Gadsden’s large historic downtown features a good number of well-preserved 100- to 140-year-old buildings that are currently home to boutiques, restaurants, art galleries, museums and more.
Sitting near the southern end of Lookout Mountain on the banks of the Coosa River in northeast Alabama, the city was incorporated in 1867.
When the Gadsden Downtown Historic District was accepted into the National Register of Historic Places in 1997, 76 out of 126 buildings were considered to be contributed resources. The district’s construction date range is 1878 to 1948, and 14 city blocks have at least one building in the registered area.
FUN FACT: The first J.C. Penney department store east of the Mississippi opened in 1923 at 301 Broad Street in Gadsden.
Typically in America, the older the building, the more elaborate the exterior architectural decorations. This is certainly true in downtown Gadsden. More interesting features like brickwork, window arches, window hoods and entry bays are found on the late-19th structures.
Let’s take a look at Broad Street’s visual highlights.
Four big blocks are home to Gadsden’s best historic commercial streetscapes
The 500 block features many of the oldest buildings on Broad. It also has great variety. Above, the red S.A. Berger Dry Goods/Kyle Building (c. 1883) at 511 Broad Street is one of the most distinct buildings in the district, and is currently home for the Imagination Place, a museum for children operated by the Center for Cultural Arts. The ground level exterior was reconstructed in the late 1990s to better match its original appearance.
Over the past few years, a dining destination has developed at the 500 block with seven or more small restaurants found there. Those include an Italian restaurant, a sushi restaurant, a steakhouse, a burger bar and a coffee shop. Jefferson’s, a popular regional restaurant chain, has a location on that block, as well.
The north side of the 400 block includes some of the most visually-appealing structural trim work to be found on Broad.
Above, the Frank & Hagedorn Building (c. 1913) has some intricate stone and tile. The ground level may have been recreated or remodeled to some degree. The fancy ornamentation wraps around both sides to take advantage of the fact that it sits at the historically significant corner of Court and Broadway.
Above, c. 1890 and 1885 buildings of the 400 block have beautifully painted details with matching hues of pale green and tan above their dark red entry ways. To the right is the c. 1903 Hughes Building with its huge upstairs windows.
Above, one of the few stand-along buildings on Broad Street is the c. 1910 U.S. Post Office that later served as a federal courthouse. It features Georgia marble which, along with its red roof, help it stand out at the corner of 6th Street. It’s presently a privately-owned professional office building.
Above, the three buildings in the middle of the north side of the 300 block provide a nice streetscape. Shown are the handsome red Weiss Building (c. 1890, 315 Broad), the red brick building at 313 Broad which was built in 1996 to fill in an empty space and the Dawson Building (c. 1884) at 309 Broad which got a new elegant terra cotta face in 1924 when it became the Pizitz Department Store.
Above, just a block off of Broad on Court Street, the lower floor of the c. 1905 three-story, red-brick warehouse is home to Harp & Clover, a popular Irish pub and restaurant.
Before the old 1890 Etowah County Courthouse, above, was razed in 1948, Court Street and Locust Avenue were part of Gadsden’s old courthouse square. A bank is now found in that spot.
On the old courthouse square’s east side on 4th Street, only the stone carriage porch remains today from what was the grand Printup Hotel. The hotel burned at the beginning of the Great Depression. It is now part of a 1980s-era office building.
Chestnut Street’s visual highlights
One block south of Broadway, Chestnut Street has several historic buildings that haven’t changed a great deal in the 115-plus years since they were constructed. Above, the red-brick Nadler Building (c. 1902) and the Times-News Building (c. 1904) sit on the corners of Chestnut and South 4th like a gateway to a mile-long stretch of historic sites.
At the corner of Chestnut and 5th, you’ll see the First United Methodist Church which was originally built in 1893. The Victorian Gothic structure, shown above, with the massive steeple that was renovated in 1955.
If you go west on Chestnut at least as far as South 9th Street, you’ll find a cluster of historic buildings. The Gunn-Bellenger House (c. 1886 Victorian-style) and the Colonel O.R. Hood house (c. 1904 classic revival) are there. Also, the remarkable Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter (c. 1921) is across the street from those two houses:
Other interesting buildings are found in the area between Chestnut and the present Day county courthouse. There are several other houses within a few blocks of those that appear to be from the 1890 to 1920 time range, particularly on 8th, 9th, 10th and Walnut Street. Further west, the Eleventh Street School (c. 1907), which is currently being used as an office by the city school system, is on the corner of Chestnut and 11th.
See more Gadsden Downtown Historic District photos
Other historic places in Gadsden area
If you are a history or nostalgia enthusiast, here are some other significant places you may want to visit.
First, the stone Gadsden Amphitheater, c. 1935, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. It has been known through the years by different names including Mort Glosser Amphitheater and the Legion Park Bowl.
Second, there are several houses of worship in and around the downtown area that appear to be from 1890s to 1920s. There’s also an eye-catching synagogue.
Another historic downtown district is found within the Gadsden city limits, and another in the small adjacent city of Attalla. See my articles about them:
See also ...
Gadsden is an excellent road trip, weekend getaway or staycation destination for persons traveling from the Atlanta, Birmingham, Chattanooga and Huntsville areas. Furthermore, it would be easy to recommend the city for a full vacation when you consider all the things there are to do and enjoy including fishing, boating, the riverside parks, Noccalula Falls, the historic sites, the museums, golf courses and more.
Research sources for this article include some historical markers and the following:
The Gadsden Downtown Historic District application to the National Register of Historic Places found at www.nps.gov/subjects/nationalregister
The Etowah County Tourism Board site at greatergadsden.com