History: Community of Glennville was ‘Athens of the South’

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By Mark Clark

Editor’s Note: Russell County has a long history that is important to the State of Alabama and its evolvement from an area described in the book “Russell County in Retrospect” by Anne Kendrick Walker as a “barbaric land” to what it is today. Many of the people who set their roots in the county in its early days including the state’s first Territorial Delegate to the United States Congress, important Native Americans who paid with their lives to cede land that created the county, a family that started a place of higher learning in south Russell County that later led to the establishment of one of the state’s most known institutions of education today and a former slave who placed a monument to honor his former owner, are very much important to the formation of Alabama. The story that follows is another of a series to inform you – our readers – about the history of Russell County. 

The community of Glennville in Russell County was established in 1835 by Rev. James Elizabeth Glenn who moved to the area from Franklin County, North Carolina. He purchased the land for the village from the Creek Indians. It was land he planned to build a community filled with economic and educational opportunities. 

The village had several stores, a hotel, a church and three educational institutions. It was the three educational institutions that led to the community being referred to as the “Athens of the South.”

One of the institutions was Misses Weyman’s School, a boarding school for girls before the college days. The school was attended by the prominent families of the village and from other states. Tuition for the school ranged from $20 to $30 for classes over 10 months. The school taught females arithmetic, oral geography, penmanship, elocution, spelling, history, definitions, reading, grammar, natural history, composition, map drawing, algebra, chemistry, astronomy, piano, embroidery, painting, French and autography depending on the grade level of the student.

The Misses Weyman’s School and the Glennville Female Academy in later years merged after the academy burned. The academic programs of both schools were very similar, so the merger was not difficult.

The Glennville Collegiate and Military Institute was an all male facility. The school taught young men about the military and basics to advanced studies in other subjects. A company of soldiers was recruited from the school at the outbreak of the Civil War. The school endured until 1870 when it burned to the ground.

With each setback from fires, the schools continued as long as they could in temporary locations. But, not too long after the fires other schools opened in local homes or individual households employed tutors for their children. One school – opened by a Miss Valentine in the home of Randolph Mitchell – was known for having a music department with seventeen pianos, a melodeon and equipment for an orchestra.

One educational institution which grew from the academic community of Glennville was the East Alabama Male College – started by Rev. John Bowles Glenn who was a Methodist minister – in Auburn. Rev. Glenn moved his family to Auburn and was instrumental in getting the Methodist Church to establish the college of which he served as the first president of the first Board of Trustees. In 1871, the church turned the school over to the State of Alabama and it became the State Agricultural and Mechanical College – later renamed the Alabama Polytechnic Institute. Today, it is known as Auburn University. 

The first treasurer for the university was a Glenn – E.T. Glenn in 1857. For over the first 100-plus years of its existence, the treasurer at the university was a Glenn. Maria Allen “Miss Allie” Glenn was treasurer for 47 years and is credited with giving the football team its colors – Navy Blue and Orange. To honor her efforts in helping form the football team, Miss Allie was asked to be the team’s sponsor in its first game. When she retired in the 1940s, she said that was her highest honor while at the university. Glenn Hall, a women’s dorm, was named in her honor.

Auburn’s Glenn Avenue is named in honor of the Glenn Family.

The historic marker near what was once the bustling village of Glennville pays homage to the community’s dedication to education and the Glenn Family. It states:


(Front side) One of the earliest white settlements in the Old Creek Indian Nation. James Elizabeth Glenn, who named the town, and his brother Thompson Glenn, arrived here in 1835 only to have to evacuate during the Indian uprisings of 1836, at which time all buildings were destroyed and the remaining settlers killed. Thompson Glenn is credited with effecting the removal, to Columbus, Georgia, of the entrapped white citizens of nearby Roanoke, Georgia, during the same uprising. Glennville was resettled upon the removal of the Indians. It rapidly attracted settlers and their social and cultural standards caused Glennville to be known as “The Athens of the South.”

(Reverse side) At its apex this town had collegiate institutes, finishing schools, a military academy, classic churches and stately homes. In 1854 John Bowles Glenn left here to establish a school at Auburn and became its first president of the board of trustees. This school in successive changes became Auburn University. Glennville was the home of the only known lynch mob that bought a newspaper advertisement, acknowledged the deed and published their names. The victim, a convicted murderer, was a member of a prominent Barbour County white family. The incident brought national attention to the town. The failure to accept a railroad, seen as “an intrusion on their way of living,” proved to be the herald of the town’s demise.

The marker was erected in 1980 by The Historic Chattahoochee Commission and the Russell County Historical Commission.