Alabama became the 22nd state of the Union in 1819. Temporary accommodations were set up in Huntsville, while the state’s first capital was being built. By 1820, Cahawba, located at the junction of the Cahaba and Alabama Rivers, was a fully functioning state capital.
However, Cahawba quickly earned a reputation for flooding which fostered an unhealthy atmosphere. This reputation was used to persuade the legislature to move the capital to Tuscaloosa in 1826. Within weeks Cahawba was nearly abandoned.
The town recovered and became the major distribution point for cotton being shipped down the Alabama River to the port of Mobile. In 1859 the railroad triggered a building boom and Cahawba grew to a population of approximately 3000 people.
However, the Civil War soon destroyed everything. First the Confederate government seized the railroad, and used the iron rails to extend a nearby railroad. Then they built a prison in the center of town for captured Union soldiers, which became lice-infested. If that wasn’t enough the town again flooded in 1865.
In 1866 the county seat was moved to Selma, and families along with their businesses were close behind. Within 10 years even many of the houses were gone. By the turn of the century most of the remaining buildings had been dismantled, burned or collapsed leaving Cahawba a ghost town.
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church was originally built on the corner of 1st Street South and Vine in 1854. During the decline of Cahaba it was moved in 1878 eleven miles to Martin’s Station where it was reassembled.
In 1982 it was acquired by the Alabama Historical Commission and added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The Church was disassembled again in 2006 and moved back to Old Cahaba by students from the Auburn University’s Rural Project. The exterior of project was completed in 2009. Since the original location was more prone to flooding the church was located near the corner of Beech Street and Capitol Street.
Even though most people moved on some stayed. Some stayed around to fish or hunt, but one stayed because he was The Duke.
Clifton Kirkpatrick 1863-1930 was Cahawba’s unofficial tour guide and was known as The Duke of Cahaba. Often times he would host visitors in his home. He was a farmer and horticulturist. He was a president of the Alabama Horticultural Society, and served as an officer in several national and state associations of pecan growers. At one point Kirkpatrick had between 10,000 to 15,000 acres of cotton. He believed that the state should break from being a one crop state, so he planted 300 acres of Pecan trees. From 1927 until his death in 1930 he served in the Alabama House of Representatives. In 1935 the Kirkpatrick’s mansion burned. The family sold over a quarter of a million bricks from the ruins. His son tried to convert the remaining servant quarters into a residence by adding a portico and back wing. The structure remains today and is pictured above.
According to tradition the Fambro/Arthur Home was built in the early 1840s by W.W. Fambro. However, there are parts of the home that could date back as early as the Capital Era (1819-1826).
The house saw several owners. In 1894 Ezekiel Arthur bought the house for $2,000. Ezekiel was a man born into slavery but took advantage of his freedoms after emancipation and became a successful family man, farmer and land owner. The Arthur family continued to live in the house until the late 1990s.
Above is an one room segregated schoolhouse located at Old Cahawba.