Old Cahawba
The Crocheron Columns are
all that remain of the once
massive Chrocheron house,
built in around 1843.
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Old Cahawba Archaeological Site, Alabama
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Old Cahawba Archaeological Site, Alabama
State Capital to Ghost Town
Old Cahawba Archaeological Site preserves one of
the most famous ghost towns in the South. Now a
collection of ruins with only a few surviving
buildings, the town was Alabama's first state capital.
Slave House at Old Cahawba
The Barker Slave Quarters,
built in 1860, still survive even
though the original "big
house" burned in 1935.
Site of Castle Morgan
As many as 147 Union
soldiers died while confined
here at the Cahaba Prison
during the Civil War.
Alabama River at Cahawba
The river brought life to Old
Cahawba by providing it with
a means of transportation, but
also brought floods that
ultimately spelled the doom of
the town.
Old Cahawba Archaeological Site - Cahaba, Alabama
Alabama's First State Capital
Old Cahawba Archaeological Site, near
Selma, preserves the ghostly remains of
Alabama's first state capital.

When the State of Alabama came into being
in 1819, as a result of the Creek War of
1813-1814 and the Treaty of Fort Jackson, a
site in the howling wilderness at the
confluence of the Alabama and Cahaba
Rivers was selected to be its permanent
state capital. While the legislature met
temporarily in Huntsville, the town of
Cahawba was surveyed and Alabama's first
state capitol was built.

By 1820, the functions of state government
were fully underway at Cahawba, but the
town's distinction did not last long. The land
along the rivers was prone to flooding and
mosquitoes from the swamps spread fever,
giving the town the reputation of being a
dangerous and unhealthy place. As a result,
the legislature moved the state capital to
Tuscaloosa in 1826. It eventually moved on
to Montgomery, but the town of Cahawba
clung to existence.

As cotton planting became big business on
the Black Belt Prairie of Alabama, Cahawba
reinvented itself as a port on the Alabama
River. Paddlewheel steamboats edged up to
the bluff to take on thousands of bales of
cotton. A railroad line was completed to the
town in 1859 and the population grew to
more than 3,000.

Then came the Civil War. Its economy
devastated by the Union blockade of the
coast, which prevented cotton from being
shipped to overseas ports, Cahawba
suffered a fatal blow when the Confederate
government seized the railroad and removed
the iron rails for use elsewhere.

In June of 1863, a cotton warehouse in the
heart of the town was converted for use as
Cahaba Military Prison, which was known
locally as Castle Morgan. Famed Southern
General John Hunt Morgan was then one of
the Confederacy's best known cavalry
leaders and it is thought that the Castle
Morgan name was conceived in his honor
since he had been born in Alabama in 1825.

During its first months of operation, Cahaba
Prison held around 660 men, but as the war
dragged on and Union General Ulysses S.
Grant ordered an end to prisoner exchanges,
the population swelled to more than 3,000.
Conditions were horrendous.

The old warehouse and surrounding
stockade were cramped and food, medicine,
bedding and clothing were in short supply.
Surprisingly, though, the prison's death rate
of 2% was among the lowest among the
military prisons in either North or South. It is
thought that as many as 147 men died at
Castle Morgan.

Sadly, many of the men who survived their
time at Cahaba Prison met untimely deaths
shortly after being released. The steamboat
Sultana was carrying 2,300 newly freed
prisoners from Cahaba and Andersonville
when she exploded and burned on the
Mississippi River on April 27, 1865. As many
as 2,000 men died either in the explosion
and fire or in hospital beds following the

Old Cahawba's most famous ghost story
originated during the Civil War years. A
couple was walking near the home of
Colonel C.C. Pegues when they saw a ball of
white light floating in the air ahead of them.
The strange apparition moved side to side,
but disappeared into the brush when they
tried to touch it. It soon returned, however,
and followed them along their walk.
The strange phenomenon became known as
Pegues' Ghost to the residents of Old
Cahawaba, as the colonel had been mortally
wounded a short time before at the Battle of
Seven Pines, Virginia.

Old Cahawba suffered a massive flood in
1865 and the county seat was moved to
Selma one year later. As time passed, the
community slowly returned to the wilderness
from which it had come. The town was
officially unincorporated in 1989, but by then it
was already a fabled ghost town of Alabama.

As the 20th century progressed, the Alabama
Historical Commission took an interest in
saving what remained of the famed old town.
Property was acquired and archaeological
and historical research projects were
launched, leading to the establishment of
today's Old Cahawba Archaeological Site.

The park covers much of the original
downtown area and includes the sites of the
old capitol building, Castle Morgan, the
"Crocheron Columns," the Barker Slave
Quarters, the Methodist Episcopal Church
ruins, still-flowing artesian wells, three
cemeteries, a welcome center, boat ramp,
nature trail and picnic areas.
To learn more,
please click here to visit the outstanding
website of the Cawhaba Advisory Committee.

To reach Old Cahawba from Selma, take
Highway 22 west for 9 miles, turn left on
County Road 9 (look for the Old Cahawba
sign). Follow County Road 9 for 5 miles and
then turn left on County Road 2 which leads
into the park. The site is open daily from 9
a.m. until 5 p.m. and is free to visit.

The visitor center is open daily from 12 noon
until 5 p.m. Several different guided tours can
be arranged for a small fee ($4 for adults, $3
for seniors, military and students), but must
be arranged in advance. Please call 334-872-
8058 to make an appointment.

Brochures for self-guided tours are available
on the porch of the visitor center.
Fambro House at Cahawba
Still privately owned but easily
viewable at the corner of Oak
and 1st North Street, the old
Fambro House was built in
around 1841 and is one of the
few surviving original homes
in Old Cahawba.
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Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
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