Well here we go! This adventure into the blogosphere is launching in full force and I couldn’t be more excited! When refining the list of places in the South to feature, I knew instantly that I had to start where it all started for me on that sweltering August day: Anniston, Alabama. Anyone who knows me well knows how I crack Anniston jokes often since shaking off the dust of that tiny little town when moving to “the big city”. That’s all in good fun. That being said, the charm and attraction that IS Anniston still reminds me of my roots and I feel a quaint connection to this fair city and its surrounding areas. It’s where I come from and where my heart lies with the family members that remain. Without further ado, here’s my take on the sleepy little historic part of East Alabama.
Calhoun County is home to what locals call the tri-city area: Anniston, Oxford, and Jacksonville (among many smaller subsidiaries). On my “half birthday”, I couldn’t think of a better way to seize the day than to take a tour of my hometown. I arrived in town before lunch in time to visit with my oldest little buddy Colton, who celebrated his 3rd birthday yesterday on February 3rd. As my godson and first nephew, he is someone that I truly desire investing time in and take my role as part of his village very seriously. I want to know him and he, me. I came bearing cupcakes and sparkler candles. We might have been singing the happy birthday song together for much of the morning and blowing candles out multiple times in excited celebration. Oh to be young and innocent again.
My boy went down for his nap and thereafter my tour began.
I recruited the company and assistance of my best guy, Alan Robinson, to accompany me and to help navigate. Daddy-Daughter time is rare and neither of us are aging backwards…
Anniston (The Model City) was settled in April of 1872 with the beginning of the Woodstock Iron Company organized by Samuel Noble. The city was first named Woodstock but was later changed to Annie’s Town for Annie Scott Tyler, wife of railroad tycoon Alfred L. Tyler. Once the city was chartered in 1883, the name was changed to Anniston.
Neighboring city, Jacksonville, holds much Civil War history which will be featured here on The Blog very soon. In World War I, however, Anniston’s economy received a much-appreciated boost when the United States Army established a training camp at Fort McClellan in 1917. The fort was the former site of the US Army Military Police Training Academy, Chemical Corps Regimental Headquarters, Chemical Warfare training center, and Women’s Army Corps Headquarters. Since deeming its closure by President Bill Clinton in 1995, the expanse of operations diminished greatly, as well as the economy in the area. Fort McClellan currently is home to the Alabama National Guard Training Center, the Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge, as well as the prestigious Department of Homeland Security’s Center for Domestic Preparedness-the nation’s only civilian “live agent” training center. Emergency response providers from all over the world come to Fort McClellan to be trained in dealing with live agents and weapons in a real-time monitored setting.
The beautiful expanse of land has so much potential for development. The Buckner Events Plaza is one such location attempting to repurpose historical structures established in the mid 1930’s as the former Post Recreation Center. Buckner Circle was the former headquarters/residences for all military officers stationed at the fort. It now houses a regional venue for the arts in the Foothills Theater. The Grand Hall and dining room/boardwalk are all available for event space rentals.
Beautiful architecture is not unique only to historic remains of days-gone-by at Fort McClellan, however. There are churches that grace the city’s landscape with such beauty and elegance that they truly speak for themselves. Grace Episcopal Church(bottom,lower picture) was established by the founding city leaders, Sam Noble and Gen. Daniel Tyler, who both contributed larger sums of funds earmarked for the building of a stone church designed by architect George Upjohn. The church is positioned in a district touted by its historical preservations. Soon after the church’s beginning, it became apparent that another church would be needed to accommodate all believers in the area who had settled to aid in the mining and manufacturing process.
St. Michael and All Angels was consecrated in September of 1890. John Ward Noble, of the founding family of Anniston, petitioned the Bishop of Alabama for a second parish to be added in the area as a gift to the people of Anniston and a memorial to James and Samuel Noble, John’s father and brother who died in 1888. The church was constructed using local materials patterned after churches in New York and England when designed by architect William Halsey Wood. The interior of the church is breath-taking but I was unable to access the inside when dad and I went by. St. Michaels is a historic landmark and worth the visit, but it isn’t in the best part of town. Be safe and wise when planning a pilgrimage.
