How did Opelika come into being?
Opelika first appears on maps as far back as 1733. Designated at that time on (DeCranay’s) map it was called "Oppillaka". Currently, one of the two largest cities in Lee County, Opelika was originally settled as part of Russell County, and was incorporated February 9, 1854. The original town boundaries, specified by the legislature, were described as "being one mile in every direction from the railroad station", which was thought to be the center of town. Opelika became the county seat of Lee County, Alabama on December 15, 1866. Lee County was organized from portions of Tallapoosa, Macon, Chambers, and Russell county when Alabama created nine new counties out of former Indian territory.
Where is Opelika?
Present day Opelika is located in Lee County, Alabama at the eastern part of central Alabama.
Situated at the junction of the Piedmont Plateau and Coastal plains, it is the highest point between Atlanta and New Orleans. The Chattahoochee River, which forms the Lee County, Alabama-Georgia boundary, is 15 miles due east of Opelika and is navigable to the Gulf of Mexico. Opelika is 50 miles northeast of the state capital (Montgomery), 120 miles southeast of Alabama’s largest city (Birmingham), 112 miles southwest of Atlanta, GA., and 30 miles northwest of Columbus, GA. Four federal highways which give easy access to Opelika are US 29, US 280, US 431, and I-85.
What was the single most importance industry which aided Opelika’s growth in the 19th century?
The coming of the railroads was to prove of singular importance to the growth of this tiny Alabama
town in 1848. The Montgomery and West Point Railroad Company completed an extension of the railroad from Montgomery to Opelika on March 1, 1848. Between the years of 1851 - 1869, Opelika became a true railroad crossroads with routes to West Point, GA., Columbus, GA., and Goodwater, AL. A dummy line also operated between Opelika and Auburn from 1894-1899. The railroad from Opelika to Birmingham was opened all the way in 1888. Present day Opelika, still has trains which run through the city, however, the last passenger service train was discontinued January 7, 1970.
What has Opelika’s population been over the years?
The population of Opelika through the years according to the U.S. Bureau of Census starting after the formation of Lee County in 1866 is as follows : (1870) - 2,500, (1880) - not available, (1890) - 3, 703, (1900) - 4,245, (1910) - 4,734, (1920) - 4,960, (1930) - 6,156, (1940) - 8,487, (1950) - 12,295, (1960) - 15,678, (1970) - 19,027, (1980) - 21,896, (1990) - 22, 122, and (1998) - 24,490. The year 2000 census figures will hit the 25,000 mark and Opelika continues to grow with a steady conservativeness into a well-balanced economy and a city with diverse operations.
What about Opelika’s forms of government?
Opelika was under military rule, during the reconstruction years following the Civil War. The city was granted its first charter March 3, 1870. The city surrendered this charter in 1872 and become a police district on December 6, 1872. A new charter was granted again on March 26, 1873. By 1882, city politics had gotten so out of hand, that two sets of officials were trying to run municipal affairs along with two sets of policemen. A new charter was again granted on May 1, 1889, with the Opelika Police District serving as the city’s governing body. This charter provided for a mayor and eight aldermen to be elected to two-year terms and remained in place until 1936. At that time a change was made to a three man city commission form of government with the president of the commission serving as mayor. Along with the mayor a 5 (five) person city council was instituted for the city government in October 1986. This form is presently in use.
What are some of Opelika’s (20th) twentieth century history highlights?
1900 - 1925: The first of two Alabama state governors from Opelika was elected in the fall of 1900. Honorable William J. Samford because of illness was unable to make the trip to Montgomery to take the oath of office. The House passed a bill authorizing his son, T. D. Samford, who was a notary public, to administer the oath at home> (See Samford Home). Governor Samford’s political career was cut short by his untimely death in June, 1901. The Prohibition Act which started January 1908 and ended in 1933, brought a lot of work for both city law enforcement officials and the Lee County Sheriffs Department during this first quarter of the 20th century. An article in the Opelika Daily News, May 5, 1919 listed the number of automobiles in Lee County at 650, 15 motorcycles, and thirty-four commercial cars. Opelika along with the surrounding community was shocked on June 29, 1922, when Lee County Sheriff "Buck" Jones was shot down while attempting to make an arrest. A local "posse" was formed to hunt down the perpetrator, and when found, was killed, and his body then thrown in front of the Lee County courthouse in Opelika. Members of the "posse" were never brought to trial. Representing Opelika during World War I was Company I, 167 Infantry, 42nd Division, later to become a component of the Rainbow Division under the command of Dallas B. Smith.
