The town’s founders realized what could spring forth from a rustic landscape, one that had “only a few scattered farmer settlers, rolling hills of undisturbed iron ore and long-leaf pine, and a few determined men,” according to “The Model City of the New South” by Grace Hooten Gates.
They had enduring confidence in the future of a successful community. The people who came to call Anniston home responded to the challenge, and their excitement and motivation helped advance the founders’ vision. Their responses were simple and obliging, yet in working hard and fulfilling their duties they helped build a united community.
For example, there was a big celebration — a jubilee, in fact — after one of the city’s first milestones was accomplished. Residents and workers gathered for a barbecue lunch on the grounds after the Woodstock Iron Company’s first furnace was “blown in” on April 29, 1873.
Parades were likely attended by almost every citizen, if photos from the era are to be believed. Of special interest was a parade to mark Anniston’s 16th birthday, which featured the community’s first automobile.
“A large moral and progressive citizenship” is noted in a written family history by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Milton Noble, who lived in Anniston around that time. And it is stated in the 1887-88 City Directory, “three citizens raised $1,000 in one hour to aid in the construction of a Methodist College in the city.”
According to “Wonder Views of Anniston” (1882-1905), a booklet printed to attract new residents to the growing town, the carriers for The Evening Star (established in 1899) were also eager to do their part.
“The carriers, 14 of them, are as lively youngsters as one can find in today’s travel,” the publication proclaimed.
$7.50 and a dream
The Model City would not have been possible without the many townspeople who came to live and work in Anniston, according to Gates. In her profile of the population she makes it clear, “These were the men and women who wielded the tools, and fired the furnaces, and operated the spinning frames in the cotton mill and opened stores.” As the 1887-88 City Directory points out, “with hearty cooperation” these working people provided the many kinds of labor necessary for people to live together in a town.
Labor was an initial concern for the construction of a charcoal furnace. Skilled workers such as stone masons, carpenters and other operatives were brought in from neighboring counties and states and even Europe. Many of them remained and later contributed to the town industry and architecture.
Charles Nonnemacher was one of those workers. He came to Anniston in 1883 with $7.50 in his pocket to begin life as a baker, it is reported in Gates book. The bakery was at 11th Street and Gurnee Avenue. The 1887-88 City Directory describes him as a young man — quiet, modest and frugal, and a German. His family lived in the house at 1311 Gurnee Avenue from the time it was built. The home, a good example of a 1902 Anniston dwelling, has been renovated and is now a law office.
A couple’s journal
The account written by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Milton Noble helps to shed light on the events of those years following Samuel Noble’s first purchase of property in 1871. Before that, Samuel Noble was one of the owners of the Noble Brothers Foundry in Rome, Ga. He set off to search for iron ore and built the Woodstock Iron furnace in Anniston in 1873.
The couple paints a verbal portrait of a new town brimming with life. Comfortable houses for the Woodstock Furnace employees were built with space for gardens. The first railroad depot, constructed “of homemade brick,” was a “commodious place in which to hold entertainments” as said in Gates’ book. The first newspaper, The Hot Blast, was financed by the Woodstock Iron Company and later became a daily. The First National Bank, the first such institution in town, was organized in 1883 with the assistance of Duncan Parker, its inaugural president, who had moved to Anniston from Mobile. In 1879 the town’s charter naming it “Annie’s Town” was officially received from the state legislature.
Other documented events include the building of Grace Church, at the suggestion of Daniel Tyler, and St. Michael and All Angels Church, which was planned by John Noble as a gift to the city. Parker Memorial Baptist Church was built in 1888 to 1891 as a memorial to Duncan Parker’s wife and son. According to Tee Morgan’s “Annie’s Town,” 23 additional houses of worship were present in town by 1890.
The Opera House, “one of the most elaborate theaters in the South” in the words of Gates, was located at 11th and Noble streets. With a seating capacity of 1,200, its interior featured the work of scenic artists from New York. Other important events in the couple’s sketch included the death of Samuel Noble in August 1888, which left the town in a state of mourning.
