Located in northeast Alabama, Calhoun County is home to Anniston, a leader in textile and iron ore production during the late-nineteenth
and early-twentieth centuries. Calhoun County is also home to two major military installations, the now-decommissioned Fort McClellan and Anniston Army Depot. The Anniston Star, founded and run by the Ayers family, was a leader in antisegregationist journalism during the civil rights movement. The
county is governed by an elected five-member commission and includes seven incorporated communities, each governed by a mayor
and city council.
· Founding Date: December 18, 1832
· Area: 611 square miles
· Population: 118,572 (2010 Census)
· Major Waterways: Coosa River
· Major Highways; I-20, U.S. 431, U.S. 78
· County Seat: Anniston
· Largest City: Anniston
Calhoun County was created by legislative act on December 18, 1832. The county was initially named Benton County in honor of Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton, an arch defender of westward expansion and slavery. After Benton declared himself an opponent of slavery in the 1850s, Alabama supporters of slavery voted to change the county's name to Calhoun in honor of radical secessionist John C. Calhoun. During the territorial period, the county was home to the Creek and Cherokee Indians who ceded modern-day Calhoun County to the United States in the Treaty of Cusseta. In 1813, one of the first battles of the Creek War was fought when Andrew Jackson ordered Gen. John Coffee to destroy the Creek town of Tallasseehatchee located in the present-day community of Alexandria. During the battle, which was fought in retaliation for the Fort Mims massacre, U.S. forces accompanied by friendly Creeks killed 187 men, women, and children within the town. During the Civil War, local Senator John Tyler Morgan raised and organized the 51st Alabama Calvary which fought with General Joe Wheeler. In addition, one of the most lauded soldiers of the war, Major John Pelham, also known as "the Gallant Pelham," was born in Calhoun county, and the 10th Alabama Volunteers and the Calhoun Sharpshooters (Company B of the 5th Alabama Battalion) both served during the Civil War from the county.
Attracted by the rich ore deposits in the Calhoun County countryside, Daniel Tyler, a former Union General from Connecticut, and Englishman Samuel Noble joined forces in 1872 to establish Woodstock Iron Company. The two men built what they deemed an "ideal" industrial community in the south-central area of the county. Originally called "Annie's Town" after Tyler's daughter-in- law, the town's name was eventually shortened to Anniston. By 1893, the community contained two iron furnaces, a cotton textile mill, schools, parks, paved streets, a water system, and the first electric lighting system in the state of Alabama. By the 1880s, it was the state's fastest-growing town, prompting Atlanta newspaper man and New South booster Henry Grady to term it "the model city of the New South." By the 1920s, the city had diversified by adding several textile mills to its 13 iron foundries, which made Anniston the world's largest producer of cast-iron pipe.
Later in the century, Anniston made national headlines when the Ku Klux Klan burned a bus carrying the Freedom Riders on Mother's Day in 1961. During the civil rights era, The Anniston Star newspaper gained a reputation as one of the few liberal newspapers in Alabama. In 2002, Anniston again found itself in the national news when the Washington Post reported that multinational chemical company Monsanto, which bought the company that produced PCBs in the 1930s, had been dumping toxic waste and PCBs into nearby creeks. Several citizens living near the Monsanto plant filed class-action lawsuits against the company. In 2003, the Anniston Army Depot was likewise criticized for its disposal of chemical weapons.
On April 27, 2011, a massive storm, causing numerous powerful tornadoes, struck the southeastern United States. More than 250 people were killed in Alabama, including nine people in Calhoun County. Victims were from the following communities: Ohatchee (5 deaths), Piedmont (1 death), Webster's Chapel (1 death), and Wellington (2 deaths).
Major Cities and Demographics
At the time of the 2010 Census, Calhoun County recorded a population of 118,572. Of that total,74.9 percent of respondents identified themselves as white, 20.6 percent as African American, 3.3 percent as Hispanic, 1.7 as two or more races, 0.7 as Asian, and 0.5 as Native Americans. The county seat, Anniston, had an estimated population of 23,106. Other towns in the county are Jacksonville, Oxford, Piedmont, and Weaver. According to the 2009 Census Bureau estimates, the median household income was $38,382, compared with $40,547 for the state as a whole, and the per capita income was $21,372, compared with $22,732 for the state as a whole.
