By Dixon Hayes
GADSDEN, AL (WBRC) - Walking tours were held in downtown Gadsden the last two years, but they often were scheduled on stifling hot, 90-degree days. Plus some members of the tour had difficulty walking such a long way. So this year, historian Mike Goodson will hold a virtual tour.
There will be a multi-media presentation in the lobby of the Pitman Theater on Broad Street.
Goodson tells the FOX6 News' Anniston newsroom, his own passion for Etowah County history began in his youth. He grew up in the Alabama City section of Gadsden, in a neighborhood known as the "Mill Village."
The Mill Village was built for workers at nearby Crown Mills, where Goodson would often sneak and fish from a pond on that property. Goodson also remembers Saturday matinees at the nearby Ritz Theater, which still stands.
His virtual tour will utilize historic photos from the Scarboro Collection which is now archived in the Gadsden Public Library.
People who attend will see historic shots of Downtown Gadsden, shots of some of its founders, paddlewheeler riverboats on the Coosa River, even baby boomer images like the Rebel Drive-In Theater and the old Jack's Kwikee drive-in restaurant.
"They're going to see some of the early riverboats that plied the waters between Rome, Georgia and Greensport, Alabama," Goodson tells us. And history buffs are "going to see some of the early buildings and also some of the shots of Broad Street, when it was a dirt road."
He'll also tell unusual stories, like how Gadsden had an early relationship with the Jack Daniels distillery (which ended when a temperance group led a drive to make the city "dry"), and the urban legend that notorious bandit and killer Jesse James once came to the city. One notable western figure who did come, the "Cisco Kid" of radio and TV fame, and there's even a photo of him entertaining Gadsden area children in the 1950s.
One morning will even be devoted to the area's theaters and drive-ins, including the Pitman, which will host the virtual tours. The program will mention such other long-gone venues as the Princess and Gadsden Theaters, and the Rainbow Drive-In. They'll even serve popcorn and soft drinks that day.
All of this comes as Downtown Gadsden is undergoing a renaissance, with its historic buildings being preserved. The Downtown Gadsden, Inc. group recently moved its headquarters into the old Runt's Place restaurant, even restoring the facade to a variation of the Runt's Place exterior circa the 1940s.
"We're going to introduce people to the founders of our city, and what I would say the glory days of Downtown Gadsden, and a direction it's heading back towards," Goodson says.
The Gadsden Virtual Tours will be held every Saturday morning in June beginning June 6th. They will begin at 10 a.m. in the lobby of the Pitman Theater, 623 Broad Street. And while the tour won't move, history buffs will be given brochures leading them to some of the area's notable sites, should they decide they want to see them on their own.