An All-American City: Gadsden, Alabama

WHETHER YOU’RE THERE FOR THE fishing, hiking, golfing, antique shopping or just to enjoy
the slower pace of small-town life, Gadsden, Alabama, will wow you with its Southern
hospitality and scenic beauty. With gentle rolling hills, mountaintop views, vivid seasons
complemented by a mild climate, and the Coosa River flowing through the heart of the
Appalachian foothills, there is much to do and explore. A great place to start exploring is
one of the largest natural tourist attractions in Alabama: Noccalula Falls. Even before you
spot the rush of water cascading 90 feet into the beautiful ravine, you see the
13-foot-tall bronze statue, caught midstride on a rock overlooking the falls. Erected in
1958, the statue brings a touch of romance to the park and to the town. Legend has it that
there was a beautiful Cherokee maiden deeply in love with a warrior of her own tribe. Her
father, a great chief, ordered her to marry a Creek chief, who offered many horses in
exchange. The wedding day came and she allowed herself to be arrayed in festive wedding
robes. But, heartbroken, she quietly slipped away to the soft, rhythmical waters that
called to her. For a moment, she stood poised upon the brink of the yawning chasm and then,
with one leap, her life was over. Grief-stricken and remorseful, her father gave the great
cataract his daughter’s name, and since that day Black Creek Falls has been called
Noccalula Falls. Below in the ravine, where the sure-footed trek, are many scenic and
historic sites: a gorge trail with caves and Indian carvings, an aboriginal fort, an
abandoned dam, Civil War carvings, many species of rare plants and wildlife, and unusual
rock formations. When one stands behind the great spray of water, awed by its power, all
else seems to pale in comparison to its beauty. Surrounded by nature, it is easy to imagine
the Native Americans roaming these trails long ago, easy to feel the spirit of Noccalula.
In springtime, you’ll find Noccalula Falls Park’s botanical gardens, with an extensive
array of azaleas, especially breathtaking. In the fall, the trees — dressed in rusts, reds
and gold — are a sight to behold. No matter what the season, a walk through Pioneer
Village, a group of more than a dozen rustic hand-hewn buildings, is a great way to peek
into the past. You may enjoy playing a game of miniature golf or taking a ride around the
grounds on a passenger train that will transport you to the animal park. In addition to
these attractions, you’ll find a beautiful campground with a swimming pool, a country
store, two outdoor stages, excellent picnic facilities and hiking trails. Throughout the
year, the park provides a perfect setting for arts-and-crafts exhibits, antique auto shows
and Native American powwows. (Events and dates can be supplied by the park.) The park is
also the “point of beginning” of the world’s largest garage sale, which extends 450 miles
north along Lookout Mountain Parkway and U.S. Highway 127 from Gadsden to Cincinnati, Ohio.
This year, the dates are August 17 through 20. While Noccalula Falls may be one of the
largest attractions in the area, there’s much more to see and do in and around Gadsden. If
fishing is your game, you’ll enjoy venturing along the banks of the Coosa River. The
1,000-foot boardwalk, 10 minutes from the falls, is a good place to toss in a hook and talk
to a few of the local fishermen. With benches lining the walk, this area also provides a
perfect place to sit and watch the day slip into dusk. Boat ramps are available. Gadsden
also serves as host for fishing tournaments, 10 of which are scheduled this year. More
information can be obtained by contacting the tourism board. While you’re at the boardwalk,
you’ll probably notice the Citizenship Monument. Chances are, you’ll also spot the Alabama
Princess riverboat. Specializing in leisurely luncheon and dinner cruises, the spacious
two-deck paddleboat offers a nostalgic journey along the scenic and historic Coosa River.
Featuring live musical entertainment and a delicious buffet, the authentic replica of a
19th-century sternwheeler offers a great way to stir up some romance. If fishing or water
sports is your main reason for coming to Gadsden, you may want to stay at River Country
Campground. Located on the banks of the Coosa River, the campground offers a chapel, heated
and air-conditioned bathhouses, a swimming pool and two large pavilions, as well as many
other conveniences. The park’s beauty has not gone unnoted. In 1997, the U.S. House of
Representatives recognized it as one of the most beautiful campgrounds in the Southeastern
United States. A trip to Gadsden wouldn’t be complete without touring the historic downtown
area, which has recently been restored to reflect its original luster. The streets, graced
with old-fashioned street lamps, are lined with several speciality stores, such as Little
Faces Doll Shop, and a variety of antique stores. At the end of Broad Street is the
entrance of Memorial Bridge, where you’ll find the Emma Samson monument. Samson, a local
resident, was a noted Confederate heroine. On the morning of May 2, 1863, she guided
General Nathan Bedford Forrest to an obscure ford across Black Creek near Gadsden. As a
result, Forrest later overtook and captured Streight’s Raiders and saved the Confederate
supply line at Rome, Georgia. Starting in May and continuing through September, the
Cultural Arts Center downtown hosts live musical entertainment in its courtyard every
Friday and Saturday night. Locals and tourists gather to enjoy a drink and an evening
beneath the stars. The building houses a children’s museum, a variety of art exhibits and
the Coosa Valley Model Railroad Club’s 72-foot-long working railroad, which runs through a
miniature model of Gadsden as it was in the 1940s. If you’re intrigued by antiques
shopping, you’ll want to take a quick trip to a neighboring town. With its charming
atmosphere and more than 15 antiques shops, Attalla has become an enthusiast’s dream. The
Yellow Canary Restaurant, located less than a block from the main drive, offers home-cooked
Southern meals if you want a tasty stop.. Another great shopping opportunity is found at
Mountain Top Flea Market, Alabama’s largest. Located only 15 miles from Gadsden, the market
is open every Sunday from 5 a.m. until approximately 4 p.m. You’ll find everything from
jewelry and crafts to hardware and furniture. In addition, the fresh fruits, vegetables and
roasted peanuts will tempt your taste buds. While the miniature golf at Noccalula Falls may
satisfy some travelers, those whose hands itch for a No. 9 iron and a beautiful course will
not be let down. Alabama’s landscape can really be appreciated along the Robert Trent Jones
Golf Trail of nine courses, including Silver Lakes near Gadsden. One thing that Gadsden is
definitely not short of is great places to dine. Top of the River, a steak-and-seafood
restaurant overlooking the Coosa, features complimentary cornbread and coleslaw with every
meal. The portions are large, the selection wide, the food delicious, and the service
reflects the town’s hospitality. Because of the area’s scenic beauty, recreational
activities and residents’ friendliness, Gadsden was one of only 50 U.S. cities featured in
the book The Best Towns in America: A Where-to-Go-Guide for a Better Life. Gadsden was also
named an All-American City by the National Civic League. Indeed, this Alabama community is
a great place to visit. Before You Go For further city information,
contact Gadsden-Etowah Tourism Board, P.O. Box 8267, Gadsden, Alabama 35902; (256)
549-0351. Or visit www.cybrtyme.com/tourism. For complete campground listings, refer to the
Trailer Life Directory. For state travel information, contact Alabama Tourism, (800)
ALABAMA, or visit www.touralabama.org

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