Sunday, April 12, 2009
Opelika is a city in and the county seat of Lee County in the east central part of the U.S. state of Alabama. It is a principal city, along with Auburn, in the Auburn Metropolitan Area. According to 2007 Census estimates, the population of Opelika is 25,836. The Auburn-Opelika, Alabama MSA with a population of 130,516 which, along with the Columbus, Georgia-Alabama MSA and the Tuskegee, Alabama Micropolitan Statistical Area, comprises the greater Columbus-Auburn-Opelika, Georgia-Alabama Combined Statistical Area a region home to approximately 500,000 residents.
The first white settlers in the area now known as Opelika arrived in the late 1830s and established a community called Lebenon. After the removal of the native peoples by force in 1836-37, the area became known as "Opelika", taken from a word in the Muskogee language meaning "large swamp". Settlement was sporadic until the late 1840s, when Opelika quickly became a commercial center with the coming of the railroad.
Railroad Avenue, A part of the shopping experience in Historic downtown Opelika
In 1848, the Montgomery & West Point Railroad Company extended a rail line from Montgomery, Alabama to Opelika, and in 1851 completed a connection to West Point, Georgia, thus connecting Opelika with Atlanta, Georgia. This line was the only direct rail route between New Orleans and the Eastern Seaboard, and rapidly became one of the primary trade lines for shipments of raw cotton from Southern plantations to the North. The Montgomery & West Point was soon joined by a rail connection to Columbus, Georgia in 1855, and a connection to Birmingham, Alabama in 1869. Almost overnight, Opelika became a regional hub for commerce.
Railroad tracks in downtown Opelika.
To manage this rapid growth, Opelika was incorporated as a town on February 9, 1854. As a result of Opelika's transportation infrastructure, many warehouses for storing cotton and other goods were built. With the onset of the Civil War these warehouses were converted to Confederate supply depots. In 1864 and 1865, Union raids commanded by Lovell Rousseau and James H. Wilson attacked Opelika, tearing up the railroads and destroying all government property, including Opelika's warehouses.
Lee County Courthouse
Soon after the end of the war, the Alabama state legislature created a new county out of parts of Macon, Russell, Chambers, and Tallapoosa counties to be named after Confederate general Robert E. Lee. In 1866, citizens of the new "Lee County" voted Opelika as the county seat, despite the fact that Opelika was technically unincorporated after having its charter revoked for abetting the rebellion against the United States.
Performing Arts Center
After Opelika received a new charter in 1870, rapid growth resumed. The town nearly doubled in size between 1870 and 1900. During this time, Opelika began to gain a reputation as a wild, lawless town. Soon after receiving the new charter, city officials attempted to scam outside investors by issuing fake railroad bonds. For this, the town's charter was revoked again in 1872, and the town was administered as a police district by the state legislature for the following year. Opelika's downtown was packed with saloons, and frequent gunfire in the streets led to railroads ordering passengers passing through Opelika to duck beneath the windows to avoid being shot.
Rocky Brook Rocket
In 1882, voters dismissed the incumbent city government. Unwilling to give up power, the city council nullified the election until the courts ruled against them. When the state yet again revoked Opelika's charter, the city leaders took up arms against those that opposed them, and the governor was forced to send in the militia to restore order. Opelika remained under unelected military rule for the sixteen years until 1899, when Opelika's charter was again restored.
Tree in Municipal Park in the Fall, Opelika is just beautiful in the Fall!
In 1900, local investors founded the Opelika Cotton Mill as the first textile plant in the city, employing 125. Attempts to expand the textile industry in Opelika continued for the next three decades, and in 1925 city officials were able to use a $62,500 bribe to induce the executives of the Pepperell Manufacturing Co. (now WestPoint International) to construct a large mill just outside of the Opelika city limits. The period between 1930 and 1970 would turn out to be Opelika's heyday, as industrial growth turned Opelika into a regional economic powerhouse.
Opelika at night
Opelika continued to add factories and other industry throughout the middle years of the twentieth century. In the 1950s, Opelika attracted the nation's first and largest magnetic tape manufacturing plant. In 1963, tire manufacturer Uniroyal constructed a massive plant in Opelika, and around the same time Diversified Products revolutionized the physical fitness equipment industry with products produced their Opelika plant. By the early 1970s, Opelika's industries employed nearly 10,000.
