See Rock City

See Rock City

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Anniston, AL

Anniston is a city in Calhoun County in the state of Alabama, United States. As of the 2000 census, the population of the city is 24,276. According to the 2005 U.S. Census estimates, the city had a population of 23,741. The city is the county seat of Calhoun County and one of two urban centers/principal cities of and included in the Anniston-Oxford Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Downtown Anniston

The oaks that line the center of Quintard Street in downtown Anniston were part of the detailed plan for the model city developed and implemented by founders Samuel Noble and Daniel Tyler.

Woodstock Iron Company Certificate, Woodstock Iron Company, founded by the Noble and Tyler families in 1872, was the earliest industry in the town that would become Anniston.

Named the The Model City by Atlanta newspaperman Henry W. Grady for its careful planning in the late 1800s, the city is situated on the slope of Blue Mountain, and it has always been a small town.


Though the surrounding area was settled long before, the mineral resources in the area of Anniston weren't exploited until the civil war. During that time, the Confederate States of America established and operated an iron furnace near present day downtown Anniston, until the furnace was destroyed by Union troops in 1865. Later, clay pipe for sewer systems became the focus of Anniston's industrial output. Clay pipe, also called soil pipe, was popular until the advent of plastic pipe in the 1960s.

John B. Knox

As Anniston took steps to becoming a small town, the largest city in the state became a boom town for the steel industry 60 miles southwestward in Birmingham. In 1872, Anniston's Woodstock Iron Company organized by Samuel Noble and Union Gen. Daniel Tyler (1799-1882), rebuilt a furnace on a much larger scale, as well as a planned community. Iron and steel manufacturing boomed during the post-Civil War period in the central part of Alabama. Birmingham 60 miles (100 km) became a major new US city overnight. Anniston maintained its company town demeanor where a few families governed the hierarchy of Southern gentilism. Though it was not opened for general settlement until twelve years later, Anniston was chartered as a "company town" in 1879. The community name reportedly derives from Annie's Town, named for Annie Scott Tyler, wife of railroad president Alfred L. Tyler.

This panoramic map with marked points of interest illustrates a bird's-eye view of Anniston, Alabama in 1888, sixteen years after the area was first settled in April 1872. The 1880 census showed an Anniston population of 942 and, by 1890, the population was 9,998.

Though the roots of the town's economy were in Iron and steel and clay pipe, planners touted it as a health resort, and several hotels began operating. Schools appeared. The Noble Institute, a school for girls, established in 1886, and the Alabama Presbyterian College for Men founded in 1905. Planning and easy access to rail transportation helped make Anniston the fifth largest city in the state from 1890's to 1950's.

Fort McClellan

In 1917, the United States Army established a training camp at Fort McClellan during the start of World War I. On the other side of town, the Anniston Army Depot opened during World War II as a major storage and maintenance site, a role it continues to serve as incineration progresses. Most of the old site of Fort McClellan was incorporated into Anniston in the late 1990s. The Army closed the fort in 1999, as part of the Base Realignment and Closure round of 1995. Some of the old Fort McClellan property is now being redeveloped for civilian use. As the northernmost edge of town, McClellan is hoped to become the star of Anniston's future.

1888 drawing and positioning of the Noble Institute for Girls in Anniston

The Anniston Eastern Bypass is set to be revived with the signing of the 2009 Federal Stimulus Package. According to the Birmingham News, "The Anniston Eastern Bypass and a Memorial Parkway overpass in Huntsville will be the big transportation winners if Congress gives final approval today to a $789 billion economic stimulus package."

Anniston Star

The Anniston Eastern Bypass was planned to officially stop construction in 2009. The project stalled when the federal and state money for the bypass was used up purchasing right-of-way and grading about half the roadbed.

Anniston Chemical Agent Disposal Facility

Alabama is set to receive more than $550 million for transportation under the Federal Stimulus Package. One of the first road projects to receive that money is Calhoun County's Eastern Bypass. That road connects Highway 431 to I-20. Road construction began years ago but stopped when the money ran out. With stimulus funding promised, drivers look forward to a shorter commute while Calhoun County leaders see dollar signs. Anniston Mayor Gene Robinson says, "It's going to be the catalyst that gets McClellan and Anniston cranked up and going again."

