The other founder
by Phillip Tutor
Commentary Editor
Jul 27, 2008 | 4301 views |  0 comments | 40 40 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Daniel Tyler
Daniel Tyler
slideshow
Daniel Tyler
Daniel Tyler
slideshow
Buried in a hillside grave in east Anniston, Daniel Tyler keeps watch over the city he and Samuel Noble founded more than 125 years ago. While Noble's name is prominent in Anniston, less is known about his partner, Tyler, who was a West Point graduate, acclaimed soldier, world traveler, friend to U.S. presidents, wealthy investor and big-hearted dreamer of what he hoped would be 'the model village of the South.'

In life, the general made his wishes clear. His earthly remains were to be buried in the red clay of Alabama, on a Calhoun County hill that presided over the town his wisdom and foresight had helped create.

In death, the general's desires were carried out.

Draped in mourning, waiting for the specially arranged funeral train to arrive from New York, Anniston had wept since receiving the news. For two days, Monday and Tuesday, the town had shuttered all business. Regular routine was no longer proper; preparations were in order. Gen. Daniel Tyler, one of the town's founders, stricken with pneumonia after the difficult fall months, had died peacefully with his family at the bedside in his Manhattan hotel room, its window peering out at Madison Square.

His next birthday would have been his 84th.

Around 11 that December morning in 1882, Anniston gathered to revere the general. It was a Wednesday. The early winter weather cooperated. So, too, had a bit of divine providence. On his last visit to Anniston that summer, fit snugly between trips to his Texas farm, to Canada for relaxation, and to Saratoga to watch the horses, the general had selected the site and helped lay the foundation of the town's new Episcopal church near the corner of 10th Street and Leighton Avenue. The general, a devout Episcopalian, had overseen all details of Grace Church's construction, his oldest son, Alfred, would recall after his father's death.

The stone structure was unfinished when the general's funeral train pulled into Anniston. There hadn't been enough time. But that Wednesday morning, mourners carried the remains to the already hallowed ground, where the Rev. Wallace Carnahan and the Rev. H.H. Stringfellow prayed over Tyler's pale body from inside the incomplete foundation of Grace Church, heaven seen overhead. "There, under the open sky, the beautiful church service was read, and every head was bowed," said Edmund Tyler, the general's middle son. It was, as Edmund described it, "an eminently fitting place" for a funeral.

It was but a short walk from the church's foundation to the general's grave, freshly dug between two boulders on a prominent eastside hill. Between 1,500 and 2,000 people gathered as the body of one of the city's founders accepted its resting place. Samuel Noble, the general's partner in the Anniston experiment, told the grieving family in a telegram sent to New York just after Tyler died: "Have prepared place for his remains that I believe he would have chosen." That Wednesday in December, as the Rev. Stringfellow placed earth on top of Tyler's casket, Noble's words seemed correct, though the location of the general's interment wasn't merely appropriate. The Tyler family, especially the general's eldest sons, had long known of their father's "repeatedly expressed wish" to be buried in Anniston. The general's burial in the town he helped create, Edmund said, "was a sacred trust to his children."

Daniel Tyler would lie here eternally.

"I am glad that you leave the mortal part of him at rest in Anniston," George Arms, a longtime friend of the general's, wrote to the mournful Tyler family soon after the death. "The place so represents him, and his heart was with his own and your work there."

REMEMBERING THE FOUNDERS

Anniston is Sam Noble's town.

His statue — its right arm tucked into his cloak, his torso crowning a stack of pig iron — stands sentinel near the town's center. It gazes north from its busy Quintard Avenue home. The street of the city's original and historic central business district has carried his name for more than 100 years. The Noble name has graced countless Anniston businesses and festivals. An Englishman by birth who was raised in Pennsylvania, Noble — and much of his family — migrated to east Alabama from Georgia in the 1870s, turning business interests and the quest for prosperity into a town forever indebted to his efforts.

He earned his statue and his street.

So, too, would be similar remembrances for Tyler, without whose guidance and money Noble could not have completed the Anniston enterprise. Nevertheless, Daniel Tyler sometimes is Anniston's forgotten founder — an unfortunate trait given his importance to the town's creation and early successes.

There is no Tyler Street prominent in Anniston's grid. Monuments dot Quintard's downtown medians like spring blooms, but there is no room for a Tyler commemoration. His name exists in a few notable locations — the Tyler Hill historic district on the east side and the Tyler Center at Regional Medical Center, built just a few years ago — but those pale in comparison to the weight carried city-wide by the Noble name.