Grand National Golf Course
Between the late 1970s and 2005, non-agricultural employment in the Auburn-Opelika, AL MSA grew at a slow and steady pace. Of the goods producing industries, the metropolitan area has experienced the most change in manufacturing, peaking in the late 1980s with declining employment since then. This trend appears to be changing, however, as the number of manufacturing jobs has risen steadily since 2002.
Veterans Memorial Monument, Built to honor all of Opelika's military men and women!
In the late 1990s, Opelika sought to increase its industrial employment base by purchasing and developing the Northeast Opelika Industrial Park. The 1,900-acre (7.7 km2) park site was purchased with funds from two bond issues, commonly called the 1998A and 1998B issues, totaling $10,280,000. Additional expenditures involved in constructing the Northeast Opelika Industrial Park included $4.3 million transferred from the City's general fund to the Opelika Industrial Development Authority (OIDA) between 1997 and 2000, a $1.9 million federal industrial park access road grant, $2.5million from Opelika Water Works Board and the City of Opelika to sewer and water the park, $12.1 million from the Alabama Department of Transportation to construct an interchange. Additional expenditures were made by Tallapoosa Electric Cooperative for an electrical substation and by the OIDA for building construction for park tenants. Final expenditures for the land and development of the park totaled approximately $32 million. Since 1999, two major distribution centers and four tier 1automotive suppliers have located within the park. The site has also attracted serious interest from automakers Audi, Nissan, and Hyundai. In the summer of 2003, the park was recognized as one of the "South's Best Automotive Assembly Plant Sites" by Southern Business & Development, an industry trade publication.
Victorian Front Porch Christmas, Just one of the many life sized scenes along the Victorian Front Porch tour
Opelika has also experienced a boom in retail development. TigerTown, a new 130-acre (0.53 km2) mixed-use development, will be east Alabama's largest retail center with more than 1,000,000 sqft of retail space when completed. Located at the intersection of Interstate 85 and Highway 280 in Opelika, TigerTown's tenants include The Home Depot, Target, Best Buy, Starbucks Coffee, PETCO, Office Depot, Hibbett Sports, World Market, Hobby Lobby, and Old Navy, to name a few.
As industrial and retail growth spur the city forward, the city has seen an increase in its population. Opelika's population stood in 2000 at 23,638, estimates show Opelika's 2007 population to be 25,836.
Mando Corporation was recruited to Opelika in 2005.
Over the past several years, Opelika’s economy has shifted away from a traditional basis in textile manufacturing. Since 2004, the city has experienced revitalization in many segments of the economy, including commercial, residential and industrial activity. Capital investment since 2005 has totaled 357.2 million, and more than 1495new jobs have been created.
Gingerbread House, 405 South Ninth Street, Opelika, Lee County, AL
Recent projects include 170,000 square feet Daewon, an employer of 170 employees. Other new, large employers include Gambro Renal Products (a Swedish manufacturer of dialyzers for kidney dialysis). Gambro made the largest single initial investment in Lee County’s history of $110 million.
Spring Villa, Spring Villa Road, Opelika vicinity, Lee County, AL
The Tiger Town retail shopping complex continues to expand its commercial developments with the recent openings of Kohl's and Bed Bath and Beyond.
Moffitt's Mill, Opelika vicinity, Lee County, AL
Opelika has received several honors over the last several years for its success in attracting new business. In 2004, the city of Opelika's Economic Development Department was named one of the top 10 economic development groups in North America by Site Selection magazine, a national industry trade publication covering corporate real estate management and economic development. Site Selection again recognized the efforts of the Opelika Economic Development Department in its Top Groups 2005 list in the Honorable Mention category.
Kilgore House, 411 Geneva Street, Opelika, Lee County, AL
In early 2006, the Economic Development Association of Alabama named Opelika the top community in Alabama for business recruitment for the year 2005. Opelika also received the #1 rank in the South as "Small Market of the Year" by Southern Business and Development magazine, a professional publication that helps corporations around the country (and world) in their expansion, relocation and development decisions. The city earned its #1 status through its success in bringing Gambro, Jo-Ann, Maxforma, Benteler and Mando Corporation to the community in 2005.
