In the early 1840's, John S. Moragne, along with Gabriel and Joseph Hughes, began surveying for a city on the banks of the Coosa River near the settlement of Double Springs. The new city would be located on 120 acres of land at the present site of the downtown business district. The fledgling town received a boost on July 4, 1845, when the piercing sound of a steamboat's whistle along the banks of the Coosa River announced the beginning of a new era in Northeast Alabama. The landing of Captain James Lafferty's steamboat. The Coosa, marked the genesis of a new town. The name chosen for the town was "Gadsden" in honor of Colonel James Gadsden, who passed through the area with Andrew Jackson. Many believed that the Colonel, a proponent of the trans-continental railroad, would bring a major railroad to the vicinity. Although no major railroad was ever constructed, the name was retained in honor of Colonel Gadsden. The little town survived the Civil War, continued to grow, and was incorporated in 1871.
The start of the 20th century brought changes that would forever shape the future of the City of Gadsden. In 1902, Captain W. P. Lay began negotiations with the Southern Steel Company of Ensley to relocate to Gadsden. An ample supply of coal and iron made Gadsden the logical choice for construction of a steel mill. In 1904, with $38,000 in aid from the local government, the new plant began production. For nearly a century, the steel mill, along with Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, was the economic engine that powered Gadsden's development. As the city matured, a small business district, once lined with wooden storefronts, was replaced by a booming commercial center dominated by beautiful brick buildings. With a renewed interest in the riverfront and a return to its downtown, Gadsden's past and future are forever intertwined. The Downtown Gadsden Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.