Anniston is home to the Chief Ladiga Trail, part of the Silver Comet Trail originating in northwest Georgia. It starts at the Alabama-Georgia state line and travels west to Piedmont then on to Jacksonville and Weaver where it eventually ends at the Mike Tucker Park in northern Anniston in Lenlock. The topography features wetlands, streams, forests, farmlands, and a horizon view of Mount Cheaha-Alabama’s highest point. When I was in college at Jacksonville State University and living off-campus in my apartment that bordered the trail, I would come home from class, hop on my super-cool mustard yellow mountain bike and head out to unwind and connect with nature where I would commune with God and reflect on my thoughts. Those memories are cemented in my mind as some of the most centering moments amidst the chaotic college atmosphere of classes, dating, events, and future plans. Now that so-called chaos is a reminder of simpler times. Perspective is ever-morphing. #carpediem
While tempted to escape to the woods of the Ladiga trail for the beautiful afternoon, I resisted and we pressed onward to historic downtown Anniston. Being a foodie at heart, a visit home would not be complete without a trip to Classic on Noble. The ambiance is casually upscale and the food is to-die-for delicious. Since I enjoy a well-crafted meal, I’ve dined in many fine places in my day. Classic remains my favorite of all. They are open for lunch Monday-Friday 11-2, dinner Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday beginning at 5 and their infamous Sunday brunch begins at 10:30 where reservations are recommended and needed. The shrimp and grits are the best in the land so it is usually my go-to selection but I’ve never had a meal there that was disappointing. The Green Olive harkens back to its original usage as a secret bar in the prohibition era. It’s a wonderfully cozy spot to meet a friend to sip a beverage and catch up on all of the events of the day. The Sunday brunch is worth the drive from anywhere around. The owners, David and Cathy Mashburn pull out all of the stops with a salad buffet, breakfast specialties, carving station, pastas, breads, and chocolate fountain, entree buffet, and a dessert smorgasbord that would cause a king to blush. For a mere $30/person, you can indulge to your heart’s desire. Definitely come hungry.
Next up is a local institution: Mata’s Greek Pizza. Let me just say that there is no where else like it anywhere around the South. They are a family owned, family operated establishment going 30 years strong where pizza is made from scratch using quality ingredients in deep-dish fashion. However, the texture and consistency is life-changing. To quote their website: “Our pizza and bread doughs are made from scratch and we always use quality ingredients. People come from all around to enjoy our yeast risen deep-dish pizza, loaded with their favorite ingredients, slathered in our signature white cheddar cheese, then baked to a crispy golden brown.” The Extra-Special Pizza includes all delicious and most popular ingredients from pepperoni, hamburg, sausage, Canadian bacon, onions, green peppers, and mushrooms covered in their signature white Cheddar cheese then baked to perfection. Because of the thorough attention to detail with this selection, no substitutions are allowed.
Growing up, my family always opted for the extra-special pizza with a Greek salad on the side. I can’t choose to eat it every time I’m home because I might be a freak about gaining even an ounce but it is worth the sacrifice and planning ahead to enjoy this delicacy at least quarterly. #gogetyousome but make sure you plan to carry out. The atmosphere doesn’t allow much for quiet conversation and ambiance is at a minimal. A picnic at Oxford Lake Park or Choccolocco Park might be a more meaningful choice.
Leaving Mata’s brought back one of my most favorite childhood/adulthood memories(I was standing on the precipice to hear my mother tell it-right before college started after high school) at the time of my 18th Birthday. We were having dinner to celebrate at the old Victoria Inn, now Hotel Finial (next door to Mata’s), when upon leaving the valet brought up a vehicle that I had never seen before. My parents then told me that this was my new car, after having given me a nice car for my 16th birthday. This gift was out-of-the-blue but was a vehicle I had admired and had lusted over. I will never forget the generosity and thoughtfulness that my parents exhibited in their planning of giving me this gift. The setting was perfection and the meal we enjoyed was in keeping with the standards we had been enjoying for several years prior.
128 years ago, it was used as a private residence for the McKleroy, Wilson, and Kirby families before being converted to the Victoria Inn as a historic bed and breakfast option for visitors to Calhoun County. As a child, I enjoyed dressup tea parties that my mom would organize with friends and etiquette field trips with my classmates from Faith Christian School, where excitement for steak had to be kept at a minimum #mrhaynestriedtoberelevant . #fcsclassof1993
Currently, state Senator Del Marsh and his lovely wife Ginger along with Jackson Hospitality purchased and revitalized the old Victoria Inn. They created an atmosphere of preservation of what once was with modern updates and conveniences that would lend the property to a more hospitable reception for those visiting the area. When planning a weekend excursion to Anniston, you should plan your stay in this lovely establishment.
There are so many more places to see and things to do while visiting Anniston. These are just a few of my favorites. Make sure to visit The Berman Museum and The Anniston Museum of Natural History as well as read about the impact the Anniston Army Depot has in the area and among the needs of our nation.
Here’s hoping you’ve read to the end to gain an appreciation for this gem of Northeast Alabama. It will always hold a special place in my heart.