Five miles west
of the City of Gadsden is the thriving little City of Attalla. It was
named by Chief Little Will and spelled Atali, meaning "my home." It was also the
site of an Indian village. Attalla, earlier known as the Junction, was settled as a crossroads for the
railroad traffic in the area. Known also for a short time as Bainsville, the
town has also been known as Newton.
The first white settler in 1800 was John
In 1819 a post office was established near the
Lake Rhea area in the home of a man named Bennett. In 1849 a map lists
Bennettsville as approximately where the Richard Stephens home was later and
near the current location of the Mack Whorton home.
It is situated
right in the middle of the mineral wealth of the county.
In 1849, there was a stage coach line, store, post office and
justice of the peace office. Attalla is part of the old Strother Road. Jackson
Trail passed from Gunter's Landing to Ft. Strother on Ten Island in the Coosa
River below what is now Greensport, a former steamboat landing.
The first church was Presbyterian, established
in 1851 when the town was called Newton. It was located in the 800 block of N.
John S. Moragne arrived in 1830 and sank the first iron ore mine in
northeastern Alabama in 1859. He owned the first saloon and became the first
Probate Judge of Etowah County. In these early days, Attalla was known as a
mining town but the mines all closed in 1922-23.
Attalla, in 1866 known as the Junction, changed its name to Bainsville in an
attempt to become the county seat. Gadsden, however, was chosen as the
seat of government in a special election.
In 1870, Attalla was founded on land donated by plantation owner, W.C.
Hammond, and a post office established. The town was incorporated February 5,
1872. Allen Gray was appointed postmaster (1889-1893) by President
Benjamin Harrison. Star route mail service was established in Etowah County and
carried by horseback from Attalla through Howelton, Red Bud, Walnut Grove, Balm,
Murphree Valley, Lowery to Oneonta. In 1872 Attalla had about 300 inhabitants, and was already on the railroad.
The first school was held in a church around 1860. After the town was
incorporated, the Hudson and Clements Schools were established.
Judge Henry W. Pickens, an early postmaster, donated land to build churches
and schools. In 1882 an Attalla College is mentioned. The Hughes family, who
owned and operated a brick plant, a cotton compress, and a lumber business
donated land for a school. The Etowah High School on South Fourth Street was
completed in 1910.
E.I. Holcombe, the first mayor of Attalla, owned a saloon at the current site
of the Gazebo. He lived in a two-story house between the current water
department and Ferguson's Florist on N. Fourth Street, a short distance from his
The town was partially destroyed by fire in 1887. The frame buildings were
replaced by brick. Attalla had no water works and depended on a fire brigade.
Another fire in 1891 which destroyed most of the city caused immediate action
toward a water works within its limits.
The first bank, the Bank of Attalla, was built by C.D. Henley and is now the
location of South Trust.
little city, like many other towns in the mineral belt, for a number of years
has relied on agriculture for its support. Attalla has awakened from its slumber,
and its enterprising citizens are now bending their energies toward the
development of her great mineral wealth. Her population
is (in 1888) increasing very rapidly, and it numbers now over 1,200.
The city has two newspapers, the
New Age, published and edited by A.G. Lee, and the Attalla
Herald, published and edited by T.J. Watkins. Both of these papers are Democratic in
politics, and are working for the development and prosperity of Attalla and
Etowah County. The first newspaper in Attalla, the Union Republic,
was published on May 20, 1870 with P.J. Smith as editor.
By 1890, Attalla was improving
rapidly. Several furnaces, which were in process
of erection, would soon be converting the iron ores around her doors into
In later years, Attalla became a rail center
with 22 passenger trains enter or leaving each day. It was the third largest
railroad center in Alabama. Its present
railroad facilities are superior to those of Gadsden. It is immediately on the
line of the great Queen & Crescent Route. which is one of the finest and longest
railroad lines in the South. Besides the
Queen & Crescent Route, Attalla has all the other railroads of the county
centering and crossing there. The Anniston & Cincinnati Railroad, the Rome &
Decatur, and the Tennessee & Coosa Railroads, all center in Attalla.
The four railroads at Attalla, handle and run
thirty-six freight trains daily on schedule, with a number of extras and double
headers, besides the freight cars handled over the Attalla, Alabama City and
Gadsden Electric Railway.
The first policeman, Drew Dillard, was hired
around 1894. Policemen in 1899 were: Charles L. Burke and Pete Gorman.
largely engaged in the mercantile business, besides mining large quantities of
iron ore, which is shipped to farmers in Tennessee and Georgia.
Attalla was the home of the first
hydroelectric dam to produce electricity in the state. The dam was built by
Captain W.P. Lay about 1902. In 1904 the city awarded him a contract to
light the town with his electric lights. In 1906, Captain Lay organized
the Alabama Power Company in Attalla.
The general society of this little city is very good, having
excellent churches and fine schools. The location of Attalla is indeed fine and
attractive, being surrounded on two sides by high hills, with two beautiful
valleys coming together right above it.
Etowah County Heritage Book Committee,
Heritage of Etowah County, Alabama. Clinton, AL: Heritage Publishing
Consultants, Inc., c. 1999.
McCalley, Henry, Northern Alabama :
historical and biographical. Birmingham, AL: Smith & DeLand, 1888, pp. 835.