Cahaba, also spelled Cahawba, was the first permanent state capital of Alabama from 1820 to 1825,[2] and county seat of Dallas County, Alabama until 1866. It suffered a major flood in 1865 and the state legislature moved the county seat to Selma, which was better situated.

The former settlement is now a ghost town and state historic site. The site is located southwest of Selma, at the confluence of the Alabama and Cahaba rivers, which made it prone to seasonal flooding.[3]


Historical population
Census Pop.
1860 1,920
1870 431 −77.6%
1880 384 −10.9%
U.S. Decennial Census[4]

Cahawba was listed on the 1860-1880 U.S. Censuses. Although it remained incorporated until as late as 1989,[5] it did not show up on the census rolls after 1880.



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 February 13, 1818 to select the site for Alabama's state capital. Cahaba was the site chosen and was approved on November 21, 1818.[3] Due to the future capital site being undeveloped, Alabama's constitutional convention took temporary accommodations in Huntsville until a statehouse could be built.

Governor William Wyatt Bibb reported in October 1819 that the town had been laid out and that lots would be auctioned to the highest bidders.[3] 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.[2]

Cahaba's low elevation at the confluence of two large rivers resulted in seasonal flooding and a reputation for 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.[3][6]


The town would remain the county seat of Dallas County for several more decades.[7] The town eventually recovered from losing the capital and reestablished itself as a social and commercial center. Centered in the fertile "Black Belt", Cahaba 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 Cahaba. On the eve of the American Civil War, the town had more than 3,000 residents.[2]

St. Luke's Episcopal Church was established in 1854.

During the Civil War, the Confederate government seized Cahaba's railroad and appropriated the iron rails to extend a nearby railroad of more military importance. It built a stockade around a large cotton warehouse on the riverbank along Arch Street in order to use it as a prison, known as Castle Morgan. It was used for prisoners of war from 1863 to 1865.[7] In February 1865 a 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 Forrest and Union General James H. Wilson met in Cahaba at the Crocheron mansion to discuss an exchange of prisoners captured during the Battle of Selma.


In 1866, the state legislature moved the county seat to nearby Selma, with businesses and families soon following. Within ten years, many of the houses and churches in Cahaba were dismantled and moved away.[2] During the Reconstruction era, freedmen organizing in the Republican Party and for other political purposes met regularly at the vacant courthouse. A new rural community of freedmen and their families gradually replaced the old urban center. These families developed the vacant town blocks into fields and garden plots. Soon, this community had largely moved on.[citation needed]

Prior to the turn of the 20th century, a freedman purchased most of the old town site for $500. He had the abandoned buildings demolished for their building materials and shipped the material by steamboat to Mobile and Selma.[3] By 1903, most of Cahaba's buildings were gone; only a handful of structures survived past 1930.[3][8]


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.[9] Visitors to this park can still see many of the abandoned streets, cemeteries, and ruins of this former state capital and county seat.[8]


The town, and later its abandoned site, was the setting for many ghost stories during the 19th and 20th centuries. One of the most widely known is that of a ghostly orb in a now-vanished garden maze at the home of C. C. Pegues. The house was located on a lot that occupied a block between Pine and Chestnut streets. The purported haunting was recorded with “Specter in the Maze at Cahaba” in 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey.[10] Reported hauntings are updated by Digital Alabama Guide To Ghosts And Haunted Places

Notable people


See also


  1. ^ National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Old Cahawba, Alabama's first state capital, 1820 to 1826". Old Cahawba: A Cahawba Advisory Committee Project. Retrieved 2008-01-07. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Harris, W. Stuart. Dead Towns of Alabama, pp. 66-67. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1977. ISBN 0-585-26563-1.
  4. ^ "U.S. Decennial Census". Archived from the original on April 22, 2013. Retrieved June 6, 2013. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Capitals of Alabama". Alabama Department of Archives and History. Retrieved 2008-01-07. 
  7. ^ a b "Dallas County Historical Markers". Alabama Department of Archives and History. Archived from the original on 2007-10-10. Retrieved 2008-01-07. 
  8. ^ a b "Old Cahawba". Alabama Historical Commission. Retrieved 2008-01-07. 
  9. ^ "Alabama: Dallas County". National Register of Historic Places. Retrieved 2008-01-07. 
  10. ^ Windham, Kathryn Tucker; Figh, Margaret Gillis (1969). 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey. Strode Publishers. ISBN 0-8173-0376-6. 


  • Fry, Anna M. Gayle. Memories of Old Cahaba. Nashville, Tenn: Publishing House of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1908.
  • Meador, Daniel J., "Riding Over the Past? Cahaba, 1936", Virginia Quarterly Review, Winter 2002.

External links

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