Anniston has been a center of national controversy in the past. During the American civil rights movement, a group known as the Freedom Riders was riding an integrated bus in protest of southern segregation laws. One of the buses was fire-bombed outside of Anniston on Mother's Day Sunday May 14, 1961. As the bus burned, the mob held the doors shut, intent on burning the riders to death. An exploding fuel tank caused the mob to retreat, allowing the riders to escape the bus. The Riders were viciously beaten as they fled the burning bus, and only warning shots fired into the air by highway patrolmen prevented the riders from being lynched on the spot. The site is now home to a marker along Alabama Highway 202 west about five miles west of downtown.

Culture, events and attractions

Anniston is home to the country's largest and the one-time world's largest chair, as designated by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1982.

In 1899, the county seat of Calhoun County moved from Jacksonville to Anniston. More than 100 years later, the community is a bustling center of industry and commerce with more than 24,000 residents. Over the years, city officials and local citizens have done everything possible not only to retain the environmental beauty of the area while allowing it to thrive economically, but also to preserve its history. The Spirit of Anniston Main Street Program, Inc., a nonprofit organization started in 1993, spearheaded the restoration and revitalization of historic downtown Anniston, with a strong focus on the city's main thoroughfare, Noble Street.

The Noble Streetscape Project encouraged local business owners to refurbish storefront facades, while historic homes throughout the downtown area have been repaired and returned to their former glory. The preservation effort even included the historic Calhoun County Courthouse, located on the corner of 11th Street & Gurnee Avenue since 1900. The original building burned down in 1931, but the courthouse was rebuilt a year later. Thanks to a complete restoration in 1990, the stately structure is still in use today.

Anniston has long been a cultural center for northeastern Alabama. The Alabama Shakespeare Festival was founded in the city in 1972, and has since moved to Montgomery to receive more robust support. The Knox Concert Series regularly brings world-renowned musical and dance productions to the area. The city also is home to the Anniston Museum of Natural History and the Berman Museum of World History. These quaint institutions house mummies, dioramas of wildlife and artifacts from a bygone age in an understandable fashion. The Alabama Symphony Orchestra since 2004 has performed a summer series of outdoor concerts, Music at McClellan, in Anniston at the former Fort McClellan. Organizers have said they hope to make the concerts the center of an arts community.

The city has many examples of Victorian-style homes, some of which have been restored or preserved. Several of the city’s churches are architecturally significant or historic, including the gorgeous Church of St. Michael and All Angels, Grace Episcopal Church, and Parker Memorial Baptist Church. Temple Beth EL, dedicated in 1893, has the oldest building in the state continuously and currently being used for Jewish worship.

The original main street, Noble Street, is seeing a rebirth as a downtown shopping and dining district in the heart of downtown. All of the large shopping centers in the area are in Oxford, the boom town on Interstate 20 that borders south Anniston. Oxford completed its Western Bypass before federal money ran out, and it houses the Quintard Mall and the toney, upscale Oxford Exchange.


Anniston is home to many restaurants ranging from American, Italian, Greek, Cajun, Mexican, and Chinese cuisines, as well as Barbecue and Southern flavored cuisines. Many locally owned dining establishments are located in the downtown CBD (along Noble Street and Quintard Ave.), as well as Buckner Circle (McClellan), Lenlock, the south Quintard area, and the Golden Springs area.

Chemical Cleanup

Back in 2002, a CBS 60 Minutes investigation revealed Anniston had been among the most toxic cities in the country. The source of local contamination was a Monsanto chemical factory, which closed years ago. The EPA site description reads in part:

The Anniston PCB site consists of residential, commercial, and public properties located in and around Anniston, Calhoun County, Alabama, that contain or may contain hazardous substances, including polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) impacted media. The Site is not listed on the NPL, but is considered to be a NPL-caliber site. Solutia Inc.'s Anniston plant encompasses approximately 70 acres of land and is located about 1 mile west of downtown Anniston, Alabama. The plant is bounded to the north by the Norfolk Southern and Erie railroads, to the east by Clydesdale Avenue, to the west by First Avenue, and to the south by U.S. Highway 202. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were produced at the plant from 1929 until 1971.

