Article by Karla Eden
If I were to ask you to define Anniston, you might say that we are abandoned buildings, or you might mention homelessness. You may tell me about how your family was poisoned by PCBs and call it a “Toxic City”. You might mention some old statistics or false claims about Anniston being one of the most dangerous cities in America. Maybe you will claim that the city died when Fort McClellan closed to Active Duty military personnel, forcing many soldiers and their families to move away. When defining Anniston, you may echo the cries of racism, segregation, and the Greyhound bus burnings.
You might tell me that we were the first city in Alabama to be lighted with electricity, or that we were founded on iron industry and cotton textiles. You may say that we were famous for being considered “The Model City,” and that we were awarded the prestigious All American City Award. And like many others, you may somberly wonder what happened over the years.
But if you were to ask me, I would tell you this:
Yes, we were all of those things. We were victims of a polluted environment, declining population, and embellished crime rates, but we persevered. We are resilient. We are more. A couple of months ago, I sent a text out to several of my friends and family asking, “How many businesses do you think are in the Main Street Anniston district”? I was disappointed that the average response was between 10-15 businesses. I tell you today that we are more than you remember! We are more than you think! My most recent inventory within this historic district concluded that we have 149 active businesses! We are no longer neglected buildings. Most recently, the Main Street program partnered with the Downtown Development Authority to offer a Reimbursement Grant to building and business owners in need of repairing or improving their properties. As a result of this grant, $144,000 has been reimbursed through this program, generating an investment of over $352,000 from the private sector in downtown Anniston. Last month, the City of Anniston invested $26,000 into Main Street Anniston to clean the sidewalks throughout this historic district and to repaint all of the stop light poles. As for the exaggerated crime rates, to increase the community’s sense of security, Anniston recently acquired 8 new security cameras, an investment of $42,000, that are being installed throughout various intersections to increase public safety and police department support. Most recently, the 63,000 square foot United States Federal Courthouse construction has been completed, and the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama will open to the public next week. This new courthouse will provide a district courtroom, a bankruptcy courtroom, the United States Bankruptcy Court, the United States Marshals Service, the United States Attorney’s Office, a bankruptcy administrator, and the United States Probation and Pretrial Services System. Anniston is more than all the negative connotations it has represented in the past.
Anniston is a city full of life. Nestled in the foothills of the Appalacians, where outdoor recreation and serene nature abounds, we are a community interwoven with the richness of art, diversity, and culture. If outdoor recreation is what you’re looking for, look no further than beautiful McClellan! The Alabama-McClellan chapter of the Back Country Horsemen of America maintains 900 acres of the Camp McClellan Riding Trails. McClellan is also home to the first National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) built trail in the State of Alabama. The McClellan Bike Trail is mountain biking at its best, with smooth climbs, fast descents, rugged terrain, and beautiful views. Cycling is big in our community, and there is also the Coldwater Mountain Bike Trails and the Chief Ladiga Bike Trail, in which the City of Anniston recently acquired the land needed to continue the trail through Anniston and into the Historic Main Street District. Cyclists will have fast and easy access from the trail to the local bike shop, Wig’s Wheels, and to the Northeast Alabama Bicycle Association. The cycling community can find bike gear, bike repair, cycling events, training rides, and educational workshops all within minutes from the main trail. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that for 20 years, downtown Anniston has been home to the Alabama Cycling Classic’s Sunny King Criterium amateur and professional bike races. This event alone brings in international teams from around the globe competing for the title, and is the biggest cycling event of the year. But if horses and cycling isn’t your thing, Anniston is in the process of reopening Yahoo Lake, also on McClellan, for public fishing, swimming, and picnicking. Still not impressed? The Anniston Museum of Natural History is accredited with the American Alliance of Museums and is a Smithsonian Affiliate. Right next door, you will find the Berman Museum and the Longleaf Botanical Gardens. Travel downtown, and you will find an art gallery, an art studio, 20+ murals – with a beautiful and large jazz themed one currently in the works, and the National Park Service Greyhound Bus Depot. This summer, the City of Anniston will begin work on restoring the historic Anniston Auto Parts building and turning it into the City Market. This open-air market will become home to the city’s annual Downtown Farmer’s Market, with more than 14,000 square feet to be used for public yard sales, Arbor Day tree giveaways, a community garden, and the home of Main Street Anniston’s office. Just up the road from the future City Market, construction will begin soon on renovating a public parking lot and converting it into a public green space that will be the epicenter of all downtown events. From the beautiful parks to the historical artifacts, Anniston honors her rich culture, and because of this, we are more united than ever.
