Opelika Public School

Dublin Core


Opelika Public School


Education; Lee County, AL; Opelika, AL; Opelika Public School; Private House Schools; Ware, Mrs. O.W.; Mrs. Gorman; African American Schools; Giddens, Columbus; Hawthorne, L.; Smallwood, R.W.; Opelika Baptist Female College


On November 23, 1869, Opelika citizens petitioned the City Council to create a public high school. A Board of Trustees formed, and in 1873 the Alabama State Legislature empowered the city government to collect taxes to subsidize public education. The Opelika Public School System took almost seven years to initiate operations, primarily attributable to the success of local private schools. By 1880, four public schools opened in the homes of some of Opelika’s citizens. White schools operated in the homes of Mrs. Gorman near Young Lake and Mrs. O.W Ware on Chambers Street. African-American public schools were operated in the homes of Columbus Giddens and L. Hawthorne. When Professor R.W. Smallwood was designated superintendent of Opelika schools in 1887, he reorganized the school system and oversaw the purchase of the facility that previously housed the Opelika Baptist Female College, on the corner of North Ninth Street and Fourth Avenue. His twelve-year superintendancy witnessed an exponential growth in the student body, as enrollment increased from 25 students in 1887 to 200 in 1899. The municipal government originally divided the system into three subdivisions – elementary, grammar, and high schools.

In 1902, the city erected Opelika Public School, a three story brick building on the corner of Avenue A and South Seventh Street to house all three programs. The citizenry wanted to build separate facilities to house the high school and the elementary-grammar schools, but a lack of funding inhibited the plan. After the 1911 creation of Opelika High School, Opelika Public School continued to house the elementary and grammar schools. From 1916 to 1918, the building at Avenue A and Seventh Street briefly subsumed the student body from Opelika High School due to a fire that destroyed OHS’s building. After the completion of Henry G. Clift High School, the city’s high school students left Opelika Public School again. Opelika Public School continued to serve elementary and grammar school pupils until 1929, when the student body divided into two new institutions, Northside Elementary School and Southside Elementary School. The structure that housed Opelika Public School no longer exists, and the corner of Avenue A and South Seventh Street is now home to Opelika’s City Hall.


Taylor McGaughy


Text Sources: Alexander Nunn, Lee County and Her Forebears (Montgomery, AL: Herff Jones, 1983), 36-37.

The Heritage of Lee County Book Committee, The Heritage of Lee County, Alabama (Clanton, AL: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 2000), 78.


Alabama Cultural Resource Survey




Taylor McGaughy