The history of the Anniston Museum of Natural History begins in Norristown, Pennsylvania where, in 1915, H. Severn Regar began exhibiting his personal collection of historical objects and biological specimens. The collection included over 1,800 ornithological specimens collected by Pennsylvania naturalist William H. Werner in the latter part of the 19th Century.
In 1929 when Mr. Regar moved his business and family to Anniston, he offered the collection to the city. His only requests were that the city pay the shipping costs and provide exhibition space for the collection. In the fall of 1929, the people of Anniston raised $3,500 to bring the collection south. Annistonians then approved a $35,000 bond issue for a two-story addition to the Carnegie Library at the Southeast corner of 10th Street and Wilmer Avenue. With the collection installed, the Regar Museum officially opened to the public on August 31, 1930. It remained at this site until 1965.
The mid-60s marked a turning point for the Regar Museum. Until this time, the library’s board of directors had taken responsibility for the Museum. In January 1965, when the reorganized Calhoun County Library Board decided to build a new facility, the Anniston City Council appointed a separate Museum Board. The first members were John B. Lagarde, G. B. Daniell, Jr., Farley Berman, Mildred Goodrich, and Edward Coleman.
This Board immediately recognized the value of many objects in the Museum collection, such as two Egyptian mummies from the Ptolemaic Period and the extensive numbers of mounted birds, eggs, and nests, which included numerous species of extinct and endangered birds. Many of the birds were mounted in natural habitat groupings with backgrounds painted by Mr. Werner. They were reputed to comprise the oldest diorama collection in the United States.
In 1965, the collection was transferred to the Calhoun County War Memorial Building (1407 Gurnee Avenue), which previously housed the county library. Although inadequate, it served as a temporary home until 1976.
John B. Lagarde, Chairman of the Museum Board, had offered to donate his collection of mounted African animals to the Museum if funds could be raised to build a new facility. This opportunity, combined with the growing community interest in the Museum’s educational offerings, was a primary stimulus for a major fund drive that begun in 1974. Public subscription quickly generated over $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 the 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 single most important objective in the first years at the new location. The first two exhibits completed were the African and bird halls. Many of these early exhibits were constructed in such a way that the public could watch the Museum being built. All the exhibit halls are planned, designed, and constructed in-house by the Museum staff. A Master Plan for the exhibit hall details seven major halls, the last of which will be completed in 2000. A long-range plan guides Museum growth as an important educational, cultural, and recreational resource.