Spirit of Anniston held a celebration Monday morning for the completion of a two-year long project to put plaques on historic buildings downtown.
The organization posted bronze plaques on 34 downtown buildings, including the L&N Freight Depot on Walnut Avenue, now the site of Cheaha Brewing Company, and the former Greyhound bus station on Gurnee Avenue, now part of the Freedom Riders National Monument. The plaques give the date of construction and proclaim each building to be on the National Register of Historic Places. A full list is on Spirit’s website, spiritofanniston.org, along with detailed histories of each location.
In a meeting at Classic on Noble, Spirit past President Fred Couch, the retired owner of Couch’s Jewelers, spoke about the project as yet another milestone in the organization’s lengthy history. Couch was president in the early 1990s; when the previous president left his post, Couch said, he left behind a cardboard box with various effects. Among them was a postcard, redeemable for a set of VHS tapes from the National Register of Historic Places, teaching towns how to renovate and grow their downtown districts using their historical buildings.
Couch said those tapes — for which the group had to scrape up $50 — were a revelation.
“It completely changed everybody’s attitude,” he said, after the short presentation, which included a tour of some markers on Noble Street. “It gave you a focus. ‘If these other small towns can do it, we can do it too.’”
Couch said there are now 175 Anniston properties on the National Register.
Heidi Richards, director of Coosa Valley Resource Conservation and Development Council, said the project cost about $14,000 over the course of two phases, including work on historic research, printing brochures with a full roster of buildings and buying the markers themselves. Her organization helped secure money for the project from the state general fund, she said.
Ann Welch, owner of Nunnally’s Framing and current Spirit chairwoman, said the plaque effort recognizes downtown property owners who invested in renovating Anniston’s historic buildings, and reminds residents of downtown’s value.
“We have the perfect scenario for a successful, thriving downtown,” Welch said. “We’re the multi-county anchor for financial, legal, government and medical. Our city swells by tens of thousands of people every day; we just need to make the investment in giving them something to hang around for.”
Welch said improvements to downtown’s identity can help draw in customers to local business. Shopping in a historic district can be more of an event than a simple trip to the store, she said, and offer something that online shopping can’t provide. Visit a restaurant on Noble Street, she said, and you’re likely to meet the owner and have a personal experience.
Even as she spoke, Classic on Noble owner David Mashburn helped his staff bus tables in the dining area.
“You can talk to someone and they will help you,” Welch said. “You can’t provide that on a computer.”