In 1837, the Methodists built a log church, and settler Simeon Yancey began teaching classes to local children using the church building as a classroom. Auburnites eager to have their sons and daughters educated determined quickly that the community needed a proper schoolhouse, so the Methodist and Baptist churches built a school across the street from the Methodist Church (at the present location of AuburnBank), which Yancey opened for classes the following year, in 1838. Though no one could have imagined it at the time, this one-room log schoolhouse was to be the progenitor of the Auburn City School System, and, although it is unknown whether secondary grades were taught at this school, Yancey's school is the forerunner of Auburn High, and in fact can be thought of as the earliest incarnation of AHS.
In the early 1840s, a separate academy for males was formed, and the Yancey's school became a school for girls known as the Auburn Female College. The term college in the 19th century denoted a preparatory or secondary school, although there were elementary and intermediate grades were taught at this school. During the mid-1840s, the Auburn Female College, along with the male preparatory schools in Auburn, made Auburn into an educational mecca, drawing people from all over the state to Auburn merely to have their children educated there. It was estimated that there were some 500 students studying in Auburn, an amazing figure considering that there were only 1,000 freemen living in the general area of Auburn at the time.
In 1846, an addition was made to the AFC building of a chapel/auditorium to the east of the school on Magnolia Ave. This auditorium was the largest in the eastern half of the state, and as such would serve in the subsequent years as a forum for debates between important men of the time on issues of the day. In fact, some 15 years after its construction, the AFC auditorium served as the location of a series of debates to determine if Alabama should secede from the Union, involving many of the top political leaders of the day, including future Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens and "The Orator of Secession" William Lowndes Yancey. This precursor to the AHS auditorium of today still stands--it was moved in 1883 to the college campus, restored, and named Langdon Hall.
In 1852, the city of Auburn deeded administration of the Female College to the Masons, who reorganized the school and renamed it the Auburn Masonic Female College. The AMFC enrolled 106 students in its first session, teaching ancient and modern languages, literature, mathematics, and musical arts. This institution was the only one of its kind in the state giving a full secondary education (though not a preparatory education) to females on par with male institutions. In fact, the existence of such a progressive educational institution was one of the main factors in bringing another male college to Auburn in 1856, the East Alabama Male College--today known as Auburn University.
The Auburn Masonic Female College graduated its first class in 1854, and was quite successful for the rest of the decade, despite the Masons having to relinquish control of the school back to the city in the late 1850s. Upon return of the Female College to the city of Auburn, John Harper, son of Auburn founder Judge John Harper, donated a piece of property on the corner of Gay and Tichenor (the current site of City Hall) for the construction of a $6,000 multiroom school. The school, though retaining the name "Auburn Masonic Female College," started admitting boys alongside the girls, but trained them in college preparatory courses. However, the dark clouds of war were soon to sweep over the Lovliest Village, and hard times were ahead for the school that was to become Auburn High.
As the Civil War stretched on into the mid-1860s, the number of wounded rose to the extent that it was necessary that every public building be turned into a hospital, including the AMFC's new school building. This need for space for the wounded and sick required the cancellation of classes at the Female College for the remainder of the War. When the Civil War ended, though, classes could not be resumed either--the economic devastation to the area caused by the War made it too expensive to re-open the school. The building was rented out to several businesses, including a chair factory, which operated in the school for several years.
Once the area had recovered enough to support the school, citizens repurchased the school building, and the city established a school board to run this new Auburn District School for students of both genders (though it was still commonly referred to as the Masonic Female College). A visitor to the Auburn District School reported that at the School, "The discipline was rigid, the teaching thorough; the examinations were conducted publicly; and visitors were often requested to quiz the pupils." Though such a statement no doubt struck fear into the hearts of students then as it would students today, it was obvious that there was great concern for the quality of education for Auburnite children, and this kept the school thriving for the following two decades, despite the slow growth of the city around them.
In 1892, the Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College, once known as EAMC and now known as Auburn University, became the first major institution of higher learning in the Deep South to admit women. However, the A&M College would only admit women who had junior standing in college. At the time, the curriculum for women beyond the 8th grade was not designed to prepare students for a post-secondary education. So, the Auburn District School Board reorganized the District School so that it would not only offer a college preparatory curriculum for women that would be equivalent to the preparatory program that most males received at the A&M College, but also provided the Freshman and Sophomore college curricula. In doing this, the school was renamed the Auburn Female Institute, with the first class of women graduating the college-level program in 1894.
In 1898, the board issued bonds equal to $32,000 for the construction of a new school building adjacent to the old one, but facing Gay St. (where the Gay St. entrance to the municipal parking deck currently stands). This two-story brick building held all public school students in Auburn, elementary, secondary, and undergraduate. It was around this time that the Female Institute began being referred to by a very familiar name--Auburn High. In 1908, the state legislature rolled all public schools in Lee County into a new Lee County School System, and in joining this system, the school officially changed its name from the Auburn Female Institute to Auburn High School.