McNamee-Torbert House, 410 Geneva Street, Opelika, Lee County, AL
The Auburn-Opelika Metropolitan Statistical Area was recently named by Golf Digest as the #1 area for golf in the United States. One part of the reason this area received this ranking is that Opelika is home to Robert Trent Jones Grand National. The site for the course, which hugs the edge of Lake Saugahatchee in Opelika's northwest, was described by Jones as the "single greatest" site for a golf complex that he had ever seen. The course, which is considered to be the jewel of Alabama's Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, has hosted a number of national tournaments, including the 1997 Nike Tour championship, the 1998 LPGA Tournament of Champions, and the 2000 NCAA Men's Division 1 National Championship. The region's moderate climate in the location of several other world-class golf facilities in adjacent Auburn also played a part in this selection.
Notable people from Opelika:
Joe Beckwith - former Major League baseball pitcher with the 1985 World Series champion Kansas City Royals
Brad Cotter - country music singer
William Dickinson - U.S. Congressman from 1965 to 1993
Billy Hitchcock - former Atlanta Braves manager
Robert L. Howard - soldier of the U.S. Army
Roy Lee Jackson - former Major League baseball player
Rob Penny - playwright
Lee W. Smith - diplomat, U.S. State Department
James Voss - NASA astronaut
Erick Strickland - Former NBA player
Greg Taylor - Former NFL player who played WR for the NY Giants in the early 90's.
Brian Smith - Former NFL player who played DE for the Denver Broncos in the early 90's.
Joe Thomas - Platinum R&B Recording Artist
Trace Pridgen - Auburn University ultimate Frisbee player
Opelika in film:
Parts of the 1979 movie Norma Rae were filmed in Opelika.
Opelika is mentioned in the Academy Award-winning film Driving Miss Daisy
Opelika Documentary Films: GuttaButta "Opelika City Limit" and GuttaButta 2 "Alabama State Line"
Opelika in music:
Bubba Sparxxx mentions Opelika, Alabama in his song "Nowhere" from the album Deliverance.
The Pine Hill Haints have a song called "Opelika Train"
Yung Envy mentions Opelika at the end of his song " I Like Her"
Johnny Cash mentions Opelika in his song "I've Been Everywhere"
Lil' Wayne mentions Opelika in his song "The Rapper Eater"
Opelika in literature:
Caroline Ivey's characters in her novel Family visit Opelika.
The reconstructed Salem-Shotwell Covered Bridge in Opelika, Alabama.
The Salem-Shotwell Covered Bridge, also known as the Pea Ridge Covered Bridge, is a locally owned wooden covered bridge that spans Rocky Brook in Lee County, Alabama, United States. It is located halfway down Park Road (formerly the east end of 7th Avenue) at Opelika Municipal Park, which is off North 5th Street in the city of Opelika. Coordinates are 32°39′33.46″N 85°22′52.94″W / 32.6592944°N 85.3813722°W / 32.6592944; -85.3813722 (32.659294, -85.381372).
Originally built in 1900, the 43-foot (13-meter) bridge is a Town Lattice truss construction over a single span. Its WGCB number is 01-41-B, formerly 01-41-04. The Salem-Shotwell Covered Bridge is one of five existing covered bridges in Alabama built before 1950 not listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was destroyed by a fallen tree in 2005 at its original location near Salem, then rebuilt in 2007 at Opelika Municipal Park. The bridge is maintained by the Opelika Kiwanis Club and the City of Opelika.
The Salem-Shotwell Covered Bridge was first built by Otto Puls, originally located over Wacoochee Creek on what is now Shotwell Road (CR 252) just north of the community of Salem (Coordinates 32°36′35.09″N 85°12′30.33″W / 32.6097472°N 85.208425°W / 32.6097472; -85.208425 (32.609747, -85.208425)). This was about 10 miles (16 kilometers) east of its current location. At that time, the bridge was 76 feet (23 m) in length...constructed using longleaf heart pine, cedar roof shakes and hand-hewn white oak pegs which joined the latticework, roof trusses and substructure. The bridge shortened the travel time between the communities of Salem and Shotwell. Occasional repairs were made over the years, along with a restoration of the bridge by the Lee County Commission in 1973, but high water and erosion from various storms had once again taken a toll on the bridge supports. Eventually, the Salem-Shotwell Covered Bridge was closed to motor traffic in 1994 and left to survive the elements.