Anniston residents began class action suits against Monsanto. Monsanto for knowingly dumping PCBs in west Anniston. Many residents have yet to receive compensation as attorneys for Monsanto's offshoot, Solutia, continue to delay disbursements of damages.

The West Palm Beach TV station, WPTV, in July 2008 reported medical researchers are studying a potential link between PCBs and diabetes.

An excerpt from the TV report:

Allen Silverstone, Ph.D., an immunologist at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, N.Y., told Ivanhoe. 'Diabetes is one thing that can happen and that probably happens because these chemicals can affect glucose metabolism,' he said. The study found that residents of Anniston who live near the old plant had levels of PCBs that were four times greater than other people throughout the United States and had two to four times greater the risk of developing diabetes."

A portion of the remaining Fort McClellan, is used for Alabama National Guard training and the US Homeland Security anti-terrorism department. It houses the nation's only "live agent" training center which means military and emergency responder personnel from all over the world come to Fort McClellan to be trained in dealing with live agents and weapons in a real-time, monitored setting. These chemical weapons were stored for decades in a secured manner by the US Army. Anniston is one of nine areas in the US that housed such stockpiles. In 2003, the Anniston Army Depot began the process of destroying nerve agents it had stored over the years. The incinerator was built to destroy the chemical weapons stockpile of Sarin and VX nerve agent and mustard blister agent stored at the depot. The depot, along with associated defense contractors, is now Anniston's largest employer. Destruction of most of the stored munitions around Anniston has proceeded without incident and is expected to be completed during by 2019.


Anniston is home to the United States Army's Anniston Army Depot which is used for the maintenance of most Army tracked vehicles. The depot houses a major chemical weapons storage facility, the Anniston Chemical Activity, and a program to destroy those weapons, the Anniston Chemical Agent Disposal Facility. Fort McClellan, former site of the U.S. Army Military Police Training Academy and Chemical Warfare training center, was de-commissioned in the 1990s. A portion of the former fort is now home to the Alabama National Guard Training Center. Another 9000 acres (36 km²) of the fort were set aside for the Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge in 2003. The Department of Homeland Security also uses a portion of the de-commissioned fort for training and fieldwork.

Notable Residents and Former Residents:

George T. Anderson, Civil War general.

Michael Biehn, actor

Larry Bowie, former American NFL football player

Anne Braden, Civil Rights activist

June Burn, author

Red Byron, NASCAR driver

Asa Earl Carter, Segregationist, speech writer, and author of The Education of Little Tree

Quinton Caver, American NFL football player

B. B. Comer, Governor of Alabama.

Michael Curry, NBA player

Cow Cow Davenport, Boogie-woogie pianist

Eric Davis, NFL corner back.

William Levi Dawson, (b. 23 September 1899), composer of Negro Folk Symphony.

Bobby Edwards, country singer

Kevin Greene, retired American NFL football player

Audrey Marie Hilley, famous for poisoning her husband and trying to poison her daughter.

Delvin Hughley, American AFL and former NFL football player

Thomas Kilby, Governor of Alabama.

Perry Lentz, author and professor of English

Douglas Leigh, innovative lighting designer of Times Square and the Empire State Building

Lucky Millinder, Rhythm and blues and swing band leader and singer.

Will Owsley, singer-songwriter.

John L. Pennington, Newspaper publisher, governor of Dakota Territory.

Patrick J. Que Smith, Grammy winning songwriter

Shannon Spruill, professional wrestler

David Satcher, former Surgeon General

Vaughn Stewart, former NFL football player.

The city of Anniston emerged as a key industrial center in the mountainous northeastern section of Alabama during the Reconstruction Era. Founders Samuel Noble and Daniel Tyler envisioned the city, situated 60 miles east of Birmingham, as an idealized industrial and conservative Christian community, where workers would earn higher wages than their peers in the North and would resist the temptations of alcohol and gambling. By the early twentieth century, the "Model City" had outgrown the original designs of its creators but remained an important commercial and manufacturing hub.

