The Cahawba Advisory Committee
Cahawba Advisory Committee
State of Alabama
Preserving Alabama’s heritage by making Old Cahawba, Alabama’s first Capital, a first class resource for the State of Alabama.
In accordance with the Code of Alabama Section 41-9-252, the committee is composed of sixteen members. Fifteen of them are appointed by the Governor. The Probate Judge of Dallas County is an ex officio, nonvoting member. Appointed members are selected in a way so that each congressional district is represented by one appointed member, and the district where Cahawba is situated is represented by eight appointed members. Five of the eight members from the district where Cahawba is located must be residents of Dallas County. The appointed members serve seven-year terms. The members elect a Chair, Vice-chair and a Secretary/Treasurer for two-year terms. The Secretary/Treasurer acts as the administrative officer for the Committee.
When Alabama was organized by the U.S. Congress as a separate territory in 1817, St. Stephens served as the temporary seat of the territorial government. In accordance with the enabling act for statehood, the first Constitutional Convention and the first session of the General Assembly were held in Huntsville. Later on, the legislature chose Cahawba, at the confluence of the Cahaba and Alabama rivers, as the capital of the state, so the second session of the legislature met there in 1820. However, Cahawba had a reputation for flooding. In 1826, those opposed to the selection of Cahawba as the permanent site of the capital were successful in persuading the legislature to move the capital to Tuscaloosa. Cahawba, known as the Old Cahawba Capital Site, has become an important archaeological site managed by the Alabama Historical Commission.
By the early 1900’s Alabama citizens were rediscovering the ghost town that had once been the Capital of Alabama. Located on a peninsula created by the confluence of the Cahaba and Alabama Rivers, its moss covered trees, Indian artifacts, street grid, flora, artesian wells, imposing brick structures, and ruins created an aura hard to resist. In 1908 Anna Gayle Fry’s Memories of Old Cahawba sparked renewed interest. Cahawba became an important excursion site for Archaeological and Historical Societies. In 1925 several hundred people made the pilgrimage to Cahawba to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Marquis de LaFayette’s visit. In 1926 annual spring pilgrimages by Riverboat were sponsored by the Cahawba Memorial Association. This was a movement to preserve the cemeteries, ruins and structures still standing in Cahawba. Over the last one hundred years thousands of citizens of Alabama have been involved in this movement.
By 1943 the State had created the Cahaba Historical Commission. The Cahaba Historical Commission by enlisting the help of local citizens and the Dallas County Commission managed several projects and reopened the main streets of Cahawba but it did not have condemnation authority or regular State funding and each year more and more structures fell to the elements and vandals. By 1970’s only three historic structures were still intact on site. In 1975 authority over the site was transferred to the Alabama Historical Commission (AHC) with the hope of finally developing a State Park at Old Cahawba. Some progress was made but it was the 1980’s before there was real progress. The advent of the friends group, the Cahawba Concern, and the Cahawba Festival combined with the work of local legislators to help the AHC to buy more land, build a welcome center, and hire a full-time staff.
In 1994 the Cahaba Historical Commission officially became the Cahawba Advisory Committee (CAC), a State Agency tasked with advising the Alabama Historical Commission on the development of Old Cahawba. Under the leadership of Chairman Carl Morgan, Jr. the reinvigorated Committee was able to develop long range goals, increase the park staff, and provide major funding for land acquisition. By the late 1990’s with both the AHC and the Committee receiving regular State funding, hundreds of acres for the Old Cahawba Archaeological Park had been bought. In May of 2000 the AHC voted to acquire the remaining property by whatever means necessary. Since that date the Committee has provided grants to the AHC for that purpose totaling over one million dollars. The remaining property would have been acquired in the next two – three year period but budget cuts will postpone the final phase of land acquisition
With Committee funding, the AHC has acquired title to the only two remaining intact historical structures on site, the Fambro House, a 1840’s raised cottage, and the Barker Quarters, a two story brick slave quarters. Although money is technically available to stabilize and partially restore the Fambro House and the Barker’s Slave Quarters, red tape and the lack of a AHC Master Plan combined with current funding issues has prevented much stabilization or restoration.
Perhaps another dozen intact structures that once stood at Cahawba are located in Dallas County. These were moved mostly during the 1870’s. The AHC now holds title to the most architecturally significant of these, St. Luke’s Church. In 2003 the Committee awarded a $200,000 grant to the AHC Foundation to relocate St. Luke’s Church to Old Cahawba, its stabilization, and the seed money for restoration.
In June of 2003 the Alabama Legislature expanded the Committee’s powers allowing it to work more comprehensively in the areas of preservation and restoration. These new powers compliment the Committee’s original mandates of advising the AHC regarding the restoration and development, raising and disbursing funds, and building public awareness.
In October 2003 the AHC General Fund Appropriation was cut by 29%. In October 2003 the Committee General Fund Appropriation was cut by 75% thereby reducing by 75% the funds available to complete the land acquisition and restoration projects like St. Luke’s, Fambro House, and the Shoestring Barker Slave Quarters.
In November 2003 the Committee approved an E-commerce website to expand awareness of the plight of Old Cahawba and special projects including St. Luke’s Church, Fambro House and the Barker Slave Quarters and in addition, encourage donations for these projects from the public.