A place to check out the history of the city of Opelika is the Museum of East Alabama just off the courthouse square.
Glenn Buxton, the museum curator, says the railroads were very important to the Opelika area. "We were the north/south interchange. At one time, up until about 1968, you could catch a train from here to Atlanta, from here to LA, here to Chicago, and here to Miami."
He adds that the introduction of the railroad to the Opelika area in the mid-1800's established it as a regional hub for commerce. He says, "Part of the reason we got the textile industries here was because of the railroads."
The first textile plant in Opelika opened in 1900. The movie "Norma Rae" focused on the textile industry and was filmed in Opelika in 1979 starring Sally Field. The museum features an old poster from the movie. A loom from an old textile mill sits prominently in the middle of one section of the museum.
A quick tour reveals hundreds of interesing artifacts, including the parlor furniture of former Alabama Governor William Samford who was from Opelika. You'll see an exhibit of a variety of magnetic audio and video tapes produced by Ampex which called Opelika home. There's a wooden canoe estimated to be thousands of years old. Greeting you at the entrance is a display dedicated to Uniroyal Tires, another huge employer for years.
Billy Hitchcock is an Opelika favorite son. Auburn University's basefield field is named after him. Buxton says, "Billy was manager of the Atlanta Braves. He's in the baseball hall of fame. In fact, when he passed away a few years ago he left the musuem $50,000 in his will."
One of the most intriguing artifacts is a 1904 music box, a new addition to the museum, which still works.
Buxton says the entire collection of the Museum at East Alabama is estimated to be worth around one million dollars, but not all of its artifacts are on display.