The establishment and growth of Fort McClellan and the Anniston Army Depot during the First and the Second World Wars boosted the city’s social life and economic status, luring in thousands of new residents. During the second half of the twentieth century, however, civil rights clashes, economic decline, environmental contamination from a local chemical plant, and the construction of a chemical weapons incinerator at the Army Depot presented fresh challenges to Anniston residents.

Early History

Anniston's roots can be traced back to the antebellum era. In 1851, industrialist James Noble Sr., father of Samuel Noble, visited his native country of England, where he attended the Crystal Palace Exposition in London. Strolling through the various exhibits, Noble came across samples of hematite ore from the southeastern United States that he judged far superior to the product he regularly used at his iron foundry in Reading, Pennsylvania. This, coupled with the region's favorable climate, persuaded him to seek his fortunes in the South. In 1855, Noble and his family relocated to Rome, Georgia, and built one of the largest iron-producing companies south of Richmond. During the Civil War, the Noble Brothers and Company facility produced weaponry for the Confederacy until its capture and subsequent destruction by Federal troops in 1864. After the war, the Nobles secured enough capital to rebuild the foundries in Rome.

Mill with Water Wheel, Aderholdt's Mill Road, Anniston vicinity, Calhoun County, AL

In 1871, seeking to expand their iron enterprises into Alabama, the Nobles acquired hundreds of acres of prime timber and ore land in southern Calhoun County, near the town of Oxford, and devised plans for a new furnace. During a business trip to Charleston, South Carolina, Samuel Noble met Daniel Tyler, a former Union general and native of Connecticut. In need of additional investors, Noble invited Tyler to tour the family's newly acquired properties in Alabama. Tyler apparently liked what he saw. On April 29, 1872, representatives from both families convened in Rome, drew up a contract, and officially established the Woodstock Iron Company. Within a year, a small village, also called Woodstock, sprang up around the new furnace in Calhoun County. By the summer of 1873, the Woodstock furnace had become fully operational, producing 120 to 150 tons of pig iron per week. Upon discovery that another village named Woodstock already existed in central Alabama, town officials changed the name to Anniston in 1873 in honor of Daniel Tyler's daughter-in-law, Annie Tyler.

Anniston originated as a planned private community. Noble and Tyler began by laying out the city streets in a perfect checkerboard fashion. Next, they meticulously designed the cityscape, down to the planting of oak trees along Quintard Avenue, which can still be found there. At first, the pair limited the number of settlers and maintained a strict "closed-door policy," going so far as to erect a fence around their properties to ward off outsiders. They claimed that by doing so, they could lay out the town according to their own desires, without the competing interests of diverse economic classes. The Woodstock Company constructed parks, worker housing, a sewer system, a company store, churches, and schools. To foster this idealized company town, they hand selected residents, paid them above-average wages, housed them in tidy four-room cottages, and banned alcohol. As a result of the company's closed-door policy, Anniston's population remained relatively low in the early years. By 1880, only 942 people resided within the city. Just over two-thirds of the residents were white—a ratio that would not change until the latter half of the twentieth century. Most of the residents were recruited from Alabama and Georgia, but a number of skilled artisans were brought in from England, Sweden, and Poland. A majority of the men, both white and black, were employed at Woodstock Iron, where they toiled at the furnaces, extracted ore from the surrounding hillsides, and cut timber to be used as charcoal. In 1879, the Noble and Tyler families established a cotton mill in the city, the Anniston Manufacturing Company, which employed many of the wives and children of white furnace workers. African American women, if they could find work, were typically employed as domestic servants or laundry workers. Initially, a significant number of working-class blacks and whites resided in the same neighborhoods, following the same paths to work each morning. Strict racial segregation would not be imposed in the city until the 1890s.

