If you ask me what my favorite color is, I will happily tell you that it’s October. The leaves are changing, the air becomes crisp, and it’s finally acceptable to have those pumpkin spice lattes that you’ve been drinking since August because you just couldn’t help yourself.
No? That was just me? Well at any rate, with October comes Halloween, which means that masses of parents begin seeking out pumpkin patches, petting zoos, hayrides, and corn mazes for their little ones, and ads for haunted houses crop up overnight.
Traveling through the South, it is practically impossible not to eventually find yourself on a proverbial Main Street while driving through a small town that you may or may not have heard of—and, let’s be honest, probably have names that we are pronouncing wrong. (I’m looking at you, Arab.) But each of these towns have survived. They may not look or function quite the same way, but they’ve endured the test of time and people do in fact still live there.
Which brings me to the name of a little town that I stumbled upon while searching for haunted houses: Cahawba, Alabama—an actual ghost town.
I’ll be the first to say that I didn’t know ghost towns really existed. Abandoned or ruined remains of stray houses and other structures here and there, sure—but a whole town?
The city became the first capital of Alabama in 1820. Six years later the capital was moved to Tuscaloosa, taking many residents with it. But by 1859 the town had gotten a railway line, and Cahawba thrived again—until the Civil War broke out. The Confederate government then seized the railroad and its rails were appropriated for more important military uses. That loss, coupled with major flooding, led to a fixed social and economic decline in Cahaba. By the end of the century, most of the town’s buildings had been razed or fallen into ruin, and by 1900 it was a ghost town.
Not recently, not sometime in the last fifty years, but a hundred and fifteen years ago this city became abandoned. Today it is a tourist-friendly state historic park where visitors can explore the remains of this once-great capital. The park also has hiking trails, a welcome center, and the Old Cahawba Archaeological Site. The foundation of the Cahawba Federal Prison still remains, which held more than 3,000 Union soldiers during the Civil War.
So this Halloween if you’re looking for a family friendly but still a bit spooky reminiscence of what once was the old South, look no further than the town of Old Cahawba. Who knows? While getting away from all of the other pumpkin-spiced and romanticized images of fall, you may be lucky enough to stumble upon a few ghosts, and learn a little something too.