The town of Auburn was surveyed and the original plat drawn in 1891 by the Seaboard Railroad Company (originally known as the Georgia-Carolina and Northern Railroad). The rail line bisects the Auburn center and extends in an east-west direction. The town served as the terminus for railroad crews operating the four daily trains to Athens to the east and Atlanta to the west. Auburn has a unique, second-track spur that parallels the main track to accommodate out-of-service cars. Warehouses and railroad buildings were constructed during this time as well as residential homes to serve the railroad and families living in Auburn. Eight commercial buildings were located on the north side of the tracks and four on the south side. Residential homes were constructed around this town center.
The history of Auburn begins much earlier than the advent of the railroad. Following the Revolutionary War (1775-1781), efforts were made to get settlers to move to Georgia. Free land was given to veterans. All lands east of the Appalachee River were allotted under the headright system, that is, several hundred acres were given to the head of the family plus 50 acres to each child. All lands west of the Appalachee were granted under the lottery system after 1805. This included the future town of Auburn which would be located in the eastern part of Gwinnett County which was created in 1818. People were eager to get land.
The following families were known in the Auburn area by the 1820s and still are: Osborn, Camp, Anthony, Flanigan, Elder, Blakey, Cain, Morgan, Poole, Bates, Burels, Wages, Parks, Ethridge, Bridges, Pharrs, Morrison, Hawthorne, Mitchell, Miller, Pierce, Perry, Hamilton, Patricks, Tanners, Loughridges, Collins, Brown Heltons, Jacksons, Pentecost, Moore, Clack, Maugham and Sloan.
The Inferior Court of Gwinnett County in 1821 appointed a committee to “lay out and mark a road from the county courthouse the nearest and best way to Jackson County Courthouse so as to intersect any of the public roads leading toward Gwinnett County Courthouse.” Loughridge was commissioned Tax Collector of Gwinnett County, March 30, 1819.
Loughridge lived at what was known as “Old Auburn” near Appalachee Church. He was postmaster of the Loughridge Post Office from September 30, 1825 to March 11, 1837 when it was changed to the Auburn Post Office. J.O. Hawthorne was the first official postmaster of the new town of Auburn.
The years from 1830 to 1860 were considered prosperous years. Land was cheap and fertile. Each community had its church, school (one room) and store. The store usually served as the post office for mail delivery was every two weeks. People were helpful and friendly. Logrollings, house raising, and corn shucking brought them together for work and fun. Clothing was made at home. Every home tried to be self-sufficient.
Gwinnett County was overrun by Union soldiers when General Sherman captured Atlanta in 1864. There were Union soldiers encamped on the E.R. Clack property in Auburn (where the bank is now located). There was one skirmish in Auburn.
Men and boys organized to protect the homes, women, children and crops. In a diary belonging to the W.W. Parks family is mention of Mrs. Parks shooting a Union soldier who was trying to steal her horses. At King’s Tanyard, near Winder, the Confederate Calvary surprised the Union soldiers, killing several and putting the enemy to flight, capturing a portion of them.
It was not until the coming of the Seaboard Railroad in 1891 that Auburn became a booming town. J.O. Hawthorne and J.J. Wages gave the land needed for its right-of-way and station.
The first train reached Auburn on October 19, 1891. The first coach came to Auburn February 9, 1892 at 8:00 pm. Two original section houses for railroad workers survive just behind City Hall.
Auburn was incorporated in 1892. A plat of the town was drawn and land surveyed by the Seaboard Railroad. Kerosene lights lined the streets on each side of the railroad. Auburn became the terminus for working crews. Eight warehouses were built on the railroad siding. There was an influx of people to the town. Many new homes and stores were built.
There were eight store buildings built on the north side of the railroad, but only the Poole Store (now Auburn City Hall) and the former Auburn Bank/Flanigan’s (now Rawhide Boots). There were also four on the south side, of which only one survives. Other business establishments were a cotton gin, a tanning yard and a livery stable. The gin and tanning yard were located near the railroad and operated by D.W. Ethridge. The town was booming.
The T.C. Flanigan store is constructed of bricks made from Auburn’s red clay. This building was the first bank (the building was joined onto the store) opened in 1907, as the Bank of Auburn, later changed to Flanigan Banking Company. T.C. Flanigan had a gin and bought cotton. He had three men on the road selling lightning rods, sewing machines and organs. He also owned a mineral spring about four miles from town.
The telephone exchange opened in 1906. The first soda fountain opened in 1908.
Appalachee Baptist Church is credited as being the birthplace of the Perry-Rainey Institute. Rev. R.F. Sloan was the originator of the idea. In reading the letters from several churches, he recommended that instead of boys being sent to Mercer and girls to Shorter or Bessie Tift, the Association should erect an institution within its bounds.
J.O. Hawthorne and J.J. Wages gave ten acres of land to the town of Auburn for school purposes. If it was not used for school purposes it was to go back to the Hawthorne and Wages families. The Auburn school is the only school in Barrow County that “owned” itself.
After the Baptists decided to open a school in Auburn, Mulberry Academy was moved to Auburn. It was enlarged and made into a two story building. This new school was in operation in February 1888 because it was mentioned in the Lawrenceville paper. Auburn had two newspapers – the Claxon Monthly and the Auburn Messenger. Students came from many sections of the state. Homes in Auburn and Carl (just east of Auburn) became boarding houses to accommodate these students. It became a college in 1894. The college was names for Rev. Hiram R. Rainey and a businessman William T. Perry. The history book “The Story of Georgia Baptist” tells about the new college. 1924 was the last year that Auburn was known as an educational center with the closing of the college.
Today, Auburn is an active community of 7,000. Offering many activities and community festivals, Auburn’s downtown is a destination for thousands every year.