The exhibit, “Horseback Visionaries: Noble and Tyler Create the Model City,” opened yesterday. It explores 30 years of Anniston history, beginning with Noble and Tyler’s chance encounter in Charleston, S.C., in 1872, and their dream of finding ore in Alabama.
“It was literally a case of being at the right place at the right time,” said Susan Doss, a collections assistant at the museum.
Ten days later, Noble and Tyler were in Oxford, where they began a three-day tour on horseback through what would later become Anniston.
The next year, the Woodstock Iron Company constructed Furnace No. 1, and Noble and Tyler began to carefully plan the rapidly expanding town.
“That’s why it’s called the Model City,” Doss said, adding the nickname was given to Anniston in 1888 by Atlanta newspaperman Henry W. Grady.
From 1873 to 1883, Anniston was a closed company town with cottages, churches and schools, all built for the employees of the Woodstock Iron Company. The town was officially opened to the public on July 3, 1883. By then the founders had changed the town’s name from Woodstock to Annie’s Town, in honor of Annie Scott Tyler, Gen. Tyler’s daughter-in-law. The name eventually morphed into Anniston.
“Everybody loved her,” Doss said of Anniston’s namesake. “Not just the family, the townspeople … She was our belle of the ball.”
Annie is in good company at the museum. While the bulk of the exhibit focuses on Noble and Tyler and their families, it also features information on some of Anniston’s other notable residents.
“We just had all kinds of fabulous people help build our city,” Doss said.
One of them is Dr. Charles Thomas. Originally from New York, Thomas owned the largest drug store owned by an African-American in the United States. He was also the state’s first African-American physician.
Some period medicinal vials, like those Thomas might have used, line the exhibit’s three display cases along with other military, business and personal artifacts from Anniston’s first 30 years.
The military case focuses on Camp Shipp, founded in 1898 primarily as a medical camp shortly after the end of the Spanish-American War.
“Blue Mountain was perfect. Good drainage, good water,” Doss said of the camp’s location. “The two surgeons that were in charge of the camp were some of the best in the country.”
In the first months of the camp, the doctors treated more than 600 men with only 20 fatalities, she said.
Visitors to the museum can also see a Civil War-era tourniquet, as well as a book written by Shipp’s chief surgeon, Maj. Henry F. Hoyt, about his time as a frontier surgeon and his friendship with Billy the Kid.
There is also a salesman’s model of a cannon, which at the time was available for anyone to purchase, Doss said, not just the military.
A case of business artifacts features period insurance maps, stock certificates, silverware from the Anniston Inn and a telegraph owned by a man who worked for Western Union.
“As soon as Woodstock was founded, the Western Union was here,” Doss said. “At the time of the Spanish-American War, the Western Union was on Noble Street.”
The case is also home to swords representing a number of fraternal orders, like the Freemasons and the Knights of Pythias.
“The fraternal orders, their creed is all about being generous, treating people with respect and helping the needy … They gave back to the community,” Doss said. “They put their money into building the community, not just making money.”
One of the most striking feature of a case of personal artifacts is an ornate brown dress that belonged to Edith Roosevelt, President Theodore Roosevelt’s second wife who was also Gen. Tyler’s granddaughter. More of the Tyler family’s clothing is on display as well, as a shaving kit and letters addressed to Samuel Noble’s wife.
Although the artifacts are impressive, Doss hopes visitors will leave with a new appreciation for the people whose hard work built Anniston.
“The people are real to me now. They’re not just names on a statue on Quintard,” she said. “I’m hoping that the younger people, college kids on down, will understand what a great town they have. History isn’t just this dry, boring thing … We’re living off the fruits of their labor. Had they been anybody less determined, less intelligent, less hardworking, it might not have worked.”