Like many of the counties in Alabama, Calhoun was a largely agricultural area during the nineteenth century. Local farmers grew a mixed crop of cotton, corn, and wheat, and the first grist mill, Aderholdt's Mill, located on Tallaseehatchee Creek, opened in 1836. Economic strain, during and after the Civil War, forced the region's industrialists and entrepreneurs to diversify. In 1890 leaders of the town of Piedmont, located in the northern section of the county, formed the Piedmont Land and Improvement Company which built a successful cotton mill and hotel along the railroad lines that ran through the town. In addition, Calhoun County's mineral wealth made it an ideal location for several iron-ore foundries. The town of Anniston was founded in 1872 as a model industrial community and by the turn of the century had become an economic powerhouse in the cast-iron and textile industries. In 1917 the U.S. War Department established Camp McClellan to train soldiers for World War I. In 1929 the army changed the name to Fort McClellan, and in 1940 the first of approximately 500,000 World War II soldiers arrived for training. In addition to Fort McClellan the War Department also added the Anniston Army Depot in 1940. In 1972, the renowned Alabama Shakespeare Festival was founded in Anniston and remained there until 1985, when it relocated to Montgomery.
The workforce in present-day Calhoun County is divided among the following occupational categories:
· Educational services, and health care and social assistance (20.6 percent)
· Manufacturing (19.0 percent)
· Retail trade (11.6 percent)
· Public administration (9.3 percent)
· Arts, entertainment, and recreation, and accommodation and food services (7.7 percent)
· Professional, scientific, management, administrative, and waste management services (6.9 percent)
· Construction (6.3 percent)
· Transportation and warehousing, and utilities (5.1 percent)
· Other services, except public administration (4.5 percent)
· Finance and insurance, and real estate, rental, and leasing (3.6 percent)
· Wholesale trade (2.7 percent)
· Information (1.7 percent)
· Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (0.9 percent)
The Calhoun County School System currently employees 570 teachers and administrators who serve more than 9,400 students in 39 schools. In addition, Calhoun County also contains 15 private schools with enrollments of approximately 1970 students. The county is home to Jacksonville State University, a public coeducational university founded in 1883.
Comprising approximately 611 square miles, Calhoun County lies in the northeastern area of the state, wholly within the Appalachian Valley and Ridge physiographic section. Parts of Calhoun County were carved out when Cleburne and Etowah counties were established. It is bounded to the northwest by Etowah County, to the northeast by Cherokee County, to the east by Cleburne County, to the south by Talladega County, and to the west by St. Clair County. Portions of the eastern and southern edges of the county lie within the Talladega National Forrest.
The Coosa River runs along the western edge of the county, and several of its tributaries, including Cane, Ohatchee, and Choccolocco creeks, intersect the area. The Coosa River was dammed in 1969 by Alabama Power to create H. Neely Henry Lake. U.S. 431 is Calhoun County's major transportation route, running north to south in the west-central part of the state. Interstate 20 runs through the southern tip of the county, and U.S. 78 parallels the county's southern border. Anniston Metropolitan Airport is the county's only public airport.
Events and Places of Interest
Calhoun County's location makes it ideal for several outdoor activities. Talladega National Forest in the eastern part of the county is home to several acres of mountain longleaf pine forest. The 100-mile Pinhoti Trail, one of the top destinations in the Talladega National Forest, begins at the town of Piedmont in the northern part of Calhoun County. H. Neely Henry Lake located along the western edge of the region is renowned for its largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass and catfish fishing. Coldwater Spring, a tributary of the Coosa River that serves as Anniston's primary water source, is home to the endangered pygmy sculpin, a rare fish species found only in the spring.
The downtown historic district of Anniston includes several Art Deco and Classical Revival structures including the Kilby House which belonged to Governor Thomas Kilby. The Berman Museum of World History, located in Anniston, boasts 8,000 artifacts, and the Anniston Museum of Natural History includes seven open-air exhibit halls. The town of Oxford is home to Cider Ridge Golf Course, an 18-hole course that traverses Hillabee and Choccolocco Creeks. Each year, the city of Anniston hosts the Knox Concert Series, which features classical and popular music concerts by world-renowned performers. The Dr. J. C. Francis Medical Museum and Apothecary in Jacksonville is housed in the circa-1850 Greek Revival office of J. C. Francis, a local family doctor; it features exhibits of medical and pharmaceutical tools from the mid-nineteenth century.
Gates, Grace Hooton. Model City of the New South: Anniston, Alabama 1872-1900. Huntsville, Ala.: Strode Publishers, c. 1978.
Stewart, Margaret Estelle. Alabama's Calhoun County. Centre, Ala.: Stewart University Press, 1976.
Heritage of Calhoun County, Alabama. Clanton, Ala.: Heritage Publishing Consultants, Inc., 1998.
Patricia Hoskins Morton
Published June 28, 2007
Last updated November 7, 2013