Cahaba

Also known as: Cahawba
11 mi (17.6 km) SW of Selma at jct. of Cahaba and Alabama Rivers, Selma, Alabama

The first permanent state capital of Alabama from 1820 to 1825.

Photos 

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Photo taken by WillyT

View this photo at bamarides.com

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Description 

Cahaba, also spelled Cahawba, was the first permanent state capital of Alabama from 1820 to 1825. It is now a ghost town and state historic site. The site is located in Dallas County, southwest of Selma. Cahaba had its beginnings as an undeveloped town site at the confluence of the Alabama and Cahaba Rivers. At the old territorial capital of St. Stephens, a commission was formed on 13 February 1818 to select the site for Alabama's state capital. Cahaba was the site chosen and was approved on 21 November 1818. Due to the future capital being nothing more than wilderness, Alabama's constitutional convention was forced to find temporary accommodations in Huntsville until a statehouse could be built. Governor William Wyatt Bibb reported in October of 1819 that the town had been laid out and that lots would be auctioned to the highest bidders. The town was planned on a grid system with streets running north and south named for trees and those running east and west named for famous men. The new statehouse was a two-story brick structure, measuring 40 feet (12 m) wide by 58 feet (18 m) long. By 1820 Cahaba had become a functioning state capital. Cahaba's low elevation at the confluence of two large rivers gave it a reputation for flooding and having an unhealthy atmosphere. A major flood struck the town in 1825, causing a portion of the statehouse to collapse. People who were opposed to the capital's location at Cahaba used this as an argument for moving the capital to Tuscaloosa, which was approved by the legislature in January 1826.

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.

National Register information 

Status
Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on May 8, 1973
Reference number
73000341
Area of significance
Politics/Government
Level of significance
State
Evaluation criteria
A - Event
Property type
Site
Historic functions
Courthouse; Water-related; Capitol; Warehouse; Financial institution; Business
Current function
Single dwelling
Periods of significance
1800-1824; 1825-1849
Significant years
1818; 1826
Number of properties
Contributing buildings: 1
Contributing sites: 1

Update Log 

  • February 24, 2020: New Street View added by Michael Miller
  • November 29, 2011: New photos from WillyT
  • May 25, 2011: Updated by WillyT: Added Description

Sources