200 Alabama Bicentennial

Celebrating Alabama’s 200th birthday2017 2018 2019

Alabama Historical Commission Honors State Bicentennial with “From Wilderness to Statehood: Celebrating Cahawba” 


(Montgomery, AL) On Friday, October 4, from 10am – 2pm, the Alabama Historical Commission (AHC), in conjunction with the Alabama Bicentennial Commission, is hosting a special ALABAMA200 event honoring the first permanent state capital at Cahawba.


“Old Cahawba is a very special place. The beautiful ruins and landscape tell the story of Alabama’s early beginnings. In this bicentennial year, we know it’s important to honor where you’ve been, so you know where you’re going,” said Governor Kay Ivey. “We celebrate Cahawba and honor those who came before us to establish the foundations of our great state. Alabama’s success story is her people, the resilience and dedication of all the men and women who have brought us to this point and the future Alabamians who will carry us for generations to come.”


Cahawba holds many secrets like Alabama’s first Statehouse, a nearly two centuries-old mystery until AHC archaeologists uncovered the foundation remnants. As a special commemoration of Alabama’s bicentennial, elected officials and dignitaries will be on hand for a groundbreaking ceremony for the future site of a Statehouse ghost structure, a steel outline representing the original statehouse, which will serve as a trail head pavilion for a new multi-use trail funded through an Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) grant. 


“Over the last year, we have been celebrating our 200th anniversary of statehood throughout the state, but few places are more historically significant than Cahawba. It is very special to be able to visit our state’s first permanent capital in this bicentennial year,” said Senator Arthur Orr, Alabama Bicentennial Commission Chairman. “It is even more impressive to see how much we have learned about the original capitol building, thanks to the efforts of the Alabama Historical Commission. The Statehouse ghost structure will give people a rare glimpse into what our seat of government actually looked like 200 years ago.” 


“From Wilderness to Statehood: Celebrating Cahawba was crafted to highlight the significant history at Cahawba and the citizens who contributed in shaping our state,” said Lisa D. Jones, Executive Director of the Alabama Historical Commission. “Through the historic preservation efforts of so many, we have a beautiful park where we can walk the same streets as those who came before us. The bicentennial is a momentous occasion to honor our people and share our stories.” 


Throughout the event, visitors can enjoy cemetery tours, historical vignettes, wagon tours, or elect to explore the beautiful landscape on foot or bicycle. 


Live musical entertainment will be provided by Karren Pell and the Old Alabama Town Revue Crue; Christina Weerts; and R.B. Hudson Middle School. 


Representatives from the Office of Archaeological Research at The University of Alabama will be on site at Cahawba’s New Cemetery to discuss the cultural resources survey conducted in 2016 and current cemetery restoration.  AHC staff will join them to give a short workshop on cemetery preservation.


Another exciting element of the event is the premiere of an orientation video to enhance the interpretation of Old Cahawba. This video will utilize current footage, historic images, and architectural renderings to give visitors a glimpse of Cahawba as it was, and help visitors link the relic landscape to the history of the site. 


Cahawba’s timeline is teeming with noteworthy residents who were history-makers and boundary-breakers. During the event, reenactors bring history alive with vignettes from Cahawba’s past, so visitors can meet some of the fascinating individuals whose lives represent various periods at the site. 


Governor William Wyatt Bibb, Alabama’s first Governor, will share his thoughts about designing Alabama’s first statehouse and Cahawba’s very unusual town plan.  Jesse Beene, an early settler from Tennessee, describes the frontier capital of Cahawba as a “community of strangers” in a speech given to celebrate the 4th of July 1820. Union Soldiers were held captive during the Civil War at Cahawba in 1865 will share letters to home. Jesse Chisholm Duke was a successful editor of newspapers and the first president of the “Southern Negro Press Association” will share the opportunities and dangers he encountered while moving from slavery to freedom at Cahawba. Regarded as the Pinnacle of Women’s Power in the A.M.E Church, Sara J. Duncan was born in Cahawba shortly after emancipation to formerly enslaved persons. She will share information about how she and her once enslaved family became leaders in the church, the community, and state government. In 1913, Attorney Thomas Walker was the richest and most successful African-American lawyer and real estate developers in Washington D.C. – also a great philanthropist. He will relate his path to success, starting with being taught the alphabet by a “kind-hearted, religiously-disposed white boy” in Cahawba. 


