Opelika - Fire Department & Memorial Library
Pepperell Memorial - East Alabama Museum
Thank you Jess Akins
"Blast From The Past" WJHO Radio - Jack Smollon
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Class of 1952 Obituary
Alumni Newsletter 2014
Celebrating Opelika's Past



On February 19, 1873, the Opelika Fire Department was born at a town meeting called for that purpose.  A resolution was adopted expressing concern of the citizenry of “…want of protection; … the influx of inhabitants and capital impeded;… the rates of insurance more taxing;…a  Fire Department is better for security”.

The resolution called for a committee to solicit subscriptions for the purchase of a fire engine and apparatus; and, also called for a committee to confer with the City Council for the” … construction of cisterns (underground rain water storage tanks)”.

The Fire Company was organized and equipment purchased.  Despite this preparation, Opelika suffered many destructive fires during 1875-76.  In 1886, a new fire engine was purchased from the Silsby Manufacturing Company, Seneca Falls, NY.

This equipment met the city’s needs until 1889 when a larger engine and 500 ft. of hose was purchased from the same company for $2,687.

Of this amount the citizens subscribed $1,000 and the city paid the balance of five installments.  This engine was consumed in a warehouse fire prior to 1892.

The first Chief of the Opelika Fire Department was a Mr. Clements who served three months.  He was followed for a few months by George Robinson, who also served as Superintendent of the Street Department.

The Fire Department’s first paid firemen were employed in 1906.  The men worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with no time off.  At this time, Fireman’s pay was $35.00 per month, and the Chief received $60.00 per month.  The department had a two-horse wagon pulled by horses named Jim and Frank.

The wagon had 1,700 feet of various sizes of hoses, including a chemical tank and an extension ladder as well as a roof ladder.

This equipment was shipped C.O.D. by rail; upon it’s arrival, the City did not have the funds available, and Mayor L.F. Dickson paid $2,750 so the city could obtain the equipment.  The wagon and accessories were housed at the old fire station on Avenue A adjacent to the present day George W. Andrews Federal Building.

The only fire fighter killed was a volunteer named Parnell who was killed in a fire truck accident about 1920.  The truck on which Parnell was riding was making a turn at Geneva Street and East Avenue (MLK Blvd) and struck a tree.

In 1924, A.R. Plott was reappointed to serve as chief form 1924-38.  W.B. Whitaker served as chief from 1938-47.  Assistant Chief G.A. Mitchell was appointed chief and served 1947-77.

Assistant Chief Charles Albert Smith was appointed chief and served 1978-90.  Charlie Howard Moore was appointed chief and served 1991-96.  G. Terry Adkins was appointed chief and served from June 1996 to present.

Throughout the years, the Fire Department has grown in every aspect.  In 1930, the horse drawn wagon was retrofitted to a Model-A Fort.  In 1917, the city purchased a LaFrance pumper.

In 1939, the city purchased a 750 gpm Seagraves pumper with booster tank.  In 1948 Scott Air-Packs were acquired.  In 1979, the 911 system was initiated with EMS and Rescue Service mad available for Opelika.

The Opelika Fire Department currently serves the citizens with approximately full-time certified firefighters, specializing in firefighting services, emergency medical services, hazardous material incidents, training programs, and fire prevention services.


Information compiled from The Heritage of Lee County, Alabama



Opelika Light and Power Department, c.1953.  From left are Charles Young, Tommy Thompson, Pete McKendrex, Brewer Grady, RJ "Mac" McBurney, Aron Crenshaw, John Smith, "Zeke" Stokley and Billy Porter.



Lewis Cooper Jr. Memorial Library


The Lee County Public Library was established as a Work Progress Administration (WPA) on August 14, 1940.  Opelika Public Library was one of ten branch libraries established at the time with the Public Library being headquarters for the County Library System.

The first located in the old Hollingsworth and Norman clothstore upstairs in a small room on Eighth Street.  Mrs. Helen P. Laws was librarian.  In 1943, Bertha Miller was appointed librarian after Laws departure.  On June 24, 1941, City Commissioners John L. Whatley, C.S. Ellington, and John S. Crossley agreed to assist the financing of rental space. 

Within a year, the library outgrew these quarters and relocated to occupy larger space on Avenue A, Which was later occupied by Attorney, Duke Searcy.  The library remained at this location until 1952, after completion of the municipal building.  When the municipal building was renovated, the library moved to the Montgomery Fair Building during this process.  After the completion of the renovations, all departments returned to the municipal building.

On May 10, 1976 the library moved into its current building located on South Sixth Street (Lewis Cooper Jr. Library and Arts Center).  This was a major undertaking of the city to provide a new library and arts center for the citizens of Lee County.  Lewis Cooper Jr., President of City Commissioners (Mayor) was determined to provide the citizens of Opelika with a library to meet their needs for years to come.


Costs of construction wa approximately $500,000 for the more than 15,000 square foot building.

This library was designed to house 46,000 books, had six study carrels, a children’s section with a reading well.  I also included a reading section, and art gallery, a historical room, an audio-visual room and a complete basement, which later would provide room for expansion.


Information compiled from The Heritage of Lee County, Alabama


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