Historic Markers Across Alabama

Cahaba's Changing Landscape

Marker ID:  
Location: in the Cahawba Archaeological Park (nominal fee required), 9518 Cahaba Rd, Orrville, AL
County: Dallas
Coordinates: N 32° 19.183    W 087° 6.268
  32.31971666    -87.10446666
Style: Interpretative Sign **
Waymark: None


Cahaba's Changing Landscape
In 1818, Alabama's first governor carved the capital city of Cahawba out of the wilderness. In less than 50 years, Cahawba grew from a frontier capital full of log cabins to one of America's wealthiest communities, with some of the finest mansions in the state. Then abruptly, after the Civil War, all was abandoned.

Today Cahawba is a ghost town, an important archaeological site, and a place of picturesque ruins. Ironically in 1818, Cahawba's landscape was also full of ruins—the remains of a village constructed by prehistoric mound builders who abandoned the site in the 16th century.

As you look east down Capitol Street toward the Alabama River, You're looking directly at the site where an immense earthen mound, centerpiece of the mound-builder village, once stood—the same site Governor Bibb envisioned for Cahawba's statehouse. In 1858 Cahawba residents used the soil of this prehistoric mound to build an embankment for their new railroad.

Freeman's 1817 Map
In 1817, settlers were anxious to move into Alabama's frontier, and surveyor Thomas Freeman was responsible for creating maps necessary for orderly land sales. Just below the confluence of the Cahaba and Alabama rivers, Freeman observed and recorded the ruins of an old abandoned Indian village. The houses and the semi-circular palisade that surrounded the village had long since turned to dust, but the ceremonial earthen mound in the center of the town and the moat that surrounded the palisade wall were still visible in 1817 (recorded as an "Ancient Indian Work' on this map).

Governor Bibb's 1818 Map of Cahawba
In 1818, when the federal government granted Governor Willam Wyatt Bibb land at the confluence of the Cahaba and Alabama rivers for Alabama's seat of government, the Territorial Assembly authorized Bibb to layout a town plan. If you compare Governor Bibb's 1818 town, plat, to Freeman's 1817 map, you can see that Bibb planned to give the statehouse of his new city prominence by sitting it atop the old Indian mound, He also planned to surround the capitol grounds with the moat that had been dug three centuries earlier. Funding shortages and his untimely death prevented Bibb from fully realizing his plan.

2013 by the Alabama Black Belt Nature & Heritage Trail.

Photographs of the marker can be found on HMDB.org

End of Cahaba's Changing Landscape