1925-1950: By the 1920's, Opelika had 24 daily passenger trains stopping in Opelika. In 1925, the Pepperell Manufacturing Company opened a plant in the City. A training school for nurses was established at the local hospital around 1914 and operated for 18 years. It graduated a total of 28 nurses before being closed in 1931. Franklin D. Roosevelt visited the city of Opelika in 1939. One of the biggest events to take place in Opelika during this period was the construction of a prisoner-of-war camp which was officially activated on December, 12, 1942. Called "Camp Opelika", "Opelika Internment Camp" and "Opelika PW Camp", it closed on December 8, 1945 after having interned over 2,700 prisoners.
Opelika celebrated it first centennial September 5 - 11, 1954. Copies of the Centennial Souvenir Program entitled: Opelika, Alabama 1854-1954 100 Years of Progress, can be found at the local library and includes much local history information. Also during this time, and of great importance to the community was the opening of an 80-bed acute general care hospital in 1952. Today known as East Alabama Medical Center it provides health care for the surrounding region. Major industries which supported the economy of Opelika during this third quarter of the 20th century included linen, magnetic tape, auto tires, sheet-metal and iron-fabricating plants, bottling companies, bakeries, publishing, textile, and hospital facilities. Opelika’s largest industry during these years was West Point Pepperell, a textile firm, which operated both a sheeting mill and finishing plant. In 1962, Fob James started operations for what would eventually become known at Diversified Products Corporation. At its height the company employed more than 3000 people worldwide, with 1000 in Opelika, and was considered a leader in recreational-equipment sales until its demise in 1989. Uniroyal built a plant in 1962, with the first tire being rolled off the assembly line in December 1963. Urban renewal activities were at the forefront of 1960's and 1970's political activities for Opelika.
What does the word Opelika mean?
The word Opelika comes from the Creek Indian word Opillako (Opilu - swamp, lako-large). Literally translated it means "Great Swamp". Other translations have included Owl in the Bush, Owl’s Roost, and Red Mud. However, the "Big Swamp" designation is the one most widely accepted today. There is no indication of its ever having been a swamp. Supposedly built on the site of an old Indian town, as in the case of other cities in Alabama, Indian place names of today are often located miles away from their original location. Apparently, this area was selected by the Creek Indians for its abundant supply of water from a free flowing limestone spring (Spring Villa), and the fertile soils of this area.
Who were Opelika’s earliest people?
The earliest people in Opelika were the Creeks or Muskogee Indians. Early traders called them "Creeks" because of their habit of living along rivers and streams. The "Creeks" consisted of a confederacy of several different tribes which included the Alabamo, Yuchi, Abikha and Shawnee. Few, if any of these original inhabitants remain in the community today. Evidence also points to French traders, Scotsmen, and their families being in the area as early at 1750. Following the signing of the Treaty of Cusseta with the Creek Indians on March 24, 1832, settlers began to pour into the area and by 1836 the first white pioneer families had arrived. Listed by the State Department of Archives and History as the first families settling in Opelika, they included the Williams, the Mizells, the Bullards, the Coles, the Bennetts, the Haleys, the Manghams, the Tarvers, the Pages, and the Greens. In 1837, Daniel Bullard built Lebanon, a Methodist church located within two miles of Opelika. This church eventually moved to what is now downtown Opelika with its congregation being the nucleus around which Opelika was to prosper.
What have been some of Opelika’s major industries ?
Opelika’s continued economic growth has been sustained over the years by diverse industries. Agricultural products which aided the area during the last quarter of the 19th century included cotton, beef, dairy products, forestry and poultry. Textile plants with their allied counterparts were to have a huge impact on the community during the 20th century. Chief among these was Opelika Manufacturing Company and Pepperell Manufacturing Company (today known as West Point Stevens). Opelika was also once the site of the world renowned manufacturer of "Ampex" and "Irish" brand magnetic recording tape and its accessories. Other industries have included gray iron and aluminum foundries, cardboard box plant, creamery, meat processing, stock yard, iron and sheet metal fabricating, cast stone and precast concrete products, mop plant, blind and awning manufacturer, poultry vaccine laboratory, fertilizer and seed plant, TV tube fabricator, bottling plants, bakeries, tire recappers, publishing, upholsterers, janitorial supply, athletic goods manufacturer, and an asphalt plant and tire plant.