Downtown Anniston

By 1880, Anniston's future as an industrial center seemed assured. The Nobles and Tylers formulated plans to expand the iron furnaces and relocate many of the family holdings in Rome, such as the Noble Brothers Wheel Works, to the growing city. In 1883, believing that their vision for the city was assured, the proprietors of Woodstock Iron opened the town to the public, allowing outside investors and entrepreneurs to enter the community for the first time, purchase vacant lots, and establish various commercial and industrial firms. Chronicling the town's opening in the Atlanta Constitution, editor Henry Grady dubbed Anniston the "Model City of the New South." The nickname stuck. Investors, entrepreneurs, and working people from across the South streamed into the new city, prompting a building boom that would help stimulate the local economy for nearly a decade. By 1890, more than 9,000 people called Anniston home. Most of the black and white residents lived on the west side of Noble Street, the city's main thoroughfare, and worked at one of Anniston's numerous manufacturing firms. By 1890, the original Noble and Tyler enterprises, such as Woodstock Iron and the Anniston Manufacturing Company, had been joined by several new ones, including the Hercules Pipe Company and the Anniston Pipe & Foundry Company, further diversifying a growing local economy. Many wealthy and influential whites, such as attorney J. J. Willett and future governor Thomas Kilby, entered the community during this period of growth, building their homes on the east side of the city, far removed from the smoke and noise of the manufacturing sector. Economic depression in the 1890s slowed the city's growth, but the temporary establishment of Camp Shipp during the Spanish-American War helped revive the local economy. In 1899, the city replaced Jacksonville as the seat of Calhoun County.

The Twentieth Century

Anniston entered the twentieth century as one of the leading industrial cities in Alabama, producing everything from cotton textiles to locomotive brakes. Along the way, the city earned a second nickname, "the soil pipe capital of the world," for its production of sewer pipes. In fact, by the 1940s, one of Anniston's leading manufacturing firms, the Alabama Pipe Company, annually produced 22 percent of the nation's cast-iron soilpipe. Politically, the city had risen far in the affairs of the state. Anniston attorney John B. Knox presided over the Constitutional Convention of 1901, and in 1918, Thomas Kilby, a leading industrialist and former mayor of Anniston, was elected governor of Alabama.

During World War I, the U.S. Army established Camp McClellan north of the city, beginning Anniston's ongoing relationship with the U.S. military. In 1929, at the behest of Anniston Star publisher Harry Mell Ayers and others, the government re-christened the camp Fort McClellan and gave it permanent status. During World War II, the fort witnessed an extensive rebuilding project, as barracks, latrines, officers' quarters, and similar facilities were constructed for the roughly half million troops who would ultimately train there during the conflict. A prisoner-of-war camp was added to Fort McClellan in 1943.

The war brought additional economic development to Anniston. Millions of dollars from the federal government poured into the city to buy war-related material, such as artillery shells and cartridge cases, lifting employment levels and boosting production at the Anniston Foundry Company, Kilby Steel, and other plants. Thousands of people flocked to the city to find work in one of the mills or foundries, or at the new Anniston Army Depot, built on the outskirts of the city in 1941 to store ammunition, and managed by the Chrysler Corporation from 1943 to 1945. In 1930, Anniston's metro population stood at just 22,345. By 1940, the number had risen to 25,523 in the city and 68,000 across the entire metro area. During the 1950s and 1960s, the city's industrial and military sectors continued to grow, evidenced by the addition of a Chemical Corps training facility at Fort McClellan and the expansion of the Anniston Army Depot. By the mid-1960s, Anniston's population exceeded 33,000, with more than 100,000 people residing within the metropolitan area.

Main Street

In May 1961, Anniston garnered international media attention when area Klansmen halted and burned a Greyhound bus carrying Congress of Racial Equality Freedom Riders who were testing a recent Supreme Court decision banning segregated bus facilities along interstate routes. Following another round of racial violence in 1963, Mayor Claude Dear and his fellow city commissioners created the biracial Human Relations Council to foster better race relations and pave the way for the eventual desegregation of area schools and businesses. By 1965, legal segregation had ended in the Model City, and several African American students had crossed the color barrier at Anniston High School. In 1971, when racial conflict again arose, representatives from the black and white communities formed the Community of Unified Leadership (COUL), which did much to heal the racial divide by creating job-training programs and convincing downtown shops to hire African American employees in front-end positions.

