Bob Davis: A blast from the past
Jul 27, 2008 | 3224 views |  0 comments | 35 35 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Henry Grady was the circuit preacher of the post-Civil War New South.

In the 1880s, he turned the newspaper he partly owned, the Atlanta Constitution, into a nationally prominent publication in a few short years.

His name adorns no less than a hospital, a high school, a county and a university's journalism school in his native Georgia.

He is credited with giving this newspaper its maiden name, The Hot Blast. The inspiration, we're told, came when Grady, in Anniston for a visit to this model city, noted the sparks shooting out from the company town's foundry. "Hot Blast" seemed like a nifty handle for a paper covering this northeast Alabama community.

It was.

By 1884, The New York Times was singing its praises, calling it "one of the brightest and neatest newspapers in Alabama," one that "exhibits a confidence, not excelled even in Northern journals of enterprise, in the future prosperity of its section, and broadly asserts that Anniston is the fastest growing city in the country. One thing is certain, the development and growth of its town and its State will be materially aided by a progressive and enterprising journal such as this one is showing itself to be under its new management."

In a little less than a month — Aug. 18 to be precise — The Anniston Star, the descendant of The Hot Blast, will celebrate its 125th birthday. The paper's not alone in hitting the big 1-2-5. In early July, the city of Anniston marked 125 years of existence. Jacksonville State marks its 125th year in 2008 as well.

However, baking a cake big enough for the entire community to get a slice seemed like too much of a task, especially for journalists who are usually better behind a keyboard than in front of an oven.

Instead, The Star has created something we believe worthy of the anniversary. Starting today and over the next three Sundays, the newspaper will present four special sections, with multimedia bonuses online at annistonstar.com, examining The Model City's history and its future.

We will look backwards, to Samuel Noble and Daniel Tyler's grand experiment at creating a different sort of company town, one that treated workers fairly, created a foundation for a high-functioning community and aspired to lift the South from its post-war doldrums. We will examine how that endeavor changed — for good and for bad — over the decades.

Our work is not merely a sentimental journey, a blast from the past, if you will. Anniston was built on extracting and processing mineral resources. These sections are an attempt to extract lessons from our past that can be applied to our future.

We do this because this newspaper believes a community can't know where it's going until it's sure of where it's been. Each week's historical review, divided by eras — 1870s-1928, 1929-1970 and 1971-present — informs us of how ordinary men and women faced the challenges of their day.

Our fourth special section, on Aug. 17, will look forward to Anniston's future, inviting the community to act as boldly and as publicly-minded as Tyler and Noble did in their day.

On Aug. 18, The Star's anniversary, we'll offer a special fifth section — a "Then and Now" photo album.

We hope you will find this series informative and challenging, as bracing as the whoosh of warm air blowing out of an iron furnace.
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