In 1914, the city of Opelika created a new school system seperate from the Lee County System, and the official title of "Lee County High School" moved from the Opelika secondary school to Auburn High. Along with the name change, Auburn High/Lee County High received a new campus on Opelika Road, at the present site of Frank Brown Recreation Center. I. T. Quinn was principal for the 1914-15 year, followed by J. A. Parrish who served as principal until 1946, the longest tenure of any administrator in the state. The school opened with 76 students (thirty percent of whom were boarding students) and budget of only $2000 to pay the salaries of "'Fessor" Parrish and four teachers, and maintain the building. Around this time Auburn High began fielding its first athletic teams--AHS's first football season was in 1915, and the basketball team, formed around 1910, was runner-up in the state basketball tournament in 1924.
Up until this point, all the schools that have been mentioned have been for white students only, due to the nature of education in the South at this time. It would be remiss of us to leave out the history of Auburn's black public schools, as they have had a major impact on the development of Auburn High. The first black public school in Auburn was a one-room school built in the late 1890's on Foster St., housing only elementary grades. It was replaced by a larger school a few years later on the corner of Frazier and Bragg Streets. This school, called the Auburn Public School, had three classrooms, and initially served grades 1-7, later expanding through grade 9. In 1929, the Lee County Training School was established on West Glenn Ave. (at the present site of Martin Luther King Park) as the first true high school for blacks in Auburn. This two-story brick building, built through joint funding between the City of Auburn and the Rosenwald Fund, expanded from 10 grades to a full twelve by 1930, and graduated its first class in 1932. However, a lack of funding caused by the Great Depression forced the school (and all other schools in the county save Auburn High) to close for the 1932-1933 school year, but the school reopened the following year. In the early 1950s, the elementary grades were moved to a new elementary school, which is the present Boykin Community Center, leaving the LCTS as a true high school. LCTS developed thriving music and arts programs, with the Band forming in 1950, and students performing operettas and other works for the community many times a year. In 1957, a new high school was built for the LCTS students, J. F. Drake High School, named for a graduate of the Auburn Public School who went on to receive degrees from Cornell and Columbia and found what is today the Alabama A&M University. This building is today J. F. Drake Middle School.
In 1925, Lee County High School received accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and went on to grow substantially, requiring that a new high school to be built on Samford Ave. in 1931. This school, now Auburn Junior High School, served all grades in Auburn until the early 1950s, when elementary students were temporarily moved to the old LCHS building on Opelika Road (Northside Elementary) until new elementary schools could be built. During this period of time, LCHS became the Auburn High we know today. During the 1920s and 1930s, students at Auburn High began participating in many of the sports and extracurriculars that AHS students participate in still today. The choir program (then known as the Glee Club) sprung up in this time frame, along with many athletic programs. The football team went undefeated in 1923, 1925, 1927, and 1934 bringing much joy and spirit to the school. The Band was founded in 1936, the National Honor Society chapter (Sigma Lambda Chi) was chartered in 1940, and LCHS's yearbook, The Tiger, was first published in 1944. Auburn High's Alma Mater was jointly written by members of the Glee Club and director George Corradino in 1955, and the traditional "Glory" fight song was replaced in 1961 by an original fight song, Tommy Goff's "Hooray for Auburn", which is today used by hundreds of high schools nationwide.
In 1956, citing the common usage of Auburn High for LCHS, the school board officially renamed the school Auburn High School. Continued growth of the Auburn schools had led to the construction of additions to AHS in 1950 and 1952, and in 1961 to the creation of a separate school system for Auburn. A new high school for grades 9-12, which still serves as AHS today, was built in 1966 for $1.25 million as one of President Lyndon Johnson's "Freedom of Choice" schools, allowing any secondary student Auburn to attend, regardless of race. With the US Supreme Court's 1970 ruling that such voluntary desegregation plans were unconstitutional, Drake High and Auburn High were merged into a single, unified Auburn High. This sudden enrollment explosion resulted in a temporary shifting of grades so that AHS became a grade 10-12 high school. With the construction of the 500 building, enough space was created to expand the school back to 9-12 a few years later. In the following decade, AHS increased existing and added additional vocational, technical, agricultural, and business programs, aided by the construction of the 600 building and the 100 addition, and in the 1980s a separate the administration building was built to open up space in the 200 building. Further growth in the late 20th and early 21st centuries stretched Samford Avenue campus to its limit, and in response Auburn High added a new high-tech classroom wing and media center (the 800 building) in 1995, a new gymnasium complex in 2003, and plans were in the works for a $14 million performing arts center to be built around 2010. Despite this expansion of facilities, growth still outpaced space, and AHS shifted back to a 10-12 grade structure for 2003-04 and subsequent school years.
Principals of Auburn High School since 1914 have been I. T. Quinn, J. A. Parrish, V. C. Helms, O. B. Hodges, Russell Clark, E. E. Gaither, J. L. Lovvorn, James B. Douglas, Robert Dotson, Susan Hoseman, Michael Self, and Cathy Long.
© Trey Armistead, 2003. Last revised 30 August 2004.
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