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 caucasian settler who built his house near two springs. Riley's home became a stagecoach stop on the Huntsville-to-Rome route. The original building still stands today as the oldest in Gadsden.
The house was purchased by Gabriel and Asenath Hughes in 1840. The Hughes brothers purchased much of the land betweenLookout Mountain, the Coosa River, and the mouth of Wills Creek. The brothers a proposed bringing arailroad from Savannah toNashville through their land. The original 120 acres survey of Gadsden included the Hughes brothers' land, plus that of John S. Moragne and Lewis L. Rhea, made up the 120 acres on which the original survey of Gadsden was made. 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 "Lafferty's Landing", but instead Gadsden was adopted in honor of Colonel James Gadsdenof South Carolina, later to become famous for negotiating the Gadsden Purchase from Mexico.
After most of Gadsden's major industries closed in the 1970s and 80's, 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, and efforts like the Cultural Arts Center and downtown redevelopment earned Gadsden first place in the 2000 City Livability Awards Program.
In Gadsden, downtown occupancy is now 92%, up from 60% when the local Main Street program began. In the past two years, despite a slow economy, downtown Gadsden had a net gain of 27 new businesses. On First Fridays, thousands of people come downtown to enjoy a festival-like atmosphere with antique cars on display. Merchants stay open late and offer specials to entice customers to shop. Other events including the Downtown Art Experience, the Third Thursday Concert Series, and annual history and ghost walks draw crowds to the shopping district throughout the year, as does the Hadrin Center for Cultural Arts, located in an old department store in the heart of downtown. This catalyst for revitalization attracts visitors to its children's museum, youth orchestra, dance conservatory, and art exhibits.
Main Street is a unique preservation based economic development program.