Auburn, the largest city in Lee County, lies near the Georgia border, between Montgomery and Opelika along Highway 14. It has a long-standing reputation as a center of education, of which Auburn University is the foremost example.
The land was originally the camping grounds for the Creeks. The first settlers, led by Judge John J. Harper, came in the winter of 1836 from Harris County, Georgia. Many of them were Methodists, and Auburn's oldest church, the Auburn United Methodist Church, was formed during that first year. With Methodist support and control, East Alabama Male College was chartered in 1856 by the state legislature and opened its doors in 1859, offering a classical and liberal education. By 1860, of the roughly 1,000 free residents of Auburn, some 500 were students.
The Civil War ruined the economy of the Auburn area and a prolonged depression ensued. Unable to maintain the college, the Methodist Church turned control of their college over to the state, which renamed it Agricultural & Mechanical College of Alabama, later to be known as Alabama Polytechnic Institute. The institution became Auburn University in 1960.