Etowah Historical Society

since 1954

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History of the

Falls Christmas Lighting

by Danny K. Crownover

In 2007 the City of Gadsden took over the Christmas lighting and did a great job with it. The work for the last few years has been very impressive and City employees under Parks and Recreation Director Kerry Payne has done an outstanding work.

History of the Falls Christmas Lighting

Attempts in the past for making the mountain a special place have come and gone. Back around the 1980s, Joe Barnes, a local historian, met with many interested parties at the old Clayton's Cafe on Noccalula Road to encourage improvements. A lot of dreams were shared. One of these dreams was to have an alpine village on Noccalula Falls and to be all light up.

A few years later, an organization, Mountain Pride, was formed with several meetings, but little resulted from it. On one November evening in 1994, at my residence on Lookout Mountain overlooking the city, there were more than 20 folks invited for a spaghetti supper. The purpose was to get them interested in the idea of doing great things for the mountain.

From that time on we started meeting regular at Jacks at Noccalula Falls. We voted to become known as the Noccalula Improvement Association. By spring the following year, we decided to push the idea of lighting Noccalula Falls Park for Christmas. In October, Richard Copeland and I led the organization in implementing this. In the beginning, there were only plans for a few lights to be placed on the walking bridge as well as the railings that skirted the top of the gorge.

Words got out about this project and more and more folks wanted to help or donate money. What turned out to be plans for 1,000 lights quickly changed to more than 60,000 lights. In reality, the association never dreamed how large this was going to get in just two months.

That first year it was located out front between Noccalula Road and the old ticket gate, next to where one goes down into the gorge. That first year it was free. This project became known as Christmas on the Rocks. Martha Manley, a member of the Association, once stated that "Dreams can come true ... We all shared this dream, came together and we made things happen".

A week before the planned lighting ceremony and on the day of final placement of the lights, tragedy struck. Jaycee member, Rory (RoRo). Cothran was working on the northwest side of the gorge across from the Noccalula statue. He was having to repel down off the side of the gorge and had just finished stringing lights off the side. As he climbed back up, he slipped and fell. The harness he was wearing broke. He died shortly after. For several days it appeared the first Christmas lighting would not be turned on.

Rory's work at the Falls was the final touch for the Christmas lighting. Sad as it was, family members did want to see the lights turned on. Rory had worked so hard on it. At some point, a monument was placed at the site to memorialize Rory. Also each year at every Christmas lighting, a star is place to shine on the cliff exactly where he fell.

Exactly a week later to the hour of Rory's death, the lighting ceremony began. Thousands and thousands of folks came. All parking spaces were filled and people were jammed together. There was tension among everyone, especially the members. The lights were all hooked up to a central relay but there were concerns that it might not work.

The Jaycees handed out candles for everyone and these were lighted for RoRo. After a few presentations it came time to turn the lights on. Rory’s favorite song “The Dance” by Garth Brooks started playing. There was not a dry eye to be seen and all cried for the longest.

For those that don’t know, the song is written with a double meaning, both as a love song about the end of a relationship, and the story of someone dying because of something they believe in, or a moment of glory.

Keith Pitts, speaker for the Noccalula Improvement Association, predicted that Christmas on the Rocks would grow into the Pioneer Village the following year. That next year, in 1996, the amounts of lights jumped from 60,000 lights to more than 250,000 and as predicted, into the Pioneer Village itself. Each year it grew until by the year 2006, it jumped to over 2 million lights.

Perhaps the next highlight for the Association was in February of 1999 when a C.P. Huntington excursion train (a “twin” for the one already at the Falls) and 4,000 feet of tracks were purchased. This additional train was needed for use during times of large crowds. As I recall, the train was bought for less than $100,000. Brand new, it would have cost over $1 million dollars.

The train was in Estes Park , Colorado and purchased from H.W. Stewart Corporation through its president, William Carle. He and his family had operated the train for several years at their amusement park known as National Park Village. It was located at the entrance to the Rocky Mountain National Park. Then in 1992, a tragic fire destroyed most of the complex. Afterward, the Park Service negotiated the use of the property for a new visitor center. This required selling off the train.

The train was loaded on a flatbed truck owned by Osborn Trucking Company of Gadsden, who made provisions for delivery from Colorado to Gadsden. Once in Gadsden , Taylor Crane Company provided crane service to unload the train.

My last year with the Association was in 2001. When the Noccalula Improvement Association was created, it was not just about improving the Falls by itself, but also the area surrounding it, including the entire Southern Lookout Mountain if necessary.

It was to try to preserve the past and make visual improvements. It was something that we were to all enjoy and appreciate. It was an attempt to educate, preserve and protect the area's heritage and cultural pride, as well as the natural environment and other unique qualities of life.



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The Etowah

Historical Society

 P.O. Box 8131

Gadsden, AL 35902

(Physical address at

2829 W. Meighan Blvd.)


Danny Crownover






Officers & Board Members

President ...........................Danny Crownover

1st Vice President ..................Traci Pondick

2nd Vice President ............Sharyon Ramsey

Recording Secretary ...........John McFarland

Corresponding Secretary ..Molly Cheatwood

Treasurer ............................Gorden Maddox

Historian .................................Patsy Hanvey

Devotional ...........Gennie McDaniel Dawson




The Society meets every 2nd Friday night each month at Elliott Community Center, corner of 29th Street & Meighan Blvd. at 6:00pm.

Each month we have an enjoyable presentation and refreshments.

Come and enjoy!!!


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