In the early morning hours of June 4, 2005, a severe thunderstorm passed through the Lee County area. High winds caused a tree to fall on the Salem-Shotwell Covered Bridge, causing major damage. The added weight collapsed the bridge into Wacoochee Creek later that day. Being the only historic covered bridge remaining in southeastern Alabama, the loss was heartbreaking. Most of the pieces were able to be recovered over the next few weeks and were stored at a vacant commercial building in Opelika until plans could be made regarding the future of the bridge.
After months of negoations, the Lee County Commission approved to transfer ownership of what remained of the Salem-Shotwell Covered Bridge to the City of Opelika during a meeting held on October 31, 2005. An agreement was reached by the Lee County Historical Society and the Opelika Kiwanis Club to reconstruct the bridge over Rocky Brook at Opelika Municipal Park. A resolution was unanimously passed on April 4, 2006by the Opelika City Council to assist with the bridge relocation and renovations. The project was spearheaded by the Opelika Kiwanis Club, who had already begun a donation drive to raise funds needed in order to proceed with the move. A number of individuals, businesses and organizations donated money for the greatly valued cause.
Reconstruction of Salem-Shotwell Covered Bridge eventually began on February 2, 2007 over a section of Rocky Brook which had already been cleared, graded and landscaped for foundation settlement. Due to the amount of usable original materials and in order to fit the new span, the bridge was shortened from 76 feet to 43 feet in length. The Town Lattice truss setup was kept, using many of the pieces which were recovered from Wacoochee Creek. A change was made to the exterior wooden sides covering the lattices, now just draping the bottom section so park visitors can view the brook and other surroundings from inside the bridge. On the original construction, in order to prevent damage from high water, most of the lattices were covered and only the top sections exposed for light. Two lights have been placed inside the bridge for nighttime illumination. The reconstruction project and final landscaping took about six months to complete at a cost of roughly $60,000.00.
On August 14, 2007, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at Opelika Municipal Park to re-open the Salem-Shotwell Covered Bridge to the public. A piece of history once again stands in Lee County. Current photos of the bridge as well as its reconstruction can be viewed on the Opelika Kiwanis Club website (linked below).
Old Covered Bridge
(Salem Shotwell or Pea Ridge, 76', 1900, 01-41-04 - GONE 6-4-05.) across Wacoochee Creek E. of Opelika, Lee County, AL. US280 E. 8.6 miles from jct with I85 exit 62 on the E. side of Opelika, N. on Lee Road 254 1.3 miles, E. on Lee Road 252 0.4 miles to the bridge. (1-8-99, N32 36.59 W85 12.50) Photo by Mark Comstock.
Bottom 2 photos by Larry Wisener 6-16-05.
Click Here For The Salem Shotwell Covered Nridge Restoration
History of the Rocky Brook Rocket
By: Bill Harrelson, Director Parks & Recreation
March 17, 2008
September 20, 1951, the Opelika Board of Parks and Recreation hired the first full time Director. Thirty one year old W.J. (Bill) Calhoun from Nashville, Tennessee was hired and an office at city hall was made available. The park board had functioned since May 15, 1946, making Opelika one of the oldest municipal recreation departments in the State of Alabama. The first Opelika Park Board members were Marion Hyatt, I.J. Scott Sr., George Ball, T.K Davis Jr. and Claud Brown Sr. A summer program was run under the direction of Opelika High School Athletic Director “Coach” Sam Mason from 1946 through 1948. Mrs. Ann Cannon Price was hired as the first year round recreation director from 1948 until 1951. Even though Mrs. Price worked full time, her job was still tied in with the board of education and she used school facilities for all activities.
Municipal Park was the first dedicated park under the direction of the newly formed park board. This twenty acre tract was made available through the generosity of I.J. Scott Sr., a charter member of the park board. Mr. Winston Smith T Sr. also donated a tract of property adjacent to the Scott land. Through the efforts of the city and volunteers, the area adjacent to Rocky Brook Road, now known as Miles Thomas Field, was cleared and the first softball game was played, under the lights, on July 6, 1949. A second diamond was added in May of 1952.
