Burned building on Noble Street was home to industrial city’s first power supply
by Paige Rentz
prentz@annistonstar.com
Mar 21, 2013 | 9414 views |  0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Workers begin demolishing the building at the corner of Third and Noble streets Wednesday in Anniston. The building, which was erected in 1888, was gutted by fire on March 9. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
Workers begin demolishing the building at the corner of Third and Noble streets Wednesday in Anniston. The building, which was erected in 1888, was gutted by fire on March 9. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
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With an easy push from the arm of an excavator Wednesday, the northern wall of a century-old building in Anniston’s downtown went crumbling down into a pile of bricks.

Wednesday marked the start of a slow end for the historic industrial building at the corner of Third and Noble streets, as machinery began the days-long process of pulling the building down section by section and sorting its remains into trash containers holding 30 cubic yards each.

The structure, gutted by a fire on March 9, is being torn down this week due to safety concerns.

“It’s a total loss” said Scott Mims, owner of the building and the business it housed. “It burned everything in the building except the brick exterior.”

His company, ServiceMaster by Mimsco, restores fire and water damage, but he said his own building sustained too much damage to restore.

After the fire, city building inspectors declared the site a nuisance in need of abatement, said Anniston Public Works director Bob Dean.

“The supporting structure inside the building is totally burnt out, so what you have is a freestanding brick wall that could collapse at any time,” he said, adding that he was surprised the wall withstood the 70-plus mph winds during Monday’s storm.

David Schneider, senior director of preservation services for the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation, said he’s sad to see the building, an example of late Victorian commercial style and one of the oldest buildings left in the city, fall.

Erected in 1888, the building originally housed an early gas and electricity plant that provided power to the city’s residents.

The Woodstock Iron Co. first began producing electricity on a small scale in 1882, making Anniston the first city in Alabama to put the new form of energy to practical use, according to Grace Hooten Gates’ book The Model City of the New South: Anniston, Alabama, 1872-1900. The city’s first street light was installed at the intersection of 10th and Noble streets.

According to the historical summary provided to the National Register of Historic Places, the use of electricity expanded after the company town was opened to the public in 1883. By May 1884, 17 lamps lit important city intersections.

The building was part of a utility complex — which also included the gas works, a coal shed, and 40,000-cubic-foot tank that stored gas — built by the newly formed Anniston Electric and Gas Co. and contained the machinery and generators for producing electricity by means of coal. Coke gas was produced in the gas works building, coke and coal burned in long brick ovens, and the resulting smoke and gas was pumped out, purified and stored.

By 1900, Anniston customers had access to 24-hour electricity service from the plant.

In 1915, the business was sold to the Alabama Power Company, which continued the production of gas and electricity until about 1930, according to the register listing. At that time, natural gas pipelines reached the area, and Alabama Power dismantled the gas works and stuck with the production of electricity.

The company sold the portion of the property nearest Noble Street in 1956 to Glenn Andrews, who operated a sign company out of the old power plant until 1990.

In April of that year, Joe Dobbins purchased the building, from which he operated, among other endeavors, Anniston Total Home-care. Mims said he bought the building and Dobbins’ cleaning business seven years ago, and has operated ServiceMaster by Mimsco there since.

Schneider noted that while emphasis is often placed on historical people and events, history has many facets. “It’s also about technology, how people worked,” he said. “In its day, it was the most modern thing out there. It was ahead of its time and its day.”

Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.

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