Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Unexplained: Haunts II Uncovered | Selma: Southern Ghost Town

Written by: Jeff Rent
Case Filed:
10/29/02 - Cahawba, Alabama
Executive Producer: Rick Garner

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Cahawba was once Alabama's state capital (1820-1826) and a thriving antebellum river town. It became a ghost town shortly after the Civil War. Today it is an important archaeological site and a place of picturesque ruins.

As early as 4,000 years ago Indians occupied Cahawba, and the Spanish explorer DeSoto may have visited a large Indian village located there in 1540.
In 1819 the state of Alabama was carved out of the wilderness. Cahawba, its capital city, was an undeveloped town site, a gift from President James Monroe to the new state. Consequently, Alabama's legislature was forced to find temporary accommodations in Huntsville until a statehouse could be built. By 1820, however, Cahawba was a fully functioning state capital.


Cahawba's low elevation gave it a reputation for flooding and an unhealthy atmosphere. Those opposed to the selection of Cahawba as the capital used this reputation to persuade the legislature to move the capital to Tuscaloosa in 1826. Within weeks Cahawba was nearly abandoned.

The flooding had been greatly exaggerated by Cahawba's opponents, so the town recovered and reestablished itself as a social and commercial center. Cahawba became the major distribution point for cotton shipped down the Alabama River from the fertile "black belt" to the port of Mobile. The addition of a railroad line in l859 triggered a building boom. On the eve of the Civil War, more than 3,000 people called Cahawba home.

Cahawba's glory days were again short-lived. During the Civil War, the Confederate government seized Cahawba's railroad, tore up the iron rails and used them to extend a nearby railroad. A lice-infested prison for 3,000 captured Union soldiers was established in the center of town. In 1865 a flood inundated the town, and in 1866 the county seat was removed to nearby Selma. Businesses and families followed. Within 10 years, even the houses were being dismantled and moved.

During Reconstruction, the abandoned courthouse became a meeting place for freemen seeking new political power. Cahawba became the "Mecca of the Radical Republican Party". A new rural community of former slave families replaced the old urban center. These families turned the vacant town blocks into two-acre fields.

Soon, even this community disappeared. By 1900 most of Cahawba's buildings had burned, collapsed, or been dismantled. Few structures survived past 1930, but the town was not unincorporated until 1989. By that time, only fishermen and hunters walked the town's abandoned streets.

Today, nature has reclaimed Old Cahawba, but historians and archaeologists from the Alabama Historical Commission are working hard to uncover Cahawba's historic past and to create a full time interpretive park. Visitors are welcome at Old Cahawba. Enjoy the wildflowers. Take the time to roam the abandoned streets, view the moss-covered ruins, talk with an archaeologist, read the interpretive signs, and contemplate Cahawba's mysterious disappearance.

The site of Old Cahawba lies at the confluence of the Alabama and Cahaba Rivers. From downtown Selma, take Highway 22 west 8.6 miles. Turn onto Country Road 9 and follow this quiet country road another 5 miles to Cahawba.
Don't miss the many historic attractions and unique shopping opportunities in nearby Selma.

SELMA is proud to have had one of Hollywood's brightest stars in our "sky." Long before Jessica Lange was presented with an Academy Award for Best Actress (1995), SELMA knew it had a winner in Orion Pictures, "Blue Sky." It was filmed on location at Craig Air Force Base by Academy Award winning director, Tony Richardson. This probing drama also featured yet another Academy Award winning star, Tommy Lee Jones. Joining Lange and Jones were Powers Booth, Carrie Snodgrass and others.

Selma's successful filming stage was set by the 1968 release of "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter", which was based on the book by Carson McCuller. Alan Arkin earned his second Academy Award nomination, and Sandra Locke was nominated for an Oscar for their roles in this touching drama. Also recognized in the film are Cicely Tyson, Stacy Keach, and Percy Rodriquez.

Also filmed in SELMA during the 1960's was "Pay Day," which featured Rip Torn.
Warner Brothers selected Gabrielle Anwar, Meg Tilley, Billy Wirth, and Forest Whitaker to appear in the 1990's production of "Body Snatchers." A vote of confidence was given to SELMA by Robert Solo, who chose to produce his second film in the town.

SELMA offers unique filming opportunities for production companies and film enthusiasts! Located high on a bluff overlooking the beautiful Alabama River, SELMA is a natural setting for a variety of scenes. It contains majestic antebellum mansions, Victorian homes trimmed in gingerbread, and a rich blend of riverfront stores. Filming on Craig Air Force Base does not require Department of Defense clearance because it is no longer a military facility. However, fixed base operator and S.A.G. member, Ben Oliver quickly tells interested film professionals that the runway is long enough to land a 747!
Numerous Civil Rights based productions have featured SELMA, a city world renowned for it's role in the achievement of the 1965 Voting Rights Bill.

Affordability and production experience enhance SELMA's appeal to the film industry. These positive factors are proven by the fact that SELMA ranks second in Alabama cities in the amount earned in filming projects. SELMA is proud of it's role in the film industry and looks forward to future stars in our "sky."

Additional Resources:
Selma-to-Montogomery March

National Voting Rights Museum and Institute

Voting Rights Act of 1965

Importance of Selma to Confederacy


Battle of Selma

Selma Showcase

Selma-Dallas County Chamber of Commerce

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