Challenges in the Post-Civil Rights Era

The decade of the 1970s saw many positive developments in the city. In 1972 the renowned Alabama Shakespeare Festival was founded in Anniston, remaining there until its relocation to Montgomery in 1985. In 1977, citing its deft management of racial crises in the 1960s and 1970s, along with its progressive nature, the National Civil League named Anniston an All-American City.

Anniston Chemical Agent Disposal Facility By the 1980s and 1990s, however, a stagnant economy, a lack of commercial and industrial diversification, the impending closure of Fort McClellan, PCB contamination from the local Monsanto (now Solutia) plant, and the proposed construction of a chemical weapons incinerator at the Anniston Army Depot had left the Model City's economic future in doubt. Many of the factories and mills that had employed thousands and gained the city a reputation for progress and efficiency, such as the Anniston Cordage Company, had been shut down or gutted. A market shift to plastic piping in the 1970s and a general decline in the heavy-metal and concrete industries, as foreign firms became more competitive, further damaged Anniston's economy. By 1993, unemployment rates in the city had inched above 17 percent (Calhoun County's unemployment rate stood at 9 percent). Seven years later, according to the 2000 federal census, the median family income in Anniston stood at $36,067, far below the national average of $50,046. More than 20 percent of the city's residents lived below the poverty level.

Stature Of Samuel Noble

In 1995, the Base Realignment and Closure Committee (BRAC) voted to close Fort McClellan, sending panic waves through the community. Despite a concerted effort by local officials to keep it open, the fort officially closed it doors in May 1999, leaving much uncertainty in its wake.

Anniston Today

In the twenty-first century, Anniston officials struggle to overcome its environmental and economic woes. For 50 years, the Monsanto Corporation manufactured polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the city for use as insulation in electrical equipment and appliances. As a result, high levels of PCB contamination have been detected in neighborhoods surrounding the plant. Countless residents have reported myriad health problems, including cancer, headaches, low IQ scores in children, and respiratory distress, which they blame on the PCBs. Class-action suits were brought against the company in the late 1990s, involving more than 20,000 residents. In 2003, the plaintiffs reached a settlement

Anniston Museum of Natural History with Monsanto/Solutia worth more than $600 million. That same year, in a highly controversial move, the Army began incinerating more than 2,200 tons of chemical weapons that had been stored at the Anniston Army Depot since the 1960s. Officials estimated that it would take approximately a decade to eliminate the chemical stockpile, which included sarin and mustard gas.

Fort McClellan Ammunition Storage Area, Building No. 4409, Second Avenue (Magazine Road), Anniston vicinity, Calhoun County, AL

With the lawsuits settled and the environmental cleanup underway, Anniston's 24,000 residents hope for a brighter future. Since the early 1990s, the Spirit of Anniston Main Street Program, Inc., which was created by local business leaders to revitalize the old downtown shopping district, has worked successfully to preserve historical landmarks, refurbish storefronts, and attract new businesses to Noble Street. Following the closure of Fort McClellan in 1999, the Joint Powers Authority and the city of Anniston began working to redevelop the facility for civilian use. Today, more than 300 families reside in the newly christened McClellan, an 18,000-acre planned community. Several business firms and educational facilities, such as Lowe's and the Jacksonville State Higher Education Consortium, have opened their doors on the former military base, with promises of more to follow. The Anniston Army Depot continues to be the area's largest employer.

Fort McClellan Ammunition Storage Area, Building No. 4408, Second Avenue (Magazine Road), Anniston vicinity, Calhoun County, AL

Talladega Superspeedway approximately 6,700 civilian and military personnel. Thousands of other residents find work at the Northeast Alabama Regional Medical Center, Federal Mogul, Union Foundry, Jacksonville State University, and the new Honda plant in nearby Lincoln. Area attractions, such as the Berman Museum of World History, the Anniston Museum of Natural History, the Talladega Superspeedway, and Cheaha State Park, continue to bring tourists and newcomers to the city.