Gadsden is a city in and the county seat of Etowah County, northeastern Alabama, United States, approximately 60 miles northeast of Birmingham. It is the principal city of and is included in the Gadsden Metropolitan Statistical Area, which has a population of 103,459. As of the 2006 Census Bureau estimates, the population of the city is 37,291.
It was at one time the state's 2nd most important industrial center, trailing only Mobile. The two cities were important shipping centers: Gadsden for riverboats and Mobile for international trade. Up until the 1980s, Gadsden was almost totally dependent on heavy industry, including Goodyear Tire, and Republic Steel. After virtually crumbling in the 1970s and 1980s, Gadsden decided its best course of action was to stop being dependent on industry, and shedding its "company town" image. In 1991, Gadsden was awarded the honor of "All-America City" by the National Civic League, an award that honored the way Gadsden's citizens, government, businesses, and voluntary organizations work together to address critical local issues.
The first substantial white settlement in what is now Gadsden was a tiny town called Double Springs. It was begun by a mixed Indian-white settler named John Riley when he built his house near two springs around 1825. It became a stagecoach stop on the Huntsville-to-Rome route. The original house still stands today as the oldest house in Gadsden. The house changed hands to a couple named Gabriel and Asenath Hughes in 1840. Shortly thereafter, they began to purchase much of the land between Lookout Mountain, the Coosa River, and down to the mouth of Wills Creek. Their land, plus that of John S. Moragne and Joseph Rhea, became the first part of the city of Gadsden. Double Springs was transformed on July 4, 1845, when one Captain James Lafferty piloted the first steamboat to the area, aptly named the Coosa. He landed near the site of the current Memorial Bridge on that date. The Hughes brothers offered to name the town "Lafferty's Landing" in his honor, but Lafferty declined. Instead, the name Gadsden was chosen, in honor of Colonel James Gadsden of South Carolina, famous for the later Gadsden Purchase.
After the civil rights movement and the closing of most of Gadsden's major industries in the 1970s and 80's, the city began to crash. A 1989 Rand McNally article listed Gadsden as one of the "Seven Worst Cities to Live in the United States." Spurred to action by these reports, efforts like the Cultural Arts Center and downtown redevelopment earned Gadsden first place in the 2000 City Livability Awards Program.
As of the censusGR2 of 2000, there were 38,978 people, 16,456 households, and 10,252 families residing in the city. The population density was 418.4/km² (1,083.6/mi²). There were 18,797 housing units at an average density of 201.8/km² (522.6/mi²). The racial makeup of the city was 62.69% White, 34.00% Black or African American, 0.30% Native American, 0.53% Asian, 0.08% Pacific Islander, 1.22% from other races, and 1.17% from two or more races. 2.67% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There were 16,456 households out of which 24.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 40.5% were married couples living together, 18.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 37.7% were non-families. 33.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 16.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.28 and the average family size was 2.91.
In the city the population was spread out with 23.0% under the age of 18, 9.5% from 18 to 24, 25.3% from 25 to 44, 22.0% from 45 to 64, and 20.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females there were 85.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 80.1 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $24,823, and the median income for a family was $31,740. Males had a median income of $29,400 versus $19,840 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,610. About 18.1% of families and 22.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 33.9% of those under age 18 and 14.6% of those age 65 or over.
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 three institutions of higher learning: Gadsden State Community College, which is the second largest among the 27 two-year institutions comprising the Alabama College System, Jacksonville State University, and the University of Alabama, although the latter are small satellite institutions.