Cahaba, Alabama – WorldAtlas


In the US state of Alabama, there was once a town called Cahaba (also spelled Cahawba). It was founded at the beginning of the 19e century, and was the state capital for some time. But it was a city that did not survive after the 1800s. In fact, it was largely abandoned only seven years after its founding, and completely abandoned in the early 20th century.e century. Today, what remains of the city is an archaeological park, where its remaining buildings are kept. The site has earned the nickname “Alabama’s Most Famous Ghost Town”. Indeed, according to some, the city is haunted by the spirits of the people who once inhabited it.


Cahaba river covered with lily flowers from the benches.

Cahaba is located in central Alabama at the confluence of the Alabama and Cahaba rivers. The Cahaba River, which is a major tributary of Alabama, is the longest free-flowing river in the state, stretching from the Appalachian Plateau to the Alabama Coastal Plain. The town of Selma is located northeast of Cahaba, while Montgomery, the capital of Alabama, is further east. West of Cahaba is the Old Cahaba Prairie Reserve.

Brief history

Fambro-Arthur House in Cahaba.
Fambro-Arthur House in Cahaba.

Human settlement in what is now Cahaba began about 4,000 years ago, with the arrival of the Paleoindians. These Native Americans took root in the floodplain forest, which contained abundant natural resources that could support a large population. Between the 11e and 16e Centuries ago, the area was inhabited by Native Americans belonging to the Mississippi Cultural Group, which includes peoples such as the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, and Chickasaw Nations. These peoples engaged in intensive agriculture and built large cities in the region. The peoples of the Mississippi culture are probably best known, however, for the mounds they built throughout modern Alabama. In the 15e century, the Native American village built in present-day Cahaba was the northernmost outpost of a society that founded its political center at the end of the Alabama River.

In 1540, a Spanish expeditionary force led by the conquistador Hernando De Soto arrived in Alabama, where they came across the Native American village of Mabila, which may or may not have been located in present-day Cahaba, as researchers are still divided on the exact location. No matter where it was, however, it would become the location of one of 16’s most important events.e century North America: The Battle of Mabila, which pitted the Native Americans of the region against De Soto and his forces. With superior weapons, De Soto’s forces slaughtered the Native Americans, killing 4,000 to 5,000 of them. De Soto’s decisive victory at Mabila and his destruction of several other Native American communities paved the way for permanent European colonization, although this did not happen until the start of the 18e century, when the French founded the first permanent European colony in present-day Mobile, Alabama, in 1702.

Cahaba was not founded until 1819, following the Creek Indian War. That same year, Alabama became the 22sd state of the Union and needed a capital. At the time, Cahaba was the main cotton distribution center. Conditions in the region were ideal for cotton cultivation, as the future site of Cahaba was located in the black belt, named after its black and fertile soil. Additionally, Cahaba’s location at the confluence of the Cahaba and Alabama rivers was extremely beneficial, as cotton growers could ship their goods on steamboats downstream from Mobile, Alabama, located on the Gulf Coast of Mexico. From there, the cotton would be exported to other countries. So, it made sense to make Cahaba Alabama the new capital.

The new capital, however, presented two problems: the prevalence of mosquitoes and flooding in the region. Mosquitoes were more than a nuisance at this time, as they spread the deadly disease known as yellow fever. In fact, the town of Cahaba suffered several outbreaks of yellow fever which, along with the floods, eventually forced the Alabamans to move their capital to Tuscaloosa in 1826. Nonetheless, Cahaba remained inhabited, with cotton growing fueling its economy. During the Civil War, the city served as a prison camp for Confederate forces. It was after the civil war that the days of Cahaba came to an end. A massive flood in 1865 destroyed the city. Rather than rebuilding, many Cahaba residents moved elsewhere, although the city remained inhabited until the turn of the century. In 1870, the town still had 300 inhabitants.

During the period of American history known as Reconstruction, the city became a focal point for freed slaves seeking political power. In fact, Cahaba became known as “The Mecca of the Radical Republican Party. A group of 70 freed slaves built a new farming community in the area, turning the abandoned land in the Old Town into 2-acre fields. But this revival was short-lived. By 1900, most of the buildings in Cahaba had burned down, fallen or been demolished. The site of the abandoned city was quickly reclaimed by nature. It was not until 1920, when archaeologists located the ruins of Cahaba, that preservation efforts were undertaken. In 1975, the remains of Cahaba were turned over to the Alabama Historical Commission for better preservation of the site. The city was officially unincorporated in 1989.

Attractions in Cahaba

Abandoned Cahaba school in Cahaba.
Abandoned Cahaba school in Cahaba.

People walking the dirt roads of Old Cahaba will come across many historic sites, such as the remains of Castle Morgan, a chimney that marks the site of the aforementioned Confederate prison camp. Visitors to the archaeological park will also encounter two cemeteries. One is called New Cemetery and the other is the Negro Burial Ground. The latter was established as a slave cemetery in 1819, the same year that the city of Cahaba was founded. The markers in the black cemetery are quite commonplace. On the other hand, the tombstones of the new cemetery are quite ornate.

Old Saint Lukes Church in Cahaba, Alabama
Saint Luke Episcopal Church in old Cahaba.

Another landmark in Old Cahaba are the ruins of Crocheron Mansion, which feature massive circular brick columns. In 1865, this mansion was used as a meeting place for a Union general and his Confederate counterpart, who were trying to organize a prisoner exchange. Other landmarks in the abandoned town of Cahaba include its old one-class school, a Methodist Church, the Fambro-Arthur House, and the Baker Slave Quarters, located in Kirkpatrick Mansion. Those who visit Old Cahawba Archaeological Park should be informed that it is said to be haunted. Stories of visitors and park officials seeing images of people who lived in the city even drew paranormal investigators to the site.

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