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St. Luke's Church at Cahaba 02.JPG
St. Lukes Episcopal Church, built 1854 at Cahaba; moved to Martin's Station in 1878; returned to Old Cahawba in 21st century
Cahaba, Alabama is located in Alabama
Cahaba, Alabama
Location in Alabama
Cahaba, Alabama is located in the United States
Cahaba, Alabama
Location in the United States
Nearest city Selma, Alabama
Area 853 acres (345 ha)
Built 1818
Architect Multiple
NRHP reference No. 73000341
Added to NRHP May 8, 1973

Cahaba, also spelled Cahawba, was the first permanent state capital of Alabama from 1820 to 1825, and the county seat of Dallas County, Alabama until 1866. Located at the confluence of the Alabama and Cahaba rivers, it suffered regular seasonal flooding.

The state legislature moved the capital to Tuscaloosa in 1826. After the town suffered another major flood in 1865, the state legislature moved the county seat northeast to Selma, which was better situated.

The former settlement became defunct after it lost the county seat, although it had been quite wealthy during the antebellum years. It is now a ghost town and is preserved as a state historic site, the Old Cahawba Archeological Park. The state and associated citizens' groups are working to develop it as a full interpretive park St. Luke's Episcopal Church was returned to Old Cahawba, and a fundraising campaign is underway for its restoration.


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

Cahawba was listed on the 1860-1880 U.S. Censuses. Although it remained incorporated until as late as 1989, it did not appear on the United States 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 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 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 Forrest 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.


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.


Notable people

  • George Henry Craig, born in Cahaba, former U.S. Representative
  • Anderson Crenshaw, former Alabama judge who served in the circuit and state court when this was the state capital
  • Jeremiah Haralson, born in Dallas County, he was the only African American in the state elected to the State House, State Senate, and Congress during the Reconstruction era. Was deprived of re-election in 1876 by fraud by the Dallas County Sheriff General Charles M. Shelley.
  • Edward Martineau Perine, merchant and planter; owner of the Perine Store and the Perine Mansion on Vine Street

See also

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