Find a building in Anniston whose resume includes a fire station, a neighborhood market, a Salvation Army thrift store, a meeting hall, a youth recreation center, a church, a ballroom, a residence, a cash-only market and a warehouse for a casket and funeral supply company — just not at the same time.
For good measure, make sure it dates to the city’s founding. And that it’s on the National Register of Historic Places. And, yes, that it’s still standing.
Only one building fits that description — the Glen Addie Volunteer Hose Company Fire Hall, the city’s oldest existing fire station, at the corner of Fourth and Pine in southwest Anniston. The 131-year-old building’s notoriety is linked to its birth as one of the city’s original fire halls. Its early Richardsonian Romanesque architecture adds to its flair. But to tell its story without the details of its second life — and third, and fourth, and fifth — is to omit chapters of one of Anniston’s few remaining treasures from the days of Samuel Noble himself.
Today, the two-story brick building is vacant, and has been for several decades. The city owns it. Anniston Fire Department Chief Tony Taylor has the key. Vines crawl up the outside walls, obscuring the windows and draping across the front door. A faded “Church of God” sign still hangs above its entrance. The bell and its tower that once sat on the gabled metal roof were removed a century ago. Most of the exterior stairs leading to the second floor have been cut away.
It is a treasure nonetheless, as the building was described on its 1985 NRHP application: “The Glen Addie Volunteer Hose Company Fire Hall was not only the fire protection for the largest operatives’ neighborhood in town, but a social anchor for an area that took great pride in the volunteer firemen. Parades, competition and parties were all centered around the hall.”
Unconvinced? If so, let’s go back to the early 1880s, when Anniston’s founders opened the city to outsiders. Anniston’s population increased nearly tenfold that decade, topping 9,000 by 1890 as men flocked to the post-war New South city for work at Woodstock Iron Co. and the nearby foundries and mills. By the turn of the century, Anniston was the seat of Calhoun County and become the area’s center for commerce, trade and travel.
Those workers, white and black, lived in neighborhoods surrounding the factories. Glen Addie was one of the first and largest, a true mill village for the families of Woodstock men. Though the city had no official fire department, it did have a collection of volunteer forces that sprung up in the neighborhoods and filled in as protectors, civic cheerleaders and political forces. Their officer elections were front-page news, as were their exploits in fire-department competitions as far away as Birmingham and Rome, Ga.
And all of that took place at the two-story building at the corner of Fourth and Pine.
MEET TODD AND LEWIS
If you need information about the old days of Anniston’s fire department, you call David Boyd. The Weaver resident retired in 2012 as an associate fire chief and hopes to publish a book about the department’s history. Other than members of the city’s Historical Preservation Committee, few may know more about the Glen Addie fire hall’s first years than Boyd.
Here’s the crucial fact: the fire department vacated that building in 1917, eventually opening Station No. 2 on F Street, where it is today. That means the fire hall served as a station for only 32 years, beginning when it was built in 1885 — one year after the Glen Addie Volunteer Hose Company was formed and two years after Anniston was opened to the public.
Nineteenth-century firefighters, including those at the Glen Addie hall, first used hand reels and later horses to transport their equipment. Section 4 of the Glen Addie Volunteer Hose Company’s constitution (which is on file at the Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County) issued specific instructions to its members: “They shall visit the hose house once a week to see that the hose reel and everything belonging to the company are kept clean and in proper order.” Seventeen fines are listed in that constitution; among the stiffest was a $2 penalty for being drunk at the hose house. The hall’s bottom floor housed the wagon — or, in firemen’s lingo, the “apparatus,” that included a small tank of water and a boiler to create steam pressure for the hoses. The harnesses hung from the hall’s ceiling and would be lowered onto the horses when the fire bell rang out.
Because the Glen Addie hall has been repurposed so often, little remains that is specific to its original use. But what does remain is unique.
The names of the hose company’s horses, Todd and Lewis, are inscribed on the concrete first floor. According to Boyd, the horses were trained to march from their stalls out back to the appropriate spot inside the hall so that the harnesses could be quickly attached.
“They’d cinch them up and they’d be ready to go,” Boyd said. “I’m sure it was quite impressive at the time.”
Today, the horses’ names — Lewis on the left, Todd on the right — and a drain used when the interior was washed down are the only fire-department remnants a visitor can see. Alas, there is no fire pole. A modern ceiling (with fluorescent lights) covers the original one downstairs. The back door and an outside door on the east side have rotted away. The additions on the east and south sides are in worse shape than the original building. And there is no way to reach the second floor from the inside.
Upstairs where the firemen lived, the hall does show signs of its later lives. The walls are painted an odd color of teal, or green, perhaps from its days as a youth center. A partition blocks off part of the north side. In the rear, plywood barricades a large window. Decades of debris and bird feathers litter the floor. The sill of an open window is lined with vines creeping up the outside wall.
If only that fire bell remained intact.
According to Boyd, the department gave the bell to old Glen Addie Baptist Church when the firefighters moved to F Street, with the caveat that the church would return it if AFD needed it back. Today, there is no record of that bell at the Calhoun Baptist Association. The Glen Addie bell wasn’t as large as the original Anniston bell (which dates to 1889) that’s displayed today at Station No. 1 on 17th Street. It’s one of the lost artifacts of Anniston history.
THE HALL’S LAST HURRAH
Its horses retired, its firefighters moved to new digs, the fire hall became just another repurposed building after World War I. Once acquired by the Rayfield family, the hall housed Rayfield’s Market and, later, Hurt’s Cash Store. In 1951, the Anniston Parks and Recreation Department turned the building into the Glen Addie Youth Center. The Salvation Army Thrift Store moved in during the 1960s; in the following decade, the building became home for the Rayfield-owned Vulcan Casket and Funeral Supply House. Today, records are absent on the building’s use by a Church of God congregation, despite what the rusted sign out front says.
Twenty-five years ago, the fire hall’s last hurrah nearly happened when Anniston PARD and the Anniston Historical Preservation Commission sought a federal Urban Park and Recreation grant that would have helped turn the renovated building into a centralized recreational center for handicapped residents. Three-thousand square feet of additional meeting rooms and work space were planned. But the federal government declined the request (for 70 percent of the $245,000 project) because, according to The Star, the project lacked programs “that would allow the handicapped to interact with the general public.”
A quarter-century later, the building still has its Victorian brickwork and its arched doorway, and it remains unused, locked up and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Through the years, it hosted fireman’s balls, community meetings and virtually everything else in Glen Addie. The stories its walls could tell.
Phillip Tutor is The Star’s commentary editor