Thursday, May 7, 2009

History of Opelika, Alabama

While the exact date of Opelika's founding remains in question, the city was one of many that sprang up as a result of settlers coming into Creek Indian territory following the signing of the final treaty with the Creek Nation in 1832.
Opelika grew around the Railroad Avenue Historic District with city limits extending one mile in every direction around the Montgomery and West Point Railway station.

During the Civil War, Opelika obtained its own battle scars. With orders from General Sherman, General Lovell Rousseau left Decatur with 2,700 cavalry beginning his raid into East Central Alabama. That raid ended successfully in Opelika on July 19, 1864, after miles of track were destroyed along with other railroad equipment, two depots, and several warehouses brimming with supplies for the Confederate forces defending Atlanta. The regimen then turned Northeast to join Sherman's army advancing towards Atlanta.

During the 1860's & 70's, the structures along what is now South Railroad Avenue housed businesses such as saloons and brothels. In 1894, a franchise was granted to the Opelika and Auburn Electric Railway Company to run a train nearly every hour between the two communities.

Several well known personalities have come through on those trains. Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, & Chief Sitting Bull, as well as statesmen such as Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, & Woodrow Wilson. Other notables are Will Rogers, Duke Ellington, & Jefferson Davis. The last passenger train pulled out in 1970 but freight trains still come through today.

One of Opelika's prize possessions, yesterday & today, is its Northside Historic District. During the holiday season this district comes alive with twinkling lights and luminaries when the historic Victorian homes of Opelika are transformed into an Old World Christmas wonderland for their annual "Victorian Front Porch Christmas". More than 60 turn-of-the-century homes are adorned with life-size Santas, angels, toys, teddy bears, carousel horses, and other figures. Featured in "Southern Living" & "Better Homes & Gardens", Opelika artist Jan Jones spent years creating the impressive displays by loving hand. Voted one of the Southeast's top tourism events, this unique spectacle is now in its 16th year and sees more than 10,000 visitors annually. (All of the above information is from the Official Visitors Guide).

We live only about 2 hours from Opelika & this sounds like something fun to do at Christmas. If you are in the area during the holidays come check it out. Opelika is right on I-85 just about 30 minutes from the Georgia border.

Tomorrow our family will be visiting the Historic district, Railroad Avenue & The Museum of East Alabama (all in downtown Opelika). So check back to see what we discovered! I will not be able to post photos for these posts until I return home next week (forgot the cable that goes to the computer). So if you enjoy what you read come back & enjoy the photos.

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