What were some of Opelika’s significant "First’s" ?
Some of Opelika’s significant "firsts" are as follows, with the year if known appearing in parenthesis. Opelika or "Oppilaka" first appears on a map (1733). Wesley William becomes Opelika’s first postmaster (1843). Jack Holt builds the first store in Opelika. It is a small wooden shack. David Watson becomes the first dry goods merchant . Geneva street becomes the first residential street which is completely paved. It was paved from the First Baptist Church on Avenue B to the end of Geneva. The first railroad extension all the way to Opelika is in place (1848). Beverly Johnson became Opelika’s first mayor (1854). The first private schools were established and are called the Opelika Male School and the Opelika Female Academy (1859). The first Lee County courthouse house is built in Opelika by Horace King (1868). The first bank opens and is known as The Opelika National Bank (1869). Opelika’s first and only street car was discontinued (1881). The first electric plant in Opelika opens (1890). The first water works system operating by the American Pipe Manufacturing Company opens ( May 1893). Opelika is selected as one of 10 experimental post offices for the first rural free delivery service (December 1896). Carrier, James T. Ross was paid a salary of $ 40.00/per month, from which he had to feed his horse and care for his buggy. The first Coca-Cola is hand bottled in the city, and then distributed by Mr. Columbus Roberts (1902). The first hospital in the city was started and operated in a home by a Miss Johnson (1914). The first woman to cast an official ballot as a registered voter in Lee County was Mrs. C. M. Weissinger. She was first in line at the ballot box in Opelika (November 1920). The first African-American physician - Dr. John Wesley Darden begins practice in Opelika (1920's). A 16 year old girl becomes the first African-American to have a regular news column published in the local paper - Patsy Boyd Parker (1953). The first woman mayor of Opelika was elected - Barbara Patton (1996).
During the last quarter of the 20th century, Opelika has continued its growth as a thriving town in the East Alabama area. The city has received recognition at both the local and national level in areas of politics, mass media, and historic preservation arenas. In 1978, Opelika native, Fob James ran for governor of the State of Alabama and was elected for a four-year term. He was re-elected in 1994. Opelika citizens voted in their first woman mayor - Barbara Patton in 1996. In March of 1978, Opelika was discovered by Hollywood, and the filming of the movie "Norma Rae" captivated the town through June that year. Albeit small, another silver screen notice for the city occurred in 1989 in the movie "Driving Miss Daisy", with a drive- by depiction of an Opelika road sign. In 1987, Opelika began participation in Alabama’s Main Street program. Pioneered thru Alabama’s Historical Commission, this program breathed new life into Opelika’s downtown area. ISTEA grants helped with two major restoration projects and turned the old courthouse square parking area into a wonderful park. Opelika’s historic train depot has also been returned to its former glory and now houses the offices of both the Main Street program and the Opelika Arts Association. The Opelika Board of Education was responsible for the creation in 1987 of Opelika’s 1200-seat Center for the Performing Arts located on Opelika’s High School Campus. National and International performing arts series performances held at the center have included Broadway musicals, symphonies, ballet, and opera. The Arts Association continues to schedule yearly first rate entertainment for the entire community. Other events which highlight the architectural history of the city include the annual Victorian Front Porch Christmas Tour which started in 1993. Opelika’s Azalea and Dogwood Trail in the spring each years draws many visitors. The Rating Guide to Environmentally Health Metro Areas (Animas) in 1998 chose the Auburn-Opelika area as # 1 in its top-rated U.S. metro areas for environmental health.Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine featured Opelika in its June 1998 issue with a cover story entitled "Great Places to Retire". Continuing at the beginning of the 21st century, Opelika’s government and business community continue to be at the forefront of marketing the City of Opelika featuring an abundance of personal, corporate, and leisure activities which so greatly complement the quality of life in the town.