Noccalula Falls Park

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Noccalula Falls Park in 2010

Noccalula Falls Park is a public park in the city of Gadsden, centered around Noccalula Falls (formerly Black Creek Falls), a scenic 90-foot waterfall at the foot of Lookout Mountain.

The falls were a well-known attraction as long as the area has been settled. Thomas McClung owned a 40-acre parcel which included the falls in 1845. During the 1860s the Gadsden Land and Improvement Company promoted a "Lover's Retreat" there in the pages of the Cherokee Advertiser. A "cavern bar" flourished behind the falls for some time, where German immigrants danced the "nochullola". That dance may have provided the more popular name for Black Creek Falls, or it may be a variant of the Cherokee "Amicalola" (a-ma u-qua-le-lv-yi), meaning tumbling or thundering waters.

Around the same period a story about an Indian princess leaping to her death at the falls was being told, attributed to early settlers who had known her and admired her beauty. In a version printed in the Advertiser in 1867, the maiden's name was "Efoladela", a Cherokee forced into a loveless marriage with a rival Muscogee chief "Ortus Micco" and denied marriage to her true love, "Laniska" (later identified with the historical Cherokee chief Pathkiller). By the early 1900s, the maiden's name had become "Noccalula" to correspond with the waterfall.

Noccalula Falls Park trail marker

The cavern collapsed during attempts to enlarge it and then-owner G. O. Baker sold the property to R. A. Mitchell in 1909. When Mitchell was elected Mayor of Gadsden he hoped to sell the 169-acre tract to the city as a park, but could not agree to a price the City Council would pay.

After his death, residents of the city voted to issue bonds to purchase it from his daughter, Sadie Elmore. The $70,000 transaction was made on May 28, 1946. Afterward another 80 acres were added to the park as the city pursued its development as a family attraction. Picnic shelters, concession stands, and barbecue grills were added. A 20-foot long fluorescently-lit sign was installed at the park entrance in 1958. Development work accelerated in the early 1960s as the Gadsden Jaycees installed a concrete-paved pathway into the gorge and floodlights to illuminate falls at night. The Noccalula Garden Club added flower gardens and planters to beautify the park.

In 1966 Judge H. Ross Gilliland donated the Gilliland Bridge, a covered bridge built on the family's land in 1899, to the city. It was dismantled and reconstructed along with William Clayton's log-built blacksmith shop and several other historic structures to form a "Pioneer Homestead" in Noccalula Falls Park which opened for Easter 1968. The homestead was added to the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage on May 12, 1976. A $25,000 bronze statue of Noccalula, depicted in the act of leaping, was installed at the edge of the gorge in 1969.

By the mid-1970s, Noccalula Falls held claim to being the state's number one tourist attraction with more than a million annual visitors.

The "Kiwanis Special" miniature train, a C. P. Huntington model made by Chance Manufacturing of Wichita, Kansas, was donated by the Kiwanis Club of Gadsden in 1978. It pulls around 60 people in open cars along a roughly 1-mile route through the park's Pioneer Village and petting zoo.

Joe Barnes, curator of the Noccolula Park Museum, created an exhibit of Indian artifacts and made plans for a recreated Cherokee village in 1980. The Birmingham Pops Orchestra played an outdoor concert at the park that Summer. In 1988 the "World's Longest Yardsale" was extended from Chattanooga along Lookout Mountain Parkway, with the park as its southern terminus. Later that year an Etowah County War Memorial was added to the park.

In May 1998 a granite Etowah County Law Enforcement Memorial was added to the park's array of monuments. Its prominence was obscured by the addition of a chapel in 2009 and its seclusion may have invited vandalism. Officials decided to relocate the memorial to the grounds of the Etowah County Courthouse in 2010.

Noccalula Falls Park's petting zoo, which featured indoor habitats for birds, fish, rabbits, hamsters, and other animals, opened in 2000 and was expanded in 2006. The park hosts annual family events at Halloween and Christmas, as well as the Smoke on the Falls barbecue competition.


Besides the legendary suicide of "Noccalula", the park has been the scene of numerous accidental deaths. The waters below the falls churn through formations of broken rock which are clambered over by everyday parkgoers. In 1972 Steven Blake, 20, of Forestdale drowned in the churning water below the falls while helping to rescue a friend, Kiflin Myrick. Lesley Ann Kaylor drowned below the falls in 1989. Rory Cothran, a Jaycee hanging Christmas lights around the gorge, fell to his death when his safety harness broke in November 1995. Earlier the same year a 21-year old from Fort Payne, whose girlfriend had married another man, flirted with jumping into the gorge for hours before he was pulled to safety by police.

On March 7, 2019 the tourist train at the park derailed, injuring about 10 people. The derailment happened entering a curve in the tracks near the petting zoo. On May 2, 2021 approximately 75 animals were killed in a fire that destroyed the zoo facility, which was part of the animal habitat. The habitat was reopened to the public on September 10, 2021.

In April 2023 the park was defaced by extensive graffiti. A $1,500 award was offered for information leading to arrests.


External links