Though the surrounding area was settled long before, the mineral resources in the area of Anniston weren't exploited until the Civil War. During that time, the Confederate States of America established and operated an iron furnace near present day downtown Anniston, until the furnace was destroyed by Union troops in 1865. Later, cast iron for sewer systems became the focus of Anniston's industrial output. Cast iron pipe, also called soil pipe, was popular until the advent of plastic pipe in the 1960s.
In 1872, the Woodstock Iron Company, organized by Samuel Noble and Union Gen. Daniel Tyler, rebuilt the furnace on a much larger scale, as well as started a planned community named Woodstock but later renamed "Anniston" for Annie Scott Tyler, wife of railroad president Alfred L. Tyler. Anniston was chartered as a town in 1873.
Though the roots of the town's economy were in iron, steel and pipe clay, planners touted it as a health resort, and several hotels began operating. Schools also appeared, including The Noble Institute, a school for girls established in 1886, and The Alabama Presbyterian College for Men, founded in 1905. Careful planning and easy access to rail transportation helped make Anniston the fifth largest city in the state from 1890's to 1950s.
Over the past two years downtown Anniston saw a $4 million renovation of a 10- story high rise, and approximately $300,000 in smaller building rehabs, as well as several business expansions and relocations to downtown. This steady investment trend got a boost several years ago when a popular destination restaurant and caterer, Classic on Noble, opened. The hundreds who come downtown to dine in the 1888 building it rehabbed (two floors of which had been closed since 1919) have spurred renovation and investment in nearby buildings. Last year the Civil Rights & Heritage Trail that the local Main Street organization created, which includes the sites of the first Freedom Rides attacks, garnered widespread favorable publicity through national media coverage.
Main Street is a unique preservation based economic development program.