The city of Auburn is located in Lee County in east-central Alabama at the juncture of the Piedmont and Coastal Plain physiographic sections. According to local lore, a young woman chose the name for the town from the first line in Oliver Goldsmith’s poem, “The Deserted Village,” which reads “Sweet Auburn, the loveliest village of the plain.” Auburn is the home of Auburn University. Currently, the city has a mayor-council form of government.
Downtown Auburn The site of present-day Auburn was part of Creek territory until 1832, when tribal leaders ceded it to the United States under the Treaty of Cusseta. In 1836, after the Second Creek War, the remaining Creeks were removed from east Alabama, including the Auburn area, by order of Pres. Andrew Jackson. That same year, John J. Harper, a Methodist from Harris County in west Georgia, moved to Alabama and founded the town of Auburn; he might have chosen the site in part because it was on the proposed route of the Montgomery and West Point Railroad. Many of the early settlers were fellow Methodists and friends or relatives of Harper. African Americans were also among Auburn’s first residents, as white settlers brought enslaved people with them to the new town.
Auburn received a charter from the state legislature in 1839 and soon developed into a thriving town that included a busy commercial district as well as churches and schools. By 1851, the Montgomery and West Point Railroad connected the town with the state capital at Montgomery and the river port of Columbus, Georgia. Two colleges were located in Auburn during this period: Auburn Masonic Female College, founded in 1847, and East Alabama Male College, founded in 1856.
Both colleges suspended classes after the start of the Civil War. During the war, several hospitals were located in Auburn, including one in East Alabama Male College’s “Old Main” building, and federal troops entered the town on two occasions. In July 1864, U.S. Army general Lovell Rousseau’s raid destroyed the rail lines and the depot at Auburn. On April 15, 1865, six days after the Confederate Army surrendered at Appomattox Court House in Virginia, a detachment of Gen. James H. Wilson‘s soldiers passed through the town. In the decades following emancipation and the end of the war, African Americans began purchasing land in Auburn and started their own businesses and churches. For example, African American Baptists founded Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in 1868 and erected a building in the early 1870s.
From the late nineteenth century through the twentieth century, educational institutions played significant roles in Auburn’s development and economy. East Alabama Male College reopened after the war but initially struggled to attract students. In 1872, it became a public land grant university through the federal Morrill Act and was renamed the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama. Enrollment increased, reviving the local economy. In 1899, the college changed its name to Alabama Polytechnic Institute (API). From 1928 until 1957, the Lee County Training School—the first high school for African Americans in the county’s segregated public school system—was located in Auburn.
Chewacla State Park Cabin During the Great Depression, Auburn benefited from several public works projects that were part of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Civilian Conservation Corps cleared trails, constructed buildings, and created a lake at what is now Chewacla State Park. In addition, the Public Works Administration funded building projects on the campus of API, including construction of the president’s house, four women’s dormitories, classroom buildings, and the football stadium.
In the decades following World War II, Auburn expanded rapidly. Between 1940 and 1970, the city’s population rose from fewer than 5,000 residents to more than 22,000, and its area nearly doubled. The town’s growth largely resulted from dramatic increases in the number of students, faculty, and staff at API, which was renamed Auburn University in 1960.
In the twenty-first century, Auburn has expanded its industrial employment base. Six of the top ten employers in Auburn are manufacturing companies, and a significant number of Auburn residents work in manufacturing. Among those businesses are manufacturers of engines and generators, automotive parts, plastics, and household cabinets. Auburn University consistently ranks as the city’s largest employer.
According to 2020 Census estimates, Auburn recorded a population of 65,508. Of that number, 71.0 percent of respondents identified themselves as white, 17.6 percent as African American, 8.8 percent as Asian, 3.4 percent as Hispanic, 1.7 percent as two or more races, and 0.1 percent as American Indian. The town’s median household income was $49,028, and the per capita income was $30,246.
According to 2020 Census estimates, the workforce in Auburn was divided among the following industrial categories:
- Educational services and health care and social assistance (36.4 percent)
- Manufacturing (11.9 percent)
- Arts, entertainment, and recreation, and accommodation and food services (11.0 percent)
- Professional, scientific, and management, and administrative and waste management services (9.8 percent)
- Retail trade (9.2 percent)
- Construction (4.9 percent)
- Finance and insurance, and real estate and rental and leasing (4.5 percent)
- Other services, except public administration (3.7 percent)
- Public administration (2.8 percent)
- Transportation and warehousing, and utilities (2.6 percent)
- Wholesale trade (1.4 percent)
- Information (1.3 percent)
- Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extraction (0.4 percent)
Schools in Auburn are part of the Auburn City School District; the city has one kindergarten, eight elementary schools, two middle schools, one junior high school, and one high school. The main campus of Auburn University, a four-year public state university, is located in Auburn.
The major roadways serving the city of Auburn are Interstate 85/U.S. Highway 29, which runs northeast-southwest; State Highway 14, which runs east-west; State Highway 147, which runs north; and U.S. Highway 280, which runs northwest just east of the city. The Auburn University Regional Airport/Auburn-Opelika Robert G. Pitts Airport is located in Auburn and provides facilities for general aviation, corporate aviation, and medical transport.
Events and Places of Interest
Auburn offers several opportunities for outdoor recreation, including Chewacla State Park, the Donald E. Davis Arboretum on the campus of Auburn University, and the Louise Kreher Forest Ecology Preserve, operated by the university’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences. The City of Auburn operates one swimming pool, six walking trails, and eleven parks. Two public golf courses and two private golf clubs are located in the city as well.
Jule Collins Smith Museum Entrance Hall The Jan Dempsey Community Arts Center offers arts education programs and presents art exhibits, musical performances, and community theater productions. Auburn University sponsors numerous cultural events, including concerts and dramatic performances at the university’s Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center, Telfair Peet Theater, and other venues. The Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University maintains a permanent collection of American and European art and hosts traveling art exhibitions, film and concert series, and guest lectures.
Pebble Hill Auburn University home football games at Jordan-Hare Stadium draw tens of thousands of people to the city each fall. The Auburn Arena hosts men’s and women’s basketball games and houses the Jonathan B. Lovelace Athletic Museum and Hall of Honor, which celebrates athletics at Auburn University.
Several buildings in Auburn are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Scott-Yarbrough House (also known as Pebble Hill), as are the main campus of Auburn University and the Old Rotation and the Cullars Rotation, two of the longest-running cotton research experiments in the nation. The Auburn Depot, Baptist Hill Cemetery, Pine Hill Cemetery, and several historic homes are listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage.
- Pearson, Ann. “Sweet Auburn! Loveliest Village of the Plain.” In Lee County and Her Forbears, edited by Alexander Nunn, 59-89. Montgomery, Ala.: Herff Jones, 1983.
- Committee for the Preservation of Auburn’s African American Heritage. Lest We Forget: A History of African Americans of Auburn, Alabama. Auburn, Ala.: Committee for the Preservation of Auburn’s African American History, 2010.