Historic Markers Across Alabama

A Courthouse Reduced to Rubble

Marker ID:  
Location: in the Cahawba Archaeological Park (nominal fee required), 9518 Cahaba Rd, Orrville, AL
County: Dallas
Coordinates: N 32° 19.087    W 087° 5.776
  32.31811666    -87.09626666
Style: Interpretative Sign **
Waymark: None


A Courthouse Reduced to Rubble

Prior to 1905, workmen in search of salvageable bricks dismantled the old Dallas County Courthouse (pictured here). The grassy mound before you contains the damaged bricks the workmen left behind.

Cahawba was the county seat from 1818 until 1866. This structure was built in 1834, after an earlier courthouse collapsed.

The courthouse was the heart of the town, so when the county seat was moved to Selma after the Civil War most of Cahawba's residents followed.

Meanwhile the abandoned courthouse became a meeting hall for emancipated slaves seeking new political power. Selma newspapers began to refer to Cahawba as the "Mecca of the Radical Republican Party." By 1876, there were only 307 registered voters in Cahawba; all but 9 were African American. Cahawba had become a village of politically active freedmen, but soon even that settlement would fade away.

Abandoned Courthouse Setting for 1876 Political Drama

Jeremiah Haralson, an African American, served in the U.S. Congress from 1875 until 1877. In 1876 he was giving a speech in Cahawba's old courthouse as part of his re-election campaign. His opponent, General Charles M. Shelley, the white sheriff of Dallas County, sent a deputy to Cahawba to escort the congressman to Selma. Haralson reported that he was forced at gunpoint to retract a statement and to promise to hold no more political meetings. Seeing a congressman treated this way had a chilling effect on Black voters. This event is generally accepted as the official end of Reconstruction in Dallas County. In tallying the votes, several precincts were excluded for "irregularities," and Congressman Haralson lost his bid for re-election to Shelley.

Unfinished Business
Post-Civil War policies that protected the politically active Freedmen at Cahawba were short lived. By 1879, the chugging sounds of a steam-powered cotton gin had replaced the oratory of Congressman Jeremiah Haralson and the Radical Republicans.

2015 by the Alabama Historical Commission.

Photographs of the marker can be found on HMDB

End of A Courthouse Reduced to Rubble