Newcomers to the Town of Pike Road in east Montgomery County enjoy a new school system, wonderful town hall and the many gatherings which make the community special.
But former town clerk Charlene Rabren and Mayor Gordon Stone know that many hours by a long roster of residents went into the creation of what is now one of the fastest-growing cities in Alabama.
Rabren was born and raised in Pike Road, a third generation resident, she said. She and her family moved back to the community in 1987 to be closer to family.
Just less than a decade later she and Stone, who moved to the area with his wife Ellen in 1997, would become part of the drive to form a town to preserve a way of life residents cherished.
“I’ve known the people and their children I grew up with as I went to the original Pike Road School. I have roots here,” Rabren said.
She said that in 1996 and 1997 a number of people could see the changes taking place with the eastward growth of Montgomery.
“In 1996, Montgomery annexed several large properties in and around Pike Road community and we, the residents, became concerned that the community we loved would soon be gone,” she said. “We got organized and began an incorporation effort in order to preserve our way of life. My husband became the first mayor and eventually I became the town clerk.”
She remained in that role for 18 years until her retirement in 2015. She served daily with Stone as the leadership team worked with the council and community leaders to set up a town, and later a school system, and establish city services.
Initially, a Town Hall along the actual Pike Road near the original town center was the hub of civic business. That activity now takes place in the newer Town Hall along Vaughn Road.
The school has expanded from one campus near The Waters and has added the renovated original Pike Road School attended by Rabren.
All the while town leaders and neighbors have worked to retain the community spirit and atmosphere that drew them all to Pike Road initially.
Although Pike Road officially became a town in 1997, a farming community had flourished in east Montgomery County for more than 175 years.
About 1815, people began settling and farming and a small town took shape just south of where the renovated school site is today off Pike Road.
The road called Pike Road owes its name to the fact that many decades ago to travel on it one had to pay a fee, or pike, the town’s web site says.
The 1900s brought more growth to the community and the establishment of a school. That school was closed in 1970, only to reopen recently to house students for the new Pike Road School System.
That new system is one of the reasons the town’s growth has exploded from about 5,000 residents in 2010, to more than 8,000 today.
In 2015, the first education facility for Pike Road opened near The Waters off Marler Road.
More than 1,000 students were welcomed to classes. Also, in 2015 the town bought the historic school that was closed in 1970.
As growth has taken place, the town has faced the challenges of funding services, fixing roads, and providing public services.
The town’s first town hall building was located at 4902 Pike Road, but was moved in 2010 to its present location at the Pike Road Station on Vaughn Road.
The town is served by three volunteer fire departments, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department, a 24-hour ambulance service, and a waste disposal contractor.
Water and sewer services have grown in their availability and garbage and recycling programs also are available. The town also has two electricity providers and two gas companies, the town says.
Newsletters, social media, a web page and other tools help make citizens aware of the opportunities in Pike Road.
Rabren looks over the growing town from a perspective reaching back several decades. She loved her role as clerk, and looks forward to watching Pike Road continue to take shape.
“I think it is the greatest place to live and raise a family,” she said. “The growth has far exceeded any of our expectations. But I could see it coming. People would call the town office to inquire about Pike Road and they liked what they learned. And then when talk of a new school system began, we really saw an increase in the growth.”
She and Stone said the town has been diligent to protect the community’s heritage while planning for the future.
The town has tried to help connect the sprawling community with a number of annual events, such as a Christmas Tree lighting, a Fourth of July celebration, a Veterans Memorial service each fall, a hay bale contest and other activities.
In the thick of all that action is the longtime mayor, Auburn graduate Stone and his family.
He was drawn to Pike Road because of the rural life that could be enjoyed so close to the Capital City. That’s what he and the hundreds of other families in the town want to preserve.
“We wanted to live in an environment where our kids could have a diversity of experiences, close enough to where we could make it back and forth to church and school, but at the same time they could enjoy being in a more rural environment. It gave us the best combination of both,” Stone said.
The Stones were invited to participate in civic affairs and accepted partly because he grew up in a small southern town and always enjoyed the benefits of being part of a well-connected community. “We felt that the opportunity for the voices of Pike Road people to have input in the future of the area was important,” he said.
Once the incorporation was final, Stone said using planning professionals was key to helping the town’s leaders mesh the area’s great natural resources with the people’s vision for the future.
“From there, the evolution of the town has really been driven by people’s input. We saw that initially in 2005 when we had a series of town hall meetings that produced our four pillars: education, quality of life, services and planning,” he said. “We’ve seen planning pay benefits multiple times, like in the development of the school system, and recently with the adoption of our comprehensive plan.”
He said the comprehensive plan provides a vision for what residents want Pike Road to look like in 25 years, while also understanding the practical everyday decisions required to make that vision a reality.
“It gives us the guiding principles for day-to-day decisions, but gives us a process for implementing new ideas and bringing additional amenities to the community,” Stone said.
The school has been a big draw for Pike Road, helping to ignite a growth in rooftops. Rabren envisions an additional role for the school system.
Rabren said from 1917 to 1970 the original school was the hub of the community. Now its again part of everyday life.
“All community activity centers around the school. I think the formation of the new school system will bring the whole community closer together,” she said. “I am so honored to have had the opportunity to have been a part of the early days (of the town), and look forward to the future of my hometown.”
Stone and the town’s leaders have been managing the town’s popularity, and are thankful that a premium was put on planning up front.
“I don’t think anyone expected that we would be the fastest growing community in Alabama for as many years as we have. However, we always planned as if we would one day grow, so we have been able to effectively manage the growth,” he said. “The key to keeping the Town of Pike Road a special community is continuing to provide quality of life programming that brings people together. By having a public school system that is supported by individuals living in all 70 Pike Road neighborhoods, Pike Road Schools keeps our people connected. Further, when you invest in the next generation of leaders, they will take the work that we are doing today and build upon it.”
Looking ahead, the Stones, the parents of two daughters, see the students in town schools as the ones who will ultimately keep Pike Road the special place that the original town leaders envisioned.
“As long as we focus on our people, the Town of Pike Road will continue to be a great place to live, regardless of our size,” he said. “The greatest vote of confidence that a town can receive is when individuals choose to locate their families in your area. If we continue to emphasize education and activities that bring our community together in a fun and safe environment, then we will continue to grow. If you want to live in a community where people emphasize hospitality and truly live the motto, ‘Welcome Home,’ then the Town of Pike Road is the place for you.”