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Gadsden, Alabama
City of Gadsden
Aerial photo of downtown Gadsden
Aerial photo of downtown Gadsden
"City of Champions"
Location of Gadsden in Etowah County, Alabama
Location of Gadsden in Etowah County, Alabama
Country United States
State Alabama
County Etowah
 • Type Mayor–council (with seven councilmen)
 • City 38.66 sq mi (100.13 km2)
 • Land 37.43 sq mi (96.94 km2)
 • Water 1.23 sq mi (3.18 km2)
541 ft (165 m)
 • City 33,945
 • Density 906.89/sq mi (350.15/km2)
 • Metro
103,931 (US: 345th)
Time zone UTC−6 (Central Time)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−5 (CDT)
ZIP code
Area codes 256, 938
FIPS code 01-28696
GNIS feature ID 0157961

Gadsden is a city in and the county seat of Etowah County in the U.S. state of Alabama. It is located on the Coosa River about 56 miles (90 km) northeast of Birmingham and 90 miles (140 km) southwest of Chattanooga, Tennessee. It is the primary city of the Gadsden Metropolitan Statistical Area, which has a population of 103,931. As of the 2020 census, the population of the city was 33,945. In the 19th century, Gadsden was 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.

From the late 19th century through the 1980s, Gadsden was a center of heavy industry, including the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company and Republic Steel. In 1991, following more than a decade of sharp decline in industry, Gadsden was awarded the honor of All-America City by the National Civic League.


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 (49 ha) 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. A Rand McNally article in 1989 listed Gadsden as one of the "Seven Worst Cities to Live in the United States". The city government was spurred to action by these reports.

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.

Geography and climate

Gadsden is located in central Etowah County at 34°0′37″N 86°0′37″W / 34.01028°N 86.01028°W / 34.01028; -86.01028 (34.010147, −86.010356), on both sides of the Coosa River. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 38.3 square miles (99.2 km2), of which 37.1 square miles (96.2 km2) is land and 1.1 square miles (2.9 km2), or 2.96%, is water. The southern end of Lookout Mountain rises to the north of the city center.

Typical of the Deep South, Gadsden experiences a humid subtropical climate (Köppen Cfa) with four distinct seasons.

Winter lasts from early December to late-February; the daily average temperature in January is 41.3 °F (5.2 °C). On average, the low temperature falls to the freezing mark or below on 60 days a year, and to or below 20 °F (−7 °C) on 6.9 days. While rain is abundant (January and February are on average the wettest months), measurable snowfall is rare, with most years receiving none. Summers are hot and humid, lasting from mid-May to mid-September, and the July daily average temperature is 80.6 °F (27.0 °C). There are 60–61 days of 90 °F (32 °C)+ highs annually and 2.1 days of 100 °F (38 °C)+ highs. The latter part of summer tends to be drier. Autumn, which spans from mid-September to early-December, tends to be similar to spring in terms of temperature and precipitation, although it begins relatively dry.

With a period of record dating only back to 1953, the highest recorded temperature was 106 °F (41 °C) on June 30, 2012, while the lowest recorded temperature was −6 °F (−21 °C) on January 20–21, 1985.

Climate data for Gadsden, Alabama (1981–2010 normals)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °F (°C) 51.8
Average low °F (°C) 30.7
Precipitation inches (mm) 4.95
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 9.3 9.3 9.0 8.9 8.9 9.2 9.8 7.8 6.7 7.1 8.6 9.6 104.2
Source: NOAA


Historical population
Census Pop.
1880 1,697
1890 2,901 70.9%
1900 4,282 47.6%
1910 10,557 146.5%
1920 14,737 39.6%
1930 24,042 63.1%
1940 36,975 53.8%
1950 55,725 50.7%
1960 58,088 4.2%
1970 53,928 −7.2%
1980 47,565 −11.8%
1990 42,523 −10.6%
2000 38,978 −8.3%
2010 36,856 −5.4%
2020 33,945 −7.9%
U.S. Decennial Census

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 36,856 people, 15,171 households, and 9,183 families living in the city. The population density was 990.8 people per square mile (382.7/km2). There were 17,672 housing units at an average density of 475.1 per square mile (183.5/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 57.3% White, 36.3% Black or African American, 0.4% Native American, 0.6% Asian, 0.4% Pacific Islander, 3.2% from other races, and 1.9% from two or more races. 5.4% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 15,171 households, out of which 24.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 35.9% were married couples living together, 19.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 39.5% were non-families. 34.9% of all households were made up of individuals, and 14.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.31 and the average family size was 2.99.

In the city, the population was spread out, with 22.5% under the age of 18, 9.7% from 18 to 24, 25.0% from 25 to 44, 26.1% from 45 to 64, and 16.8% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39.3 years. For every 100 females, there were 90.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 93.5 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $28,386, and the median income for a family was $34,643. Males had a median income of $33,827 versus $27,342 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,610. About 20.2% of families and 24.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 38.9% of those under age 18 and 14.3% of those age 65 or over.