When Mr. Calhoun came to work in 1951, one of his top priorities was the development of the wooded area behind Northside School, now known as Municipal Park. He thought that the wooded area with the beautiful rock filled creek flowing through it made the perfect setting for playgrounds, camping, church and family outings. The park began to come together with the clearing of the area by city crews and volunteers. Mr. Calhoun began to think of something that would be an attraction in newly formed Municipal Park and something that would serve as a catalyst for public recreation in Opelika.
Between Mr. Calhoun and the park board the idea of a miniature train to run through Municipal Park was born. During the early 1950’s a 2 cent per package cigarette tax was levied with the proceeds going to the park board. Records indicate there was considerable jockeying between the park board and representatives from the neighborhoods for equitable disbursement of these funds. The board soon realized that any money spent in Municipal Park in the Northside Neighborhood would have to be a city wide effort. Although the City of Opelika had the foresight to form a park board through the Alabama Legislature, public recreation was not considered a city service that needed to be funded. There was no capital plan or any funding other than in-kind city services given to the park board at that time.
It was decided that the train would be financed through the civic clubs within the City of Opelika. Mr. Calhoun went to the Opelika Interclub Council for their approval and then visited each club to ask for their help. He even had a representative, from a miniature train company in Atlanta, accompany him to several meetings. They explained the benefits and the money that could be raised by such an attraction. A budget of $10,000.00 was set for the project. This figure included the purchase of the forty three foot train, 1130 feet of track, and the necessary materials to put the train in operation.
There were seven civic clubs that pledged their support of the project. The clubs pledged various amounts of money based on their membership. There was an association formed called the “Opelika Civic Clubs’ Scenic Railroad Association”. (OCCSRA) Each club appointed a member to serve on that board. This board became commonly referred to as the “Train Board”. Charter members of the board were as follows:
1. Rotary Club – Mr. T.C. Carr (Chairman)
2. Pilot Club – Mrs. Sara Nell Lockett (Secretary / Treasurer)
3. Jaycees – Malcolm Humphries
4. Lions Club – Mr. W.E. Stewart
5. Exchange Club – Mr. Edgar Ratcliff
6. Civitan Club – Mr. Bruce Caldwell
7. Kiwanis Club – Mr. Otis Ward
(Ex-officio Member – Mr. Bill Calhoun, Director of Parks and Recreation)
The fact that the Opelika Civic Clubs underwrote the $10,000.00 cost of the train is common knowledge among most Opelika citizens. What is not known by most is that the money was not donated but loaned. There was a lease agreement between the City of Opelika and the “Opelika Civic Clubs’ Scenic Railroad Association” that leased Municipal Park and the Train for $1.00 an year to the OCCSRA. This association was incorporated on June 23, 1955. This lease ran for twenty years. It was agreed that the OCCSRA would pay the civic clubs annual payments plus 5% interest from the proceeds from the train rides. Ride prices were set at fifteen cents for three trips around the park.
By May of 1955 the park had been cleared with the help of city departments and volunteers. Park Road was graded and paved and the bed for the train tracks was laid. There were picnic tables and grills donated by individuals, businesses, and clubs. “We have purposely kept one of the original concrete tables in the park over the years”.
The train was ordered and a deal was struck with “Central of Georgia” to provide the cross ties, construct the bridges, and lay the track at no cost to the city or the OCCSRA. The train was ordered from Chance Manufacturing Co. Wichita, Kansas. The train was actually built by a sister company of Chance Manufacturing called Miniature Train Company of Rensselaer, Indiana. This company was later bought out by the “Allen Hershell Company”. The train ordered was called a “G-16”, the 16 denoted the scale and every detail of the train was a 16 to 1 ratio of the modern diesel locomotive of the time.
The train was ordered, the park and tracks were well underway to completion and the train was set to be delivered by rail express on the 25th of June. The next order of business was the naming of the locomotive. It was decided that there would be a city wide contest to name the train with OCCSRA serving as judges. The winning entry would get a one year pass to ride the train.
