Auburn is a city in Lee County, Alabama. It is the largest city in eastern Alabama with a 2006 population of 51,906 (according to the U.S. Census estimates). It is the principal city of the Auburn Metropolitan Area, a MSA with a population of 123,254 which, along with the Columbus, Georgia-Alabama MSA and the Tuskegee, Alabama Micropolitan Statistical Area, comprises the greater Columbus-Auburn-Opelika, Georgia-Alabama Combined Statistical Area with an estimated population of 276,000.
It is the home of Auburn University. Auburn has been marked in recent years by rapid growth, and is currently the fastest growing metropolitan area in Alabama and the nineteenth-fastest growing metro area in the United States since 1990. The city's unofficial nickname is The Loveliest Village On The Plains, taken from a line in the poem The Deserted Village by Oliver Goldsmith: "Sweet Auburn! loveliest village of the plain . . ."
Inhabited in antiquity by the Creek, the land on which Auburn sits was opened to settlement in 1832 with the Treaty of Cusseta. The first settlers arrived in the winter of 1836 from Harris County, Georgia. These settlers, led by Judge John J. Harper, intended to build a town that would be the religious and educational center for the area.
Auburn was incorporated on February 2, 1839, covering an area of 2 square miles (5.6 km²). By that time, Methodist and Baptist churches had been established, and a school had been built and had come into operation. In the mid-1840s, separate academies for boys and girls were established in addition to the primary school. This concentration of educational institutions led to a rapid influx of families from the planter class into Auburn in the 1840s and 1850s. By 1858, of the roughly 1,000 free residents of Auburn, some 500 were students.
In 1856, the state legislature chartered a Methodist college, the East Alabama Male College in Auburn. This college, now Auburn University, opened its doors in 1859, offering a classical and liberal education.
With the advent of the Civil War in 1861, Auburn quickly emptied. All of the schools closed, and most businesses shuttered. Auburn was the site of a hospital for Texan Confederate soldiers, but only saw direct combat with the raids of Rousseau in 1864 and Wilson in 1865.
After the Civil War, Auburn's economy entered a prolonged depression that would last the remainder of the century. Public schools did not reopen until the mid-1870s, and most businesses remained closed. A series of fires in the 1860s and 1870s gutted the downtown area. East Alabama Male College was turned over to the state in 1872, and with funds from the federal Morrill Act was renamed Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College with a new mission as a land grant college. Passage of the Hatch Act in 1887 allowed for expansion of agricultural research facilities on campus.
In 1892, the college became the first four-year college in Alabama to admit women. This, combined with increased interest in scientific agriculture and engineering and new funding from business licenses, allowed the city to start expanding again. By 1910, Auburn's population had returned to its antebellum level. SIAA Conference championships won by the Auburn college's football team brought attention and support to Auburn, and helped fill the city's coffers.
Fortunes were quickly reversed with the collapse of cotton prices in the early 1920s and the subsequent Great Depression a decade later. Due to these events, the state government became unable to fund the college, and—as Auburn's economy was completely derived from the college—residents were forced into a barter economy to support themselves.
Money began to flow into Auburn again with America's entry into World War II. Auburn's campus was turned into a training ground for technical specialists in the armed forces. After the war, Auburn was flooded by soldiers returning to school on the G.I. Bill.
Primarily due to this influx of students, Auburn began a period of growth that lasted through the 1950s and 1960s. A considerable amount of residential and business construction pushed Auburn's growth outside of the original boundaries of the city, leading to a series of large annexations which expanded Auburn to nearly 24 square miles (63 km²). Construction of Interstate 85 beginning in 1957 connected Auburn to the major cities of the state. This allowed for Auburn University (renamed in 1960) to schedule more home football games in Auburn rather than in larger cities, creating a strong tourism component in Auburn's economy.
Growth slowed somewhat in the 1970s, and a series of budget cuts made it clear that Auburn's sole economic reliance on Auburn University put the city in a tenuous position.
Backlash against what was seen as an ineffectual city council led to the election of Jan Dempsey as mayor in 1982 and the removal of the previous city government system in favor of a council-manager system. With a new government in place, the city began aggressively pursuing industry, leading to a nearly 1,200% increase in the number of industrial jobs over the next twenty years. As public satisfaction with the city administration reached record levels, Auburn began very rapid residential growth.
A series of reports in the 1980s and 1990s ranking the Auburn public school system among the top in the state and nation convinced thousands of new residents to move to Auburn over the past 25 years. Between 1980 and 2003, Auburn's population grew by 65%, and Auburn's economy expanded by 220%. With growth came issues of urban sprawl, which has become the primary political issue in Auburn at the turn of the 21st century.