2020 census

Gadsden racial composition
Race Num. Perc.
White (non-Hispanic) 17,198 50.66%
Black or African American (non-Hispanic) 12,002 35.36%
Native American 92 0.27%
Asian 273 0.8%
Pacific Islander 9 0.03%
Other/mixed 1,633 4.81%
Hispanic or Latino 2,738 8.07%

As of the 2020 United States census, there were 33,945 people, 13,766 households, and 8,133 families residing in the city.


Gadsden, AL, Spirit of American Citizenship Monument, with Coosa River
The Spirit of American Citizenship Monument on Rainbow Drive (US 411), just before the Broad Street Bridge. The Coosa River and East Gadsden are visible in the background.

Citing statistics from the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations and the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama, the Gadsden-Etowah County Industrial Development Authority reports that approximately 12,000 residents of Etowah County were underemployed and 2,179 residents were unemployed as of 2008.


Gadsden was home to Congregation Beth Israel, a Reform synagogue founded in 1908. In a 1960 attack, the synagogue was fire-bombed, its windows smashed, and two members wounded with a shotgun by a Nazi sympathizer. The congregation ceased operations in 2010.

Gadsden also houses churches of Christ, Methodist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, Pentecostal, Mormon, and Catholic faiths.

Points of interest



  • Interstate 59
  • Interstate 759
  • U.S. Highway 411
  • U.S. Highway 431
  • U.S. Highway 278
  • Norfolk Southern Railway
  • Alabama and Tennessee River Railway
  • Northeast Alabama Regional Airport (municipal airport)


The Gadsden City Board of Education oversees fourteen schools: eight elementary schools, three middle schools, one high school, and two specialty schools (one alternative center and one technical center).

A new high school, Gadsden City High School, replaced the three former city high schools (Emma Sansom High School, Gadsden High School, and Litchfield High School) via merger for the 2006–2007 school year.

Gadsden is home to Gadsden State Community College, the second largest of the 27 two-year institutions in the Alabama Community College System. This was founded by former Governor George Wallace. Small satellites of Jacksonville State University and the University of Alabama also offer college courses in Gadsden.

Gadsden is home to the first statewide day-treatment program for juvenile offenders. The Community Intensive Treatment for Youth Program (C.I.T.Y.) was founded in January 1981 by Edward E. Earnest (1943-2005). With the assistance and support of the Honorable Judge Robert E. Lewis (1927-1993), the city of Gadsden, and the Gadsden City Board of Education, the C.I.T.Y. Program began enrolling students on February 1, 1981. C.I.T.Y. is designed to be a multi-dimensional program emphasizing habilitation (i.e., equipping at-risk youth on juvenile probation with skills needed to meet the demands of modern society).

Its objectives are: 1. to identify the at-risk youth's individual strengths and weaknesses, 2. to provide an individualized environment in which the at-risk youth can develop skills, and 3. to alter the natural environment of the at-risk youth so that new acquired skills are nurtured and encouraged. To achieve these objectives, C.I.T.Y. offers academic remediation in reading, math, language; intensive counseling that involves behavior modification, consumer education, and job readiness training. After all objectives have been met, C.I.T.Y. provides GED preparation, return to public school, and placement into technical school, college, job, or military service. In 1983, C.I.T.Y. Program of Etowah County (Gadsden) received the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges Unique and Innovative Project Award. On October 1, 2009, C.I.T.Y.’s name was changed to Special Programming for Achievement Network (S.P.A.N.) It operates under the directorship of the Alabama Department of Youth Services. There are eleven SPAN programs in the state of Alabama.

Notable people

  • Beth Grant, actress
  • Bill Green, basketball player, first-round pick in 1963 NBA draft
  • Dre Kirkpatrick, first-round draft pick of the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals
  • Freddie Kitchens, football coach
  • Mathew Knowles, music executive, businessman, record producer, and manager; father of Beyoncé and Solange Knowles
  • Annie Lee (1935–2014), artist
  • Sunny Mabrey, actress
  • Jerry McCain, blues musician noted for his harmonica playing and songwriting
  • Darnell Mooney, wide receiver for the Chicago Bears
  • Roy Moore, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama
  • Aaron Pearson, former football linebacker who played three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs
  • William L. Sibert, US Army major general who commanded the U.S. 1st Infantry Division during World War I
  • Hazel Brannon Smith, notable newspaper publisher in Lexington, Mississippi, and first woman to receive a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.
  • Cadillac Williams, former NFL first-round draft pick
  • Yelawolf, rapper signed to Interscope and Shady Records
  • Jake Adam York, award-winning poet

See also

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