History of the Museum

Mission Statement

The Anniston Museum of Natural History is a nationally accredited museum with the purpose of enhancing public knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of living things and their environments. The Museum preserves and studies collections that relate to humankind and the natural environment and interprets these through interdisciplinary exhibits and programs. The Museum is committed to providing educational, recreational, and economic benefits which will improve the quality of life for diverse audiences.

Our Origins

     William Werner, far left; Wonderland on the Boardwalk, Atlantic City

Pre-history began on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where William H. Werner established his Wonderland Museum (1882 – 1910), offering his life’s work for public view.

Breathtaking paintings served as the backdrop for incredible specimens. This would become Mr. Werner’s legacy.


In 1915, H. Severn Regar began exhibiting his personal collection of historical objects and biological specimens in Norristown, Pennsylvania.

The collection included more than 1,800 ornithological specimens collected in the late 19th century by Pennsylvania naturalist William H. Werner.


The Early Years (1929 – 1965)

In 1929 when Mr. Regar moved his textile business and family to Anniston, he offered his collection as a gift. City leaders gratefully accepted. He made only two requests: that the city of Anniston pay shipping costs and that exhibition space be provided to allow citizens to view the collection. In autumn of 1929, Annistonians raised $3,500 to transport the collection to their southern city; later they approved a $35,000 bond issue for a two-story addition to the city’s Carnegie Library at the southeast corner of Tenth Street and Wilmer Avenue. Mr. Regar’s collection was installed in a wing of the City Library and became the responsibility of the Library Board. Regar Museum officially opened to the public on August 31, 1930, where it remained until 1965.

  Anniston Museum's first home in the Carnegie Library


New Leadership and Ideas (1965 – 1976)

The mid-60s proved pivotal for Regar Museum. When city and county libraries merged, a combined library facility was constructed. Anniston City Council saw this as an opportunity to structure a Board of Directors dedicated exclusively to Museum matters and operations. Initial members were John B. Lagarde, G. B. Daniell, Jr., Farley Berman, Mildred Goodrich, and Edward Coleman. The collection was transferred to Calhoun County War Memorial Building at 1407 Gurnee Avenue, which had housed the county library. Though conditions proved inadequate, it served as a temporary home until 1976.

 The War Memorial Building

The new Museum Board immediately recognized the significance of the Museum collection. Extraordinary offerings are the pair of Egyptian mummies of the Ptolemaic Period and an abundance of mounted birds, eggs, and nests, with numerous species of extinct and endangered birds. This avian collection was reputed to comprise the oldest diorama collection in the United States. A long-range plan was initiated to share this important collection.


Anniston Museum of Natural History (1976 – present)

John B. Lagarde, Chairman of the Museum Board, offered to donate his collection of mounted African animals to the Museum if funds could be raised to build a new facility. This opportunity, with growing community interest in Museum educational offerings, was the stimulus for a major fund drive begun in 1974. Public subscription quickly generated more than $500,000 and the City of Anniston pledged $300,000.

When federal surplus land adjacent to Fort McClellan became available to the city, special permission was granted to build the Museum facility there. This 185-acre site was subsequently named John B. Lagarde Interpretive Park. The building was designed by the architectural firm of H. Shelby Dean and Richard H. Fox; construction began in January 1976. The facility was named Anniston Museum of Natural History, and the collections were transferred in December 1976.

   

Exhibit construction was the primary objective in the first years at the new location, with the Africa and bird exhibits completed first. A 1976 master plan detailing seven major halls was meticulously executed and completed 24 years later in 2000. Exhibits were planned, designed and constructed in-house by Museum staff, and were created to allow the public to view the progress. A Changing Exhibit Gallery allows a constant variety of exhibits – either curated by Anniston Museum staff from our own vast collection of non-exhibited holdings, or exhibits from museums around America.

    far left, construction of the cave; left, building a Baobab Tree.

Beyond these Museum walls, staff members and volunteers cultivated a museum of flora and fauna in natural surroundings, in situ. Beautiful gardens, hiking trails, and aquatic life afford visitors views of nature in both nocturnal and diurnal settings, which serve as resources of great beauty and educational value.

  Workers complete renovations to Bird Of Prey Trail

In 1991, Anniston Museum of Natural History was accredited by American Association of Museums. In 2002, the Museum was awarded status as an affiliate of Smithsonian Institution – the first in Alabama to receive this designation.


Our Future

Since 1930, more than 2 million visitors have walked the halls of Anniston Museum of Natural History. We will strive to serve millions more as an important source of education, recreation, and culture. The natural history collection – our reason to exist – will continue to provide our guests the opportunity to view nature in its pure form.


Museums embody what a culture values most and preserve what it considers most meaningful.
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