The first permanent state capital of Alabama from 1820 to 1825.
The town would remain the county seat of Dallas County for several more decades. The town eventually recovered from losing the capital and reestablished itself as a social and commercial center. Cahaba, centered in the fertile "Black Belt", became a major distribution point for cotton shipped down the Alabama River to the port of Mobile. The addition of a railroad line in 1859 triggered a building boom in the town of Cahaba. On the eve of the American Civil War, more than 3,000 people called Cahaba home.
During the Civil War, the Confederate government seized Cahaba's railroad and reappropriated the iron rails to extend another nearby railroad of military importance. A large cotton warehouse on the riverbank along Arch Street was stockaded for use as a prison, known as Castle Morgan from 1863 to 1865. In February 1865 another flood inundated the town, causing much additional hardship for the roughly 3000 Union soldiers held in the prison, and for the town's citizens. Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forest and Union General James H. Wilson discussed an exchange of prisoners, captured during the Battle of Selma, in Cahaba at the Crocheron mansion.
In 1866, the county seat was moved to nearby Selma, with businesses and families following. Within ten years, many of the houses and churches were dismantled and moved away. During Reconstruction, the vacant courthouse became a meeting place for freedmen seeking new political power. A new rural community of former slave families replaced the old urban center. These families turned the vacant town blocks into fields and garden plots, though soon, even this community largely disappeared. Prior to the turn of the century, a former slave purchased most of the old town site for $500. He had the abandoned buildings demolished for their building materials and shipped by steamboat to Mobile and Selma. By 1903, most of Cahaba's buildings were gone; only a handful of structures survived past 1930.
Although the area is no longer inhabited, the Alabama Historical Commission maintains Cahaba as a state historic site and as an important archaeological site. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Visitors to this park can still see many of the abandoned streets, cemeteries, and ruins of this former state capital.