Anniston is a city full of history and monumental moments in time, and we are more than our past. Officially opening to the public on July 3, 1883, growth quickly began for our great city and within months construction had begun on new homes and stores, city hall, new industries, a railroad depot, professional offices, a luxury inn, and an astounding opera house. Modeled after the Winter Garden in New York City, the Opera House stood at the corner of 10th and Noble Streets, with a lavish interior of great paintings, a chandelier, ornate scrollwork, gilded angels, and chains of garland flowers. In 1915, with increased interest in cinemas, the Opera House was converted to a movie theater. After World War II, television became the next big competition, and the historic building was demolished for a more viable business. Though there are few pictures that give us a glimpse of the beauty and magnitude of The Anniston Inn, it is one of my favorite buildings to tell visitors about. This Victorian resort, with Queen Anne architecture, was five stories, and made of stone, brick, and wood. Wide verandas wrapped around the entire building on the first 3 floors, and the hotel parlors were furnished with polished woodwork, elaborate draperies, and ornate furnishings. This expansive building stood atop the hill at 14th Street and Gurnee Avenue. In January of 1923, a fire began around 3:30am on the fourth floor, and with this fire Anniston lost one of its architectural greats. All that remained of The Anniston Inn was the kitchen annex. Still a gorgeous piece of property, I often stand on the sidewalks and marvel at what must have once been. I’m reminded of many other historic buildings and neighborhoods in Anniston. Nonnenmacher Bakery, the Caldwell Building, the Alabama Hotel, the Kress Building, Grace Episcopal Church, the Kilby House, St. Michael’s and All Angels Church, Anniston First United Methodist, the Peerless, the McKleroy-Kirby home, Tyler Hill, and Glenwood Terrace are just a few names that remind Annistonians of the beautiful capability that lies within our city. There is still so much history hidden between the walls of these great buildings. What once was echoes of a time long past is now the cheers of excitement as we move forward into our future.
Our city was bypassed, overlooked, and neglected. But with that I tell you, we are the dreams of our ancestors and the inspirations of our future. We believe in the rising generation because we have grown past what we used to be. We honor and we remember our past. We believe in our community. We believe we can rebuild what the past destroyed, and we are not bound by our history. And for all these reasons, we are more hope. We are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers. We are a refuge for our families. We are partners and servants in our community. We find strength in our sodality, and we lend a helping hand to our neighbors. We are resourceful. We are home, and we are more reasons to stay.
To this day, there are many people that are unaware of the strides this city has made. If you are one of these people, I beg you to remove all your preconceived notions and come downtown for the day. Join us for Wacky Wednesday, Fourth Friday, or Neewollah on Noble. Dine at the oldest operating saloon in the state of Alabama – Peerless Saloon and Grille, or the beautiful Classic on Noble. Shop at Rosa Lee, Couch’s Jewelers, Western Auto, or Downing and Sons. Yes, we still have some empty buildings, but we also have restaurants, a microbrewery, boutiques, hair salons, coffee shops, gyms, a pet store, many professional services and so much more.
Right before our eyes, something magical is happening in Anniston. There is a new generation bringing energy to the heart of our city! We are adding vibrancy and value. We are working together. We are building up our community, and we are creating a better future for the next generation. We’ve figured it out, have you? We are more choices. We are more voices.
We are Anniston, and we are More!
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