Former Greyhound depot

The Howell Signs building on Gurnee Avenue, once the local Greyhound Lines bus depot, has been purchased by the city of Anniston and is under consideration for declaration as a national monument.

Federal officials — U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis among them — will visit to size up two local sites that could be declared a national monument. One is the spot on Alabama 202 west of Anniston where a mob burned a bus carrying Freedom Riders in 1961; Locals have been working for years to establish a park there.

The other is the downtown building that once housed the station where that bus was first met by angry locals in 1961. The yellow-brick structure, which today houses Howell Signs, opened as a bus terminal in 1952 but served in that role for only about 15 years.  National Park Service officials first expressed interest in the building back in July.

History on Gurnee Avenue
Greyhound ad

An advertisement published in The Anniston Star on Aug. 8, 1952, announcing the opening of Greyhound's new depot on Gurnee Avenue.

Aug. 9, 1952 — Greyhound Lines opens what an ad in The Anniston Star called a “spacious new travel center” at 1033 Gurnee Ave. The ad promoted separate waiting rooms and restaurants for “white and colored” passengers. The new station’s dining room “will be open 24 hours daily,” the story said.
May 14, 1961 — A Greyhound bus carrying  Freedom Riders — civil rights demonstrators testing Alabama’s compliance with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling outlawing enforced racial segregation of interstate transport services — arrives at the Anniston depot at 12:58 p.m. The station closes its lunch counter “to avoid trouble that might occur there,” according to report by the city’s police chief.
The bus is attacked by a mob of locals, and police usher the disabled vehicle away from the station. It later stops on Alabama 202 west of town, where a mob attacks riders and torches the bus.
Greyhound bus attack

A mob confronts a bus carrying Freedom Riders outside the Greyhound depot in Anniston on May 14, 1961.

Feb. 1, 1967 — 1033 Gurnee becomes vacant as Greyhound moves its Anniston terminal to a new station at 12 W. Eighth St. 

1971 — City directories show a new occupant of the Gurnee Avenue space for the first time — Harrell & Son Floor Covering. 

1979 — Pete’s Safety Cab Co. is listed in city directories as the latest occupant of 1033 Gurnee Ave. 

Nov. 17, 1979 — A story in The Star announces Anniston Business Machines has moved into the old Greyhound station, now listed as 1031 Gurnee Ave. City directories published in 1980 show ABM at that address, while 1033 Gurnee is listed as “vacant.” 

Jan. 6, 1995 — Howell’s Signs opens at 1031 Gurnee, according to a December 1994 column by The Star’s George Smith. 

May 12, 2011 — As part of events marking the 50th anniversary of the 1961 attacks, the downtown development agency Spirit of Anniston unveils a mural of a Greyhound bus on the wall of 1029 Gurnee, facing the former bus station. Signs there document the history of the Freedom Rides and the attacks in Anniston. 

Greyhound mural unveiling

Betsy Bean speaks to a group at the unveiling of a mural of a Greyhound bus on a wall at the site where Freedom Riders were attacked in Anniston in 1961.

Dec. 2, 2014 — Howell dies, leaving longtime associate Brian Henderson to operate the sign shop “for the foreseeable future,” according to an obituary published in The Star

Ben Howell at Howell Signs

In this January 2014 file photo, Ben Howell touches up a sign he painted at his shop on Gurnee Avenue Anniston.

Oct. 3, 2016 — The Anniston City Council agrees to seek a grant to help restore the former bus station to its 1961 condition, and says the city has agreed to buy the building for $82,000.

Oct. 20Mayor Vaughn Stewart and city manager Brian Johnson announce that officials with the Interior Department and the National Park Service will visit Anniston this week to evaluate the potential of the former bus station and the site of the attack along Alabama 202 to be named a national monument and administered by the park service.

Managing Editor Ben Cunningham: 256-235-3541. On Twitter @Cunningham_Star.

Managing Editor of The Anniston Star