The winning name was the “Rocky Brook Rocket” submitted by a fifth grade student at Northside Elementary, David McGinty. I don’t believe in the 53 years that have followed, that there could have been a more appropriate name.
Now everything was ready. The train was named and in route, the park and track was complete, the opening ceremonies were planned for July 1, 1955 and the bill of laden had been delivered. June 25th got here and the train was AWOL. The railroad said that the train was on a sidetrack somewhere between Indiana and Opelika. The opening ceremonies were postponed until July 8th, but the train would run as soon as it arrived and was put into operation. Mr. Calhoun received a call on June 30th saying that the train was in Opelika. He immediately called Light and Power Superintendent R.J. McBurney and immediate plans were made to transport the “Rocky Brook Rocket” to Municipal Park.
The better part of the day on July 1st was spent in getting the train operational and making sure it was ready for the public. At 6:05 PM that day, the Rocket pulled out of the Municipal Park Depot with 15 passengers and Mr. Calhoun at the throttle. The engineer duties were then turned over to Mr. H.J. Freeman. Mr. Freeman was a 34 year employee of the railroad and was hired by the OCCSRA to run the train and take care of maintenance and track repair. The train operated the rest of that week with the opening ceremonies planned for Saturday July 8, 1955. Saturday morning came and it was a terrible day with wind, rain, and lightning in the area. After all the delays the ceremonies were started with all speeches cut short and the public rides cancelled. The christening did take place with Mr. A.D. Sanders, chairman of the park board, doing the honors. The “Rocky Brook Rocket” was christened with a bottle of fresh, cool creek water from the park, and the legend began.
The first year of operation, running from July 1st through October 1, 1955, profited $602.25. It was decided that for that year only the 5% interest would be paid to the clubs with the remainder of the money kept in savings to begin operation April 1, 1956. The OCCSRA stayed in the black for the next few years and began to repay the debt to the respective civic clubs. Mr. Calhoun always told me that when the clubs began to see the growth of public recreation in Opelika and the success of the Rocket, the clubs, one by one, began to forgive the debt. He also said that he didn’t think the OCCSRA continued to pay the $1.00 per year lease. During the next several years the OCCSRA was reduced to a five member board referred to as the “Train Board”. The board functioned and stayed in the black until 1984 when it was dissolved by the City of Opelika. The last train board meeting was held February 27, 1984 with the following members present: Claud Brown, Edgar Ratcliff, Athol Sylvester, Bruce Caldwell and appropriately W.J. (Bill) Calhoun.
During the 1990’s the Rocket fell on hard times. The train and the tracks began showing their years. There was a project in the mid 1990’s by the Opelika Kiwanis Club to give the train a facelift and get the Rocket in good mechanical condition. This prolonged the running of the Rocket for a few years, but the train parts about this time became unavailable. The Allen Hershell Company recently began to manufacture more and more parts to keep the G-16 trains across the country operating. During the last year several City of Opelika departments as well as the Opelika Rotary Club and Scott Bridge Company have made tremendous contributions through financial support and services to get the Rocket operational again. Special thanks needs to be given to Don Sorjonen, Curtis “Bruno” Prince and Chuck Sanders for volunteering their time during the past year to put the Rocket back on the tracks.
The “Rocky Brook Rocket” has provided fun and family entertainment to thousands of Opelika Citizens since 1955. More importantly, this little train was the catalyst that brought public recreation together in Opelika. Mr. Calhoun was laughed at when he started this project in the early 1950’s. Even after the train was put into operation many called it “Calhoun’s Folley” and other derogatory names. Mr. Calhoun always said, and I certainly agree. “Without the ‘Rocky Brook Rocket’ public recreation in Opelika would have been set back many years”.
With the groundbreaking of the “Opelika Sportsplex and Aquatics Center” all Opelika residents should thank the citizens mentioned in this history for their vision for public recreation during a time when it was considered unnecessary by most.
City of Opelika Web Site
Chewacla Limeworks, Limekiln Road, Chewacla, Lee County, AL
Old Lime Pit
Remains of Old Lime Kilns
Convict Quarters or Keep
Tucker-Fincher House, U.S. Route 431, Mount Jefferson, Lee County, AL
Posted by Palmer at 10:53 AM