commerce and industry, trailing only the seaport of Mobile. The two cities were important shipping centers: Gadsden for riverboats and Mobile for international trade. Through the 1980s, Gadsden was a center of heavy industry, including the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company and the Republic Steel Corporation.
More than a decade after the sharp decline in industry, in 1991 Gadsden was awarded the honor of All-America City by the National Civic League, an award that honored the way Gadsden's citizens, government, businesses, and voluntary organizations work together to address critical local issues.
The first substantial white settlement in what is now Gadsden was a village called "Double Springs". It was founded in about 1825 by John Riley, a mixed-race American Indian and European-American settler who built his house near two springs. Riley used his house for a stagecoach stop on the Huntsville-to- Rome route. The original building still stands as the oldest in Gadsden.
The house was purchased by brothers Gabriel and Asenath Hughes in 1840. The Hughes brothers purchased much of the land between Lookout Mountain, the Coosa River, and the mouth of Wills Creek. The brothers proposed constructing a railroad from Savannah to Nashville through their land. The original 120 acres survey of Gadsden included the Hughes brothers' land, plus that of John S. Moragne and Lewis L. Rhea.
On July 4, 1845, Captain James Lafferty piloted the steamboat Coosa to the settlement, landing near the site of the current Memorial Bridge. The Hughes brothers suggested renaming the town as "Lafferty's Landing", but instead "Gadsden" was adopted in honor of Colonel James Gadsden of South Carolina, later to become famous for negotiating the United States' Gadsden Purchase from Mexico.
In 1867, with the organization of Baine County, Gadsden was incorporated and made the county seat. Baine County was dissolved in 1868 and Etowah County created in its place and Gadsden retained its standing as county seat.
After most of Gadsden's major industries closed in the 1970s and 1980s, the city began to decline. Redevelopment efforts such as the Cultural Arts Center and downtown revitalization earned Gadsden first place in the 2000 City Livability Awards Program. Underemployment continues to be a severe problem, as indicated by the economic data presented below.