Cahawba, Alabama

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May 3, 2016
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May 3, 2016

CahawbaAlabamaNow a state historic site, Cahawba or Cahaba served as the first sate capital of Alabama between 1820 and 1825. It started out as an undeveloped town site that was situated at the confluence of the Cahawba and Alabama Rivers. After a commission was formed to select what would become the site of Alabama’s state capital on 13th February 1818, Cahawba was chosen with the approval coming in on 21st November 1818.

Since the town had no establishment in place to house the constitutional convention at the time, temporary accommodation was found in Huntsville pending the construction of a statehouse at the chosen site. A grid system was adopted for the town’s plan and it was agreed that streets running east to west would be named for famous men while those running north to south would be named for trees.

Eventually, a brick structure, 40 feet (12 m) wide by 58 feet (18 m) long with two stories was set up at Cahawba and this became the new statehouse. The only major challenge with this site was that it had low elevation, which meant that it experienced flooding constantly and this made the atmosphere unhealthy too.

The intensity of these floods forced a portion of the statehouse to come down in 1825 and this prompted those opposed to the location of the capital to seek the transfer of the same to Tuscaloosa. This was approved in 1826 by the legislature but Cahawba remained as the county seat of Dallas County for a long time.

In the course of time, this town reestablished itself as a commercial and social center and became a major distribution point from where cotton was shipped down River Alabama to the port of Mobile. In 1859 more buildings were set up in the town after a railroad line was introduced in the area and it is estimated that Cahawba had over 3,000 inhabitants on the eve of the civil war experienced in America.

Between 1863 and 1865, a large cotton warehouse served as a prison with about 3000 Union solders living here. It was known as Castle Morgan and this was before the county seat moved to Selma in 1866. After this, most of the buildings including churches were brought down and the town eventually became the new rural community of former slaves.

Part of their pre-occupation was to turn the vacant town blocks into garden plots but after a while this community also faded away. Later on, one of the former slaves bought a large portion of the old town site; got the abandoned buildings at Cahawba demolished and the materials retrieved were shipped to Mobile and Selma by steamboat.

By 1930, only a few buildings had been left standing and today Cahawba is a state historic site as per the Alabama Historical Commission. In 1973 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places and a visit to the place will reveal ruins of the former state capital, abandoned cemeteries and streets. In the 19th and 20th centuries, this town was also a setting of many ghost stories with a ghostly orb in a garden maze that has since vanished, being the most popular.

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