As I like it!
THE END OF AN ERA
Todd Van Emst/Opelika=Auburn News
In the latter part of 2016, the last vestige of Opelika’s mill town heritage burned to the ground. The abandoned Leshner Cotton Mill had been closed since 1985, but in its heyday, employed over a thousand workers. Opelika’s location at the intersection of two major rail lines assured it a prominent position in the booming textile mills that were sprouting up in the Coosa River Basin in eastern Alabama and West Georgia.
By the early years of the twentieth century, the mills provided owners and investors with riches and luxury. They built spacious Victoria homes that stand today in Opelika’s historic district. Along with great personal wealth, the mills spawned a prosperous middle class of workers and managers.
This prosperity lasted until the 1960s when a perfect storm of international events destroyed the domestic textile industry. Mills began to close all across the Coosa River Basin, and Leshner didn’t escape. In 1979, the mill was used as the site of the movie, Norma Rae, starring Sally Fields and Beau Bridges, then began a rapid decline leading to its closing in 1985.
Many of the mill towns in this area simply gave up, and with the lost jobs, the towns saw the mass migration of their workforce. Opelika has been an exception, and with active civic responsibility and excellent political leadership, it has made the transition to a high-tech and automotive center. Under Mayor Gary Fuller, the city has installed a fiber optics system that has helped transform Opelika from a mill town to one of the most desirable cities in the South.
We still honor our past as a mill and railroad town, but we are focused on the future. We say a sad farewell to our historical roots and welcome the challenges of the 21st century.
Categories: As I Like It!