The former antebellum resident of Cahawba who started “Save Cahawba” is Mrs. Anna Gayle Fry, who will be stationed at the centennial monument along the intersection of Capital Street and Walnut Street. She will be sharing how the spirits moved her to write Memories of Old Cahaba and how the Cahaba Memorial Association was founded in 1926 and will also reflect on the monument that was erected to honor Alabama’s Centennial. A reenactment of the infamous 1856 Bell Shoot-out will take place on Vine Street between 1st and 2nd streets north while Charlie Haynes, Cahawba’s newspaper editor, will offer a narration about the men involved who will confront one another once again in showdown-style. 


In contemporary times, the ongoing effort to preserve Cahawba has created many opportunities to develop relationships with outstanding partners across the state, many of whom will have a presence in the partner area of the event. Visitors can engage with the following entities who’ve contributed to Cahawba’s longevity: The Cahaba Foundation, the Cahaba Advisory Committee, the Alabama Bicentennial Commission, The Black Heritage Council, The University of Alabama’s Museum Expedition, Alabama Public Television/Project Archaeology, Troy State University Anthropology Department, Alabama Archaeological Society, Forever Wild, Cahaba Blue Way, and The Nature Conservancy.


Other vendors for the day include Tally Ho Restaurant Food Truck and Kona Icewho will be on site serving food.  


This event is free and open to the public. 


In 1818, the Alabama Territorial Assembly met at St. Stephens where Governor Bibb decided the site of the newly-formed state government would be at Cahawba. Located at the confluence of the Alabama and Cahaba Rivers in Dallas County, Cahawba was built upon the remains of an earlier 16th century Mississippian Indian village; these ancient earthworks were incorporated into the centerpiece of the capital city. With the dawning of Alabama’s statehood in 1819, Cahawba was carved out of the wilderness to be the state's first capital. Although the state changed the location of the capital in 1826, Cahawba continued to grow into a thriving and wealthy river town. For a short time after the Civil War, Cahawba attracted emancipated African-Americans seeking new freedoms. One hundred years before the 1965 Voting Rights March focused on the Dallas county courthouse in nearby Selma, a brave community of recently emancipated African-Americans gathered around an older courthouse at Cahawba. These 19th century citizens exercised their right to vote and - for a brief time - gained great political power. Cahawba's African-American majority reshaped Cahawba as they pursued their dreams of equality.


By the turn of the century Cahawba’s structures faded into history, but a fervent effort remained to preserve the ruins and landscape. The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and in 1975, the authority over the site was transferred to the AHC, which now maintains the site.


Now an archaeological park, Old Cahawba’s celebration of living history and Statehouse excavation make “From Wilderness to Statehood: Celebrating Cahawba” a terrific way to kickstart Alabama Archaeology Month, which is observed in October. 


Archaeology is the study of the things that were left by people of the past. “Not everyone gets to write their life story in the history books but all of us leave traces of our stories behind in the soil, so archaeology allows us a glimpse of individual stories to which we can often relate on a personal level,” said State Archaeologist Stacye Hathorn.  


Hathorn continued, “Archaeology month is important because it allows us a platform to highlight and share the stories that we learn through archaeology and to educate the public about the value of archaeological sites so that we may preserve them for study in the future.” 


Old Cahawba Site Director Linda Derry is excited to welcome patrons for this special 200-year commemoration.  “The bicentennial is a good time to reflect on the imaginative and symbolic town plan and the statehouse that Governor Bibb created for us,” said Derry. “And, as the kick-off event for Archaeology Month, it’s appropriate that we learn what early Alabama mysteries are being solved through archaeological research.” 


Directions to Old Cahawba: From downtown Selma, take Highway 22 (Dallas Avenue) west 8.6 miles. Cross over the Cahaba River and turn left onto County Road 9 and follow this 3.3 miles until it dead ends. Turn left onto County Road 2 and follow this 1.5 miles until you see the Visitor Center on the right. Visitor Center Address: 9518 Cahaba Road, Orrville, AL 36767.

To learn more about Old Cahawba, or the Alabama Historical Commission, please visit www.ahc.alabama.gov.


About Old Cahawba

Old Cahawba lies at the confluence of the Alabama and Cahaba Rivers, and from 1819 to 1826 it served as Alabama’s first capital. Today, the Alabama Historical Commission owns and operates this significant archaeological site.


About the Alabama Historical Commission

Located in historic downtown Montgomery at 468 S. Perry Street, the Alabama Historical Commission is the state historic preservation agency for Alabama. The agency was created by an act of the state legislature in 1966 with a mission to protect, preserve and interpret Alabama’s historic places. AHC works to accomplish its mission through two fields of endeavor: Preservation and promotion of state-owned historic sites as public attractions; and, statewide programs to assist people, groups, towns, and cities with local preservation activities. For a complete list of programs and properties owned and operated by the AHC, hours of operation, and admission fees please visit ahc.alabama.gov