Most people in the United States associate ghost towns with the gold rush which swept the western half of the country in the 1800s. Even though extreme heat, humidity, and abundant vegetation degrade abandoned structures at a steady pace, the South is still home to some compelling ghost towns. The story of Cahaba, Alabama—which briefly served as the Alabama state capital—is preserved in a well-kept archeological park which allows visitors to explore the history of the town.
In 1818, the powers that be decided that a fertile plot of land located between the Alabama and Cahaba rivers which was punctuated with ancient Native American mounds was the ideal spot to house Alabama’s new state capital. By 1820, Cahaba was in full swing. The town featured a brick state capitol building, several streets which were constructed on a grid, and plenty of housing for potential residents who desired to live in a town with abundant steamboat traffic.
Cahaba proved to be a fraught choice for Alabama’s state capital. The town flooded regularly, causing a great deal of disruption and damage. Also, Cahaba was a hotbed of mosquitos which spread devastating diseases such as yellow fever and malaria. Naysayers claimed that unhealthy air was the root of Cahaba’s infectious disease woes.
After Alabama’s state capital briefly relocated to Tuscaloosa in 1826, Cahaba’s fortunes ebbed and flowed until the town was entirely abandoned in the early 1900s. Cahaba was home to the notoriously rough Castle Morgan prison for captured Union soldiers during the Civil War, a cotton trade that boomed until massive flooding made cotton transport impossible, and a sizable population of politically active freed slaves during the Reconstruction era who eventually abandoned Cahaba due to flooding.
Today, visitors can explore the Old Cahawba (which is an alternate spelling of Cahaba) Archeological Park and view a stately Episcopal Church which was designed by famed architect Richard Upjohn, the remnants of a once grand mansion which played a very important role in a Civil War treaty, and a crumbling graveyard that is rumored to be haunted by a handful of restless spirits.
During the fall, The Old Cahawba Archeological Park offers nocturnal haunted history tours for those who are curious about the ghosts of Cahaba. A ghostly orb that supposedly appeared near the property of Confederate Colonel Pugues to warn him about his impeding death in a Civil War battle is Cahaba’s most popular spectral resident.