As Anniston took baby 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.
Though the roots of the town's economy were in Iron and steel and clay pipe, planners ironically pushed it as a health resort, attracting a handful of hotels to set up shop. 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.
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 in the World War II years 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. As the northernmost edge of town, McClellan is hoped to become the star of Anniston's future.
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.
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. The Anniston Eastern Bypass will officially stop construction in 2009, so McClellan may never have the highly anticipated easy access to I-20 that Oxford has. Unfortunately, the project is stalled with no foreseeable restart date. All of the federal and state money for the bypass was used up purchasing right-of-way and grading about half the roadbed. It now sits silent with the exception of the occasional bulldozer pushing debris around or combatting the effects of drougth and erosion. With gas tax revenues sinking as American's use less fuel, experts do not anticipate any rejuvenation in federal support for highway projects.
According to The Wall Street Journal in July 2008, federal gas tax revenues are the primary support for highway projects.
"But, coupled with a rapid shift away from gas-guzzling vehicles, it also means consumers are paying less in federal fuel taxes, which go largely to help finance highway and mass-transit systems. As a result, many such projects may have to be pared down or eliminated," the newspaper reports.
The most significant news about Anniston and the talk of the town is a CBS 60 Minutes investigation that revealed Anniston to be among the most toxic cities in the country. The source of local contamination was a Monsanto chemical factory, which closed years ago, but left a legacy of cancer-causing PCBs in the local dirt, air and water. The current lead-in on CBS' website states:
"Imagine a place so saturated with toxic, cancer-causing chemicals that it's in the dirt people walk on, the air they breathe - even the blood that pumps through their veins.
The 24,000 people living in Anniston, Ala., don't have to imagine this. Many of them are living it. In fact, they have been living it for decades - they just didn't know it. The company responsible didn't tell them, and neither did the Environmental Protection Agency."
Monsanto Corporation isn't the only source of chemicals in the area, though it is the only source of proven contamination. After the closure of the US Army's Military Police Headquarters and Chemical School Headquarters at Fort McClellan (which borders Anniston), the U.S. government built an incinerator in Anniston to burn large stockpiles of chemical munitions including nerve gas and mustard gas. These chemical weapons were stored for decades in a secured manner by the US Army for potential use in warfare. Anniston is one of nine areas in the US that housed such stockpiles. A portion of the remaining Fort McClellan, which is used for Alabama National Guard training and the US Homeland Security anti-terrorism department, houses the nation's only "live agent" training center. That means military and emergency responder personnel from all over the world come to Fort McClellan to use actual nerve gas, blister agents and other chemical and biological weapons in a real-time, monitored setting. Destruction of most of the stored munitions around Anniston has gone without a hitch, and is expected to be completed during the next decade.
The documented contamination left by the Monsanto factory will last lifetimes. Even this year, the Monsanto debacle continues to make headlines all over the nation. The West Palm Beach TV station, WPTV, in July 2008 reported how Anniston is used by medical researchers studying a potential link between PCBs and diabetes.
An excerpt from the TV report:
"Researchers came to Anniston to conduct studies to document the effects of PCB contamination. 'It was just dumped into the ground, so every time there is a flood, the stuff is spread throughout the community and then the pigs and cows, vegetables, everything becomes a source,' 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."
Needless to say, banks and medical offices are popping up like weeds along Anniston's beautiful main corridor, Quintard Avenue, and the parallel Leighton Avenue. Unfortunately, the city's only hospital, Northeast Alabama Regional Medical Center, known as RMC, lost its accreditation in August 2007 from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations
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.
The fact of PCB contamination belies the natural beauty of Anniston-Oxford's environment at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountain chain. As the southernmost length of the Blue Ridge at one end of the Appalachian Mountains, the world's oldest mountain range, Anniston's environment is home to diverse species of birds, reptiles and mammals. Part of the former Fort McClellan is now operating as Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge to protect endangered Southern Longleaf Pine species.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 45.5 square miles (117.7 km²), of which, 45.4 square miles (117.7 km²) of it is land and 0.04 square miles (0.1 km²) of it (0.07%) is water.
In 2003, part of the town of Blue Mountain was annexed into the city of Anniston, while the remaining portion reverted to unincorporated sections of Calhoun County, thus Blue Mountain no longer exists
Anniston is the county seat of Calhoun County, Alabama. Circuit and district courts for the county and the district attorney's office are located in the Calhoun County Courthouse at the corner of 11th Street and Gurnee Avenue. Other county administrative offices are in the Calhoun County Administrative Building at the corner of 17th and Noble streets.
A United States Courthouse, part of the U.S. Alabama Northern District Court, is located at the corner of 12th and Noble streets.
There were 10,447 households out of which 24.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 38.0% were married couples living together, 20.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 38.6% were non-families. 34.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.26 and the average family size was 2.91.
In the city the population was spread out with 23.6% under the age of 18, 8.7% from 18 to 24, 25.7% from 25 to 44, 23.3% from 45 to 64, and 18.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females there were 83.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 78.5 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $27,385, and the median income for a family was $36,067. Males had a median income of $31,429 versus $21,614 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,769. About 20.1% of families and 22.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 35.2% of those under age 18 and 16.2% of those age 65 or over.
Anniston has long strived to be a cultural center for northeastern Alabama. The Alabama Shakespeare Festival was founded in the city in 1972, but it moved to Montgomery in 1985 because it needed 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. Many others have been destroyed or are in dilapidated conditions. 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.
After decades of decay, 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 a part of the Birmingham-Anniston-Tuscaloosa designated market area when it comes to television. Radio stations are divided up into three sub markets within that market, where Anniston is in the Anniston-Gadsden-Talladega radio sub market.
Amtrak's Crescent train connects Anniston with the cities of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Charlotte, Atlanta, Birmingham and New Orleans. The Amtrak station is situated at the Southern Railway Depot (which was built in 1926), located at 126 West 4th Street. The city purchased the station in 2001 for $430,000 from federal grants for the restoration, in hopes of turning the building into a multi modal transportation hub for the city. It will be served by Amtrak (train), Greyhound (bus), and local taxi and bus services if all goes as planned.
Street and Highways