The explanation is both unclear and logical. Without Noble, there would have been no Anniston; you cannot separate the two. After he enticed Tyler to visit the east Alabama land resplendent with iron ore and unlimited potential, Noble dedicated his life to creating a business venture and town virtually guaranteed to succeed. His commitment never wavered. He encouraged the city's expansion. He built schools. He and his family made Anniston their home. Noble was the living embodiment of the moral attitude of the Anniston experiment — both as a company town and as an expanding 19th-century city after its opening in 1883. When the Noble statue was unveiled in 1895, nearly 10,000 people descended on downtown Anniston for a first glimpse.

Tyler's Anniston legacy — though secure — is more subtle; it is difficult to characterize. If for no other reason than proximity — the general never had a permanent residence in Anniston, descendants claim — Tyler today seems to have played the role of benefactor, adviser and confidant to Noble and Alfred Tyler, the general's oldest son and one of the city's early business leaders. Tyler was, as Noble described after his death, "a grand old man … I hoped he would have lived for years to come and enjoyed the proud satisfaction of seeing the plans he had so generously and prudently formed for the welfare of the people of the town he had founded grown to perfection."

THE SPIRIT OF THE MAN

In myriad ways, Tyler could have been seen as an outsider to post-Civil War Alabama. An aristocrat, Tyler was born into a prominent New England family — his father was a Revolutionary War veteran who'd served as an adjutant to Gen. Israel Putman at Bunker Hill — that chose independence over loyalty to the British crown. His father-in-law, Benjamin Lee, was once a midshipman in the Queen's navy. An 1819 graduate of West Point, Tyler's first six decades saw him serve his country at home and abroad, where he translated Napoleon's renowned artillery manuals for the U.S. Army. His Civil War record — including his controversial command at the first battle of Bull Run — is hardly brief. And his experiences as a civil engineer and railroad president in the United States and European traveler during the Franco-Prussian War only heightened his reputation as a renaissance man of the 1880s. U.S. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, who served under Tyler at Bull Run, described the general as having "outspoken, enthusiastic devotion to his Country and Government in war and in peace … He was without one misstep or act of hesitation as a man, a soldier and gentleman."

As a former brigadier general in the U.S. Army, Tyler could claim both President Lincoln and Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi as acquaintances. In March 1870, while traveling Europe with his youngest daughter, Mary, Tyler dined with Garibaldi, who asked that Tyler convey his good wishes to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, then the U.S. president. That likely suited the general just fine, since he did not agree with the popular European belief that Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was on par with, if not more militarily astute than, Grant.

After his chance meeting with Noble in 1872 that led to Anniston's creation, Tyler did not settle in Annie's Town for his final years. Tyler's wife, Emily Lee, had died in New York in 1864; saddened deeply, the general remained a widower until he was buried in what is now Hillside Cemetery. Tyler was a man of too much energy to remain in one location; he despised laziness and idleness, as a soldier and as an entrepreneur. His interests and spirit were too wide to contain. "There was never any dilly-dallying in coming to his conclusions, or any hesitancy, or any yielding grudgingly," family friend Donald G. Mitchell wrote in 1883. "When play was in hand, he played like a boy; and when working, it was for him always a man's work." He had no desire to merely wait for death.

Thus, the same spirit that dominated the final decade of his life likely led to Annistonians' feelings that Noble, more so than the general, was the man ultimately behind the creation. While Noble lived and worked in the start-up city, walking the street that would bear his name, Tyler sailed to Sweden to hire ironmen for the Woodstock Iron Co.; presided over the Mobile and Montgomery Railroad and lived in Alabama's capital for four years; spent a few months each year at the luxurious Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York; and bought a 20,000-acre ranch in Texas, Capote Farms, where he wintered during his final years with daughter Mary and her husband.

Nevertheless, Tyler did not allow the youthful Anniston to slip far from his thoughts. Benevolent in his old age, the general often traveled to Anniston, dispensing advice to Noble and the two eldest Tyler sons. It was not unusual for his correspondence with business associates and family in Alabama to include passages about the goings-on in Anniston and the Woodstock Iron Co., the town's keynote venture.

In January 1879, Noble and Alfred Tyler asked the general to write to the Alabama Legislature and urge lawmakers to incorporate Anniston. He did not hesitate. "We do not ask for any exclusive privileges," Tyler told Alabama's lawmakers. "All we want is the power to protect our property, to foster education, to keep out whiskey drinking, to sustain good morals and to introduce into our business a system of honesty and integrity." It worked; the Legislature eventually gave Anniston its legal birthright.