Charles M. Noble
Charles Milton Noble moved to Anniston after Samuel Noble, his uncle, and the other Noble brothers founded the Woodstock Iron Company. He was here to witness the first blast of the Woodstock Iron Furnace in 1873, located on what is now West Eighth Street. While a student at Columbia College in New York City, the young man spent his summers employed at the Woodstock Furnace, and after graduating with a mining engineer degree in 1879 he again came to Anniston to live and was named superintendent of the Woodstock Iron Furnace, according to his obituary in The Anniston Star, dated April 2, 1931.
When he married Anne Gwynne Jeffers in 1890, the ceremony was held at St. Michael and All Angels Church, the first service of any kind held in the church. Charles Noble served as a councilman for many years and was credited as being the creator of the town’s fire alarm system as well as a key leader in the construction of Anniston Manufacturing Company. As the town progressed, the building of East 10th Street to the foot of 10th Street Mountain is credited to Noble, his obituary states. And local history lovers now admire his ability as a scribe.
But the couple’s sketch of Anniston between 1872 and 1922 does not mention his work as a pioneer in the town’s history. Instead, it chronicles clearly with obvious pride the progress, building by building and leader by leader, that made a model city. Here are some of the documented achievements listed by the Nobles:
• The Anniston Manufacturing Company. This cotton manufacturing plant had the largest building in Alabama at the time, according to Gates, and the company had a direct trading connection with China.
• Electric lights. Anniston was the first location in the state to use electricity in a practical way. While the electric street lights caused quite a sensation and made downtown as bright as midday at dark, they were described as “harmonious and soft” by one citizen in Gates’ book.
• The Anniston Inn. One of the town’s most ambitious non-industrial undertakings was the building of this grand hotel. When it opened in the spring of 1885, it boasted a graveled driveway, electric lights, elevators and an observatory.
• Town beautification. Samuel Noble had an appreciation for the beauty of nature. At his request, 1,000 water oaks were purchased and set out in double rows all over town.
• Agricultural production. A 500-acre farm and dairy on the west side of Noble Street that was owned by the company housed several hundred well-fed mules that hauled ore from the mines and charcoal from the woods and graded the streets, as well as doing farm work. The farm also housed imported horses, as wll as sheep and a special breed of cattle, according to Gates’ book.
• Water system. In 1882, the company added a $60,000 water system, which residents claimed was unsurpassed by any other in the United States.
• Education. The Noble Institute for Girls, adjacent to Grace Church, offered a full course of studies in English, chemistry, French, German, music and decorative arts. The Noble Institute for Boys, located on College Hill, provided full courses in classics, math, chemistry and mechanical and architectural drawing.
• Well-planned residential areas and substantial residences. Early Annistonians lived in homes “as beautiful as you can find in any large city,” according to the Nobles’ accounts.
• Oxford Lake. Built in 1899, this recreation spot not only had bathhouses, but a track for horse races, as reported by The Hot Blast, and Annistonians could reach the destination by streetcar. “Wonder Views of Anniston” encouraged a trip by “the electric car system” to Oxford Lake. “It is a fine bracer for a tired man,” the pamphlet read, “and a joy to his children.”
Praise came from other voices, especially after Anniston became a public town in July of 1883. Judge W.D. Kelley spent 10 days in Anniston studying the town’s condition before describing it as “a solid looking little town.” His article in the Manufacturer’s Record in December 1883 states: “Before two decades, Anniston will be known as one of the most remarkable centers of iron, steel and kindred industries to be found in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee.”
“To a stranger it seems incredible,” a Georgia-Pacific Gazetteer story read, according to Gates’ book. “The air is full of schemes, backed by energy, experience, and capability upon a scale so magnificently grand that it bewilders.”
However, the development of Anniston, through disappointments and success, was best summarized by Samuel Noble at a banquet for Kelley on April 13, 1887. Noble closed his speech with these simple words: “Everything that has been done has been carefully considered.”
And from all accounts, nothing was left undone.
TALK OF THE TOWN
As Samuel Noble was entertaining potential newcomers to town, he would often bring them to the Anniston Inn.
According to Gates’ book, the following poem was read to express delight in the hotel and add to the entertainment. It was actually written by a visitor from Selma, who playfully claimed these were the words of a Chinese ambassador who was unavoidably detained that night.
I rise to explain my name is Ah Sin
I have something to say of the Anniston Inn
To eat too much the good Book says is a sin
But you’re sure to do it at the Anniston Inn
Samuel Noble must have had an abundance of tin
Or he never would have built that magnificent Inn