Have you ever been walking along the west side of Noble Street in Anniston, looked down and asked yourself, ’Hey, what’s this round, flat, metallic button, a couple of inches in diameter, doing here embedded in the concrete near the southwest corner of the intersection with 17th Street?’
A fine question it would be, were you to ask it.
That button is the center of Anniston, of course.
At least it’s where the center used to be, in 1873 when Anniston was first incorporated. Today it’s in a concrete apron next to an auto repair shop.
Back when the founders of Anniston, Sam Noble and Daniel Tyler, were getting their little company town started, they needed a way to exactly describe the city’s boundaries.
So, says city historian Dr. Grace Gates, they did what their friends in the nearby cities of Oxford and Piedmont had done before: they found a point and drew a circle. That was the easiest way.
Everything from that point, a mile and a half out, was Anniston.
Why’d they draw it from there?
Another fine question — one which Gates has done a fair amount of speculation on this summer while doing research that should eventually get downtown Anniston entered on the National Register of Historic Places.
Anniston was founded in a valley. A flat area between several mountains.
And since the founders wanted as much of that flat area as possible within their circle of a mile and a half radius, they couldn’t just start drawing lines. They had to find the point where the circle’s circumference would avoid the mountains (but still include a few handy iron ore deposits).
The metal button near 17th Street marks that spot.
OK, so that was the geographic center of Anniston. What’s it doing way up there, instead of around 10th or 11th street, which arguably have the most important intersections with Noble Street?
Yet another great question. Its answer has two parts — namely, why Noble Street is where it is, and why 10th Street became important.
Noble Street was the main street because at one time its path was the road between Piedmont and Oxford. Assuming they could avoid the mountains when they drew the circle, Anniston’s founders were merely doing the logical thing when they picked a point along Noble Street to be the circle’s center.
The reason the old road followed the path it did was that it was along, or very close to, a section line. A section line is the name surveyors give to an imaginary line used to map land. The land Anniston was founded on would have been surveyed long before a town was put on it, and it was customary, says Gates, for a county road to run along a section line so as to not cross very much of a person’s property.
That’s why Noble Street is where it is.(In fact, on the button is a small line indicating the division between section 6 and section 5. The ‘’one-fourth’’ fraction means that the button also marks the division of a quarter-section, or, halfway up that section line.)
The reason 10th Street became important was that it used to have a train depot at the western end of it, a few blocks west of Noble Street. And patterns of commerce being as they were, it was natural that the route between the existing main artery and the new depot would become important.
The reason the depot was built there was that further north, the path of the railroad sort of veered away from Noble Street.
Also in the same neighborhood as the depot were a textile mill and an iron furnace, which contributed even more to the area’s importance.
A few blocks west of 17th Street, on the other hand, was a hill. (They couldn’t miss them all.)