Noble, 35 years Tyler's junior, clearly believed the general — despite his lengthy absences — was no mere component to Anniston's forming; he resided at its core. Noble needed Tyler: his money, his advice, his guidance. There seemed neither animosity nor jealousy that Tyler lived a world-traveler's life while others rolled up their sleeves and built a Southern town from scratch. From his eloquent writings, Noble believed that Tyler carried a heartfelt desire for Anniston to succeed, and he never allowed the city named after his daughter-in-law to stray far from his heart.

"His clear and active mind was always planning and suggesting something for the benefit of Anniston and its people," wrote Noble, mentioning Tyler's urgings to diversify the city's industry, improve its livestock, build better homes for workers, and furnish churches for families and schools for children. "Plans and suggestions that to us at first seemed impractical and premature, we found from his clear reasoning and hearty cooperation not only could be carried out, but were needed.

"In acting on his suggestions and plans, we found how wise he was in his forethought and wondered why we had not thought of the plans ourselves. He was one of the most generous and unselfish (men) I ever knew — always interested in, and planning for, the welfare of others, and never so happy as when those he aided profited by his assistance."

The inception of Anniston and its early successes, wrote Mitchell, the Tyler family friend, "were sources of great pride to him."

'WE WILL ALWAYS MISS HIM'

In the final year of his life, the general traveled at least twice to Anniston, once in February and March, and again in mid-May. He penned many letters in his last months, including a bundle on Jan. 7, his 83rd and final birthday. A few mentioned his failing health; others urged his grandchildren to be kind to their parents. Advice dripped from his written words. "I have not been over well recently, and the difficulty is old age — a natural malady and for which there is no specific," he told a family member. To another, he wrote, "I am taking care of myself and fighting the battle of life I hope manfully, and what is more, prayerfully;" he felt blessed to be alive, and well enough.

When Tyler left Anniston for his Texas ranch in his final spring, his family letters described how Anniston was centered in his thoughts. "At Anniston, everything looks well and the village is improving every day and promises to be the model village of the South," Tyler wrote. In Texas in May, while preparing a return to east Alabama, his confidence was buoyed by a week-long visit from Noble, who brought news of their company's expansion plans. "I am now convinced that taking Woodstock with the new purchases, that they constitute together the most valuable single enterprise on the continent," the general wrote.

It was on that final summer visit to Anniston, son Alfred Tyler wrote, that the general oversaw the laying of the Grace Church foundation. Anniston, Alfred recalled, "was the child of (the general's) old age." When Tyler later boarded a northbound train in Anniston, his penultimate months would remove him far away from Woodstock affairs. He rested at Saratoga, N.Y., a summertime haunt, and then in early August he left for Canada and a rendezvous with daughter Mary and granddaughter Edith Carow. It was there they spent more than two weeks in the Quebec mountains outside Montreal, which lifted his spirits and his health, though only briefly. The party's plans then took them south to New York, where the comfort of the Fifth Avenue Hotel awaited. If his health would allow, Tyler had grand plans to attend yet another of West Point's famed reunions later in the year.

The general didn't make it. While walking to the hotel elevator on a Sunday afternoon in late September, he fainted. His son Edmund braced his fall; vertigo and old age were the culprits. His physician, Dr. Fordyce Barker, and children soon were summoned to his New York bedside. His health deteriorating, his outlook dimming, pneumonia came in November. The end arrived at 7:40 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 30, 1882. "It's no use, doctor, you can't patch up the old man," he told Barker the day before he died.

Before Anniston grieved for the general's soul in the airy foundation of Grace Church, Noble lamented over what Anniston had lost. He knew Tyler's wisdom and guidance were irreplaceable. He needed no prodding to realize that Tyler's death represented a body blow to a former company town built on utopian ideals and the acumen of a remarkable spirit. That the general was only a transient figure on Anniston's streets during his later years was irrelevant. In that sense, Tyler was as much a part of Anniston as was Noble himself.

That only one is immortalized in stone seems both unfair and unimportant.

"Who will impress us with the feeling of confidence in every new plan and undertaking that he was wont to give?" Noble asked upon Tyler's death. "To whom shall we look for the sound advices his age, experience and clear mind alone could impart? We will miss him daily. We will always miss him."
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