Auburn's economy is centered around Auburn University and providing university-affiliated services. Auburn University employs 4,300 people, which is roughly one-quarter of the city's total workforce. In addition, 2,400 Auburnites are employed by the federal and state government in positions which are generally connected with the university. Some 8,500 are employed in service sector jobs.
Auburn's industrial base is built around mid-sized, high tech manufacturing and research firms. Auburn has four technology parks where main areas of industrial focus are on the manufacture of small engines, automotive wheels, fuel cells, plastic injection technology, and vehicle armor. The 156 acre (0.6 km²) Auburn University Research Park is currently under construction and will be anchored by a firm which specializes in research in high-resolution, dark field optical microscopy. Overall, the manufacturing sector accounts for some 4,000 jobs in Auburn.
As of the censusGR2 of 2000, there were 42,987 people, 18,421 households, and 7,239 families residing in the city. The population density was 424.2/km² (1,098.6/mi²). There were 20,043 housing units at an average density of 197.8/km² (512.2/mi²). The racial makeup of the city was 78.05% White, 16.79% Black or African American, 0.19% Native American, 3.31% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 0.57% from other races, and 1.05% from two or more races. 1.55% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There were 18,421 households out of which 18.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 28.6% were married couples living together, 7.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 60.7% were non-families. 36.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 4.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.12 and the average family size was 2.93.
In the city the population was spread out with 15.4% under the age of 18, 44.6% from 18 to 24, 21.9% from 25 to 44, 11.7% from 45 to 64, and 6.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 23 years. For every 100 females there were 99.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 99.9 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $17,206, and the median income for a family was $55,619. Males had a median income of $41,012 versus $26,209 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,431. About 14.0% of families and 38.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 16.5% of those under age 18 and 8.8% of those age 65 or over.
Auburn, as a college town is largely driven by the influence of education. Auburn has one post-secondary school, Auburn University, which has an enrollment of 23,000. Auburn University is a Land-grant university with traditionally strong programs in business, engineering, agriculture, and veterinary medicine. The university is largely focused on undergraduate education, with a graduate enrollment of only 4,000. Auburn University is a research institution, with primary areas of research focus including wireless engineering, molecular biosciences, transportation, aquaculture, and forest sustainability.
Auburn is also home to several research centers, including the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
Auburn's public school system includes one kindergarten, five elementary schools (a sixth is scheduled to open in 2007), one middle school, one junior high school, and one high school. Auburn's school system has repeatedly been ranked among the top public school systems in the state and nation. Auburn City Schools has been ranked among the top 100 school districts in the United States by Parenting magazine and as the best educational value in the Southeast by the Wall Street Journal. Auburn's Early Education Center has specialized programs for autism education, has been recognized as a national Blue Ribbon school, and is an Intel and Scholastic School of Distinction. Auburn High School has strong International Baccalaureate and music programs, and was ranked in 2006 by Newsweek as the top non-magnet public high school in Alabama, and one of the top 30 in the United States.
Auburn is the home to the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art. The Smith Museum maintains a collection of primarily 19th and 20th Century American and European art. The museum's exhibits include the Advancing American Art Collection, consisting of 36 works by mid-20th Century American artists including Jacob Lawrence, Ben Shahn, and Georgia O'Keefe, a collection of engravings by naturalist John James Audubon, and works by Dali, Chagall, Renoir, Picasso, and Matisse. Major sculptural works at the museum include a collection of Tibetan bronzes, Jean Woodham's Spinoff, and Dale Chihuly's Amber Luster Chandelier.
Also in Auburn is the Telfair Peet Theatre, which performs a series of plays and musicals each year. The Auburn Community Orchestra, as well as the bands of Auburn University and the Auburn High School Honors Band perform dozens of yearly concerts, including a series of outdoor concerts in the fall at Kiesel Park. Other musical series in Auburn include that of the Auburn Knights Orchestra, a big band jazz orchestra, and the Sundilla Acoustic Concert Series. The theatre is rumoured to be haunted by a ghost named Sydney, who the theatre department appeases before every performance with a package of M&Ms.
Auburn is also home to Auburn Area Community Theater (AACT), a community-based organization that puts on three productions a year, including a spring children's show. All performances are rehearsed and performed at the Jan Dempsey Community Arts Center.
There are also a variety of dance schools in auburn that give classes including ballet, tap, jazz, tango, hip-hop, and even teaches Irish dances from the Karl Drake School.
Recreational opportunities in Auburn include 16 parks, highlighted by Chewacla State Park, a 700 acre (2.8 km²) park in the Appalachian foothills, Kiesel Park, a 200 acre (0.8 km²) "passive" park with numerous trails, and the Louise Kreher Forest Ecology Preserve. The Donald E. Davis Arboretum showcases 150 different tree species native to Alabama and the Southeast. Auburn is also ringed by miles of multi-use trails and several lakes.