Three of the four historic homes, which just four years ago were so dilapidated they ended up on the Places in Peril list, now house a church and the offices of Dr. Carla Thomas and her husband, city attorney Cleo Thomas. The homes — Crowan Cottage, built in 1887, and the Charles A. Hamilton house and the William F. Johnston house, both built in 1925 — represent some of the most important periods of Anniston’s history, the entry for the award states.
Crowan Cottage was built about the same time Anniston became known as the Model City of the New South, while the other two houses were built during a prosperous period that marked the city’s heyday as the “soil pipe capital of the world.”
“In terms of Anniston anyway, you couldn’t ask for any houses that are more historic,” said David Schneider, executive director for the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation. “One of them was built by the founders of the town for their parents, the Noble family. The other two were built by Charles Hamilton and William Johnston who were the two big barons of the soil pipe era.”
The fourth house, which started undergoing renovations this week, was built by James Noble, Thomas said. It is now being renovated to house a mental health center.
The Noble Park homes along with the Kilby Mansion are the only remaining historic landmarks in that area, Schneider said.
The Anniston City Board of Education purchased the Noble Park homes in the 1960s with the intention of demolishing them, although they eventually contained instructional and administrative space.
“I can remember walking through the houses and thinking that the hope was pretty dim for those places,” Schneider said. “They were being constantly vandalized. Two of them had suffered fires.”
All four homes and their land previously belonged to a private corporation that had bought it from the board of education in 2006. The corporation had the structures stabilized, then sold them to Thomas Properties in 2008.
Carla Thomas was drawn to the homes for their history and their beauty.
“They are architectural jewels,” she said. “Go down 15th Street and just drive to the end heading east and you’ll run smack into a panorama of all four and you will see the most beautiful part of Anniston.”
However, the route to renovating them has been difficult, a learning experience, she said.
Thomas spent the year after buying the homes just filling out paperwork to prepare for renovations. She spent time filling out grant applications to help fund the $1 million project, which commenced in 2009. It might have been cheaper and easier to move into an office in another part of town, but it was worth the effort, she said.
“I think it’s important to preserve one of the first residential areas of the city,” Thomas said.
She will not be accepting the award in person because of work responsibilities, but she is honored that the Alabama Historical Commission and the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation, which teamed up to create the new award, chose her project.
As much as the project has been a labor of love, Thomas said the four houses are all she plans to try to save. She’s pleased, but tired.
“I think I have done my part,” Thomas said.
Contact staff writer Laura Camper at 256-235-3545.