Noccalula Falls Park is a 225-acre park located in Etowah County, two miles from downtown Gadsden, that is known for its 90-foot cascade into Black Creek Gorge. Originally known as Black Creek Falls, the waterfall is thought to be named for a mythic Cherokee princess who killed herself in the falls.
Noccalula Falls Fed by Black Creek, Noccalula Falls is a natural waterfall and relies on rainfall for its water flow. Therefore, the falls are sensitive to extreme weather patterns, and visitors have reported seeing the waterfall both as a trickle and as a rush of water. The falls are supposedly named for a Cherokee woman who was the daughter of a chief. Forms of the legend date to the late eighteenth century and may have a basis in real events that took place in the Cherokee village of Turkey Town near present-day Gadsden. In the story’s most notable recounting, a poem version published in the Gadsden Times in 1895 by composer and pianist Anne Mathilde Bilbro, Noccalula’s father betrothed her to a rich chief from another tribe who offered a large number of goods for her hand in marriage. Although Noccalula was in love with a man from her own tribe, her father insisted she marry the chief. Noccalula then fled to Black Creek Falls and jumped to her death. When her father discovered what she had done, he named the waterfall after his daughter. Other versions claim that Noccalula was a Creek Indian and her betrothed was a French or English trader. The story was recounted by a number of white authors in the late nineteenth century in poem and story form.
Noccalula Falls Park Entrance In 1845, Thomas McClung was the first individual of European descent to claim ownership of what was then known as Black Creek Falls and 40 acres of surrounding land. In 1870, possession of the falls passed to George O. Baker, who bought additional acreage around the waterfall. Former Gadsden mayor Reuben A. Mitchell bought Noccalula Falls and an additional 169 acres in 1909, intending to sell it to the city to create a park. Because of the Great Depression, the city was unable to buy the property, however, and the land remained with Mitchell until his death, when ownership passed to his daughter Sadie Mitchell Elmore. In 1946, Gadsden purchased the property from Elmore and began efforts to turn the site into a park area on June 20, 1950. In 1959, Gadsden bought an additional 80 acres near the park site from Lyn and Joe Ramey that contained Chalybeate Springs.
In the 1960s, the Woman’s Club of Gadsden commissioned Belgian sculptor Suzanne Silvercruys to complete a statue for Noccalula Falls to commemorate the “Legend of Noccalula.” Silvercruys dressed Glencoe High School student Kay Smith in Native American-style clothing as the model for Noccalula. The clothing was rendered in generic Plains Indian fashion and not traditional Cherokee garb. The nine-foot 3,000-pound sculpture was completed in 1969 and dedicated on September 20, 1969. It was placed on the edge of the waterfall and depicts Noccalula in the act of jumping into the gorge. The statue is accompanied by a plaque that tells Noccalula’s story and the historical context for her tragic ending.
Gilliland-Reese Covered Bridge Noccalula Falls Park offers visitors a variety of activities and sites of interest. Although the waterfall remains the park’s main attraction, the 1.7-mile Black Creek Trail, designed for walking, running, hiking, and cycling, is also a popular destination. It is divided into smaller increments of varying difficulty in terrain, providing visitors of diverse abilities options for using the trail. In 2000, the park opened a small petting zoo that includes two llamas, goats, and a tortoise. The zoo was expanded in 2006 to include indoor environments for more animals, such as arctic foxes and a lioness. The park also features a running miniature replica of a C. P. Huntington locomotive that operates daily and takes visitors on a one-mile loop around and through the park. The park is developing a botanical garden which includes a sensory garden, alphabet garden, and a water feature. Other features include a wedding chapel, miniature golf, a campground, and rental cabins. The park hosts special events throughout the year, including Christmas at the Falls and the Halloween Super Bash, and is a stop on the World’s Longest Yard Sale.