History of Anniston

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Anniston: A Historic Military and Industrial Town

By Betsy Bean, Executive Director
The Spirit of Anniston

The city of Anniston began life in the early 1870s as a private community owned by a couple of industrialists who saw dollars in them thar hills of rock = iron ore = train wheels.

However, the first spark of Anniston’s industrial future began before that during the Civil War, when an iron munitions furnace was built in the vicinity of 3rd and 6th between Noble and Quintard in Anniston. Called the Oxford Furnace for the nearest town, it was destroyed in the war. Later, the site attracted the attention of Samuel Noble, who had been looking for opportunities to expand his iron works factory in nearby Rome, Ga.

The Noble family purchased the land, and in 1872, teamed up with the Tylers of South Carolina to create the Woodstock Iron Company; they built a 50-ton charcoal furnace in 1873 at what is now Gurnee Ave. and Ninth St.

In order to house the iron workers, Samuel Noble built what he called “a model city” laid out in a grid pattern, including cottages on tree-lined streets, a company store, a farm to produce food, a school and a church. Annie’s town or Anniston, named for Alfred Tyler’s wife, was incorporated in 1879.

In 1883, the company town was opened up to the general public through the creation of the Anniston Land Company, whose offices still stand at the corner of Thirteenth and Moore, and may ultimately become a new City Hall. A building boom ensued so that by 1892, the population of Anniston had swelled to almost 10,000, making it the fastest growing town in the state. During that decade, numerous impressive buildings were constructed, including an Opera House, multi-story bank buildings, department stores, drug stores, a huge inn, hotels, churches, municipal buildings, saloons, and two train depots. Several of those early structures still stand, most notably the two depots on Moore Ave., the churches on Quintard, a variety of commercial buildings, and the wonderfully ornate Peerless Saloon at 13 W. 10th St.

Unfortunately, the Panic of 1893 caused several business failures including that of the Woodstock Iron Company. Also by that time, two of the key founders had died; General Daniel Tyler in 1882 and Samuel Noble in 1888; both are buried in Hillside Cemetery overlooking the city. Crowan Cottage at 1427 Woodstock Ave, one of the Noble family homes, still stands, and luckily, investors recently bought Crowan and three other adjacent mansions with plans to restore them.

The 20th Century

Anniston began the last century on the upswing following an 1899 countywide election to become the county seat. A two-story stone and brick courthouse featuring Corinthian columns and a clock tower was built at 11th and Gurnee; it still serves its original purpose although it has been altered through the years by fire damage and space needs. By 1910, the population had grown to 12,794, with industrial factories to the west of town; Noble St. as the main commercial thoroughfare; and Quintard Ave. as a residential boulevard lined with trees and large Victorian mansions. The Victoria Inn is the last remaining mansion as the avenue has become more commercial, although the tree-lined median with various statues and monuments still provides respite for the eyes.

Another major change that would impact the city occurred in 1917 when the federal government acquired 18,972 acres of land just north of the city for the establishment of Camp McClellan, later classified as a permanent fort in 1929. A major building program began in the 1930s when Spanish Colonial Revival buildings were constructed for offices, homes, and other facilities. This is now the Post Headquarters Historic District, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and is also a local historic district with design guidelines.

Over the next 80+ years, the military influence brought further economic prosperity to the area as soldiers, black and white, spent much of their leisure time in the city. In fact, African-American soldiers known as Buffalo Soldiers, frequented the W. 15th street commercial district during the 1940s and 50s, which is fondly remembered as the area’s heyday with nightclubs, shops, and a movie theatre.

Mother’s Day 1961 brought national notoriety to Anniston when the first Freedom Ride to desegregate interstate travel resulted in a mob attack on a Greyhound bus at the local station, a yellow brick building at 1031 Gurnee that now houses a sign company. There are local plans to commemorate the Freedom Riders and to develop Civil Rights-related heritage tourism.

Anniston faced many challenges as the 20th century came to a close with the decommissioning of Fort McClellan in 1999, the revelation of industrial pollution, the disposal of chemical weapons at the Anniston Army Depot, the expansion of urban sprawl, and the continuing need for racial reconciliation.

However, numerous opportunities arose as the 21st century began, including the extension of the Silver Comet bike trail from Atlanta into downtown Anniston. Known as the Chief Ladiga Trail in Alabama, it will end at the 4th street Amtrak station, a 1926 Neo-Georgian building that is currently being restored.

The 10-story, partially burned 1920s building at 10th and Noble has recently been purchased by investors who are using historic and New Market tax credits to restore it for mixed use, including offices for the Water and Sewer Board. Anniston was also chosen as the future site for a new federal courthouse to serve the region.

Local leadership sees light at the end of the tunnel as the worst of the crises have ended, and new opportunities arise for continued revitalization of downtown and adjacent historic neighborhoods, and the careful redevelopment of the treasure now known simply as McClellan.