BLAKELEY – CAHABA, ALA DEC 30, 2019
Many previous Alabama capitals and once bustling cities of the past lie abandoned between Mobile and Montgomery, Alabama, west of the modernly recognized South-state travel route. I’ve made the drive on Interstate 65 from Baldwin County to Central Alabama many dozen times, which is relatively not scenic compared to much of the state. Knowing that holiday traffic would likely cause a few detours anyway, I decided to take an alternate route. Luckily, Kelly Kazek of AL.com, writer of the weekly Odd Travel feature, published an article in 2017 detailing the ultimate south Alabama Ghost Town Road Trip. This article includes a map that makes a loop of six ghost towns starting and ending in Cahaba, running approximately 8 hours and 400 miles. Alternatively, my rendition is the fastest route northward to the same six ghost towns included in her article, as well as the abandoned film set of the fictional town Spectre from Tim Burton’s Big Fish on Jackson Lake Island in Millbrook. Total length is approximately 6 hours and 280 miles, click here to view the route in Google Maps.
Unfortunately I found Historic Blakeley Park closed on my arrival, although this was the one ghost town in Alabama I had already visited and the remains are underwhelming. They include a fort structure that has been completely reclaimed by nature (so much so it appears to be a hill), a “hiding tree” and a “hanging tree.” We visited the park when I was in grade school and I remember the guides trying to spook us about the hiding and hanging tree and telling us people hear ghosts from the Civil War, etc. The town was founded in 1813 acting as an economic competitor to the city across the bay, Mobile. After housing major Civil War Fort Blakeley, the towns post office closed in 1866. Blakeley: take it or leave it.
If you decide against visiting Blakeley consider nearby Byrne’s Lake in Stockton, filming location of Camp Crystal Lake in Friday the 13th Part VII. Another site along the road to the next ghost town is the Searcy Mental Hospital complex in Mount Vernon, originally built as an African-American insane asylum to take care of Bryce Hospital’s overflow. Click here to view the expanded post on Byrne’s Lake and click here to view the expanded post on Searcy Mental Hospital.
The town of Old St. Stephens was founded right next to the Tombigbee river, making it the furthest North a boat would have been able to travel at the time via Mobile Bay. Having been originally founded as a Spanish Fort in 1789, Old St Stephens grew to 580 citizens, acting as the first capital of the Alabama Territory. By 1833 the “New St Stephens” site had taken over. What exists at the site today is being researched by archaeologists, as the 200 year old remains lay perfectly undisturbed, complete with faux home-fronts, streets and street signs. Click here to view the expanded post on the Old St. Stephens Ghost Town.
Town of New St. Stephens, courthouse left, post office right.
All that remains at the original site of Claiborne is the historical marker and “Old Fort Claiborne Road” shown above. Founded in 1816, Claiborne grew to approximately 5000 citizens, making it the largest of any ghost town in South Alabama. Ironically it is one of the only ones without any remains of the original town, having shrunk to 350 citizens by 1872 due to yellow fever and cholera outbreaks.
An original masonic lodge (above left) and mansion from the town of Claiborne were moved to the nearby town of Perdue Hill for preservation.
It appears that the original road named Prairie Bluff has now been developed into a subdivision, complete with a gate and code. I asked the attendant at the nearest vintage gas station being used for a year round yard sale, and they were unfamiliar with any such cemetery or historical marker. Prairie Bluff, also known as Dale and Daletown was a town developed on the original road from St. Stephens to Cahaba. It first appeared on maps in 1819 with graves in the cemetery marked into the 1860’s.
This abandoned house was just up the road from the former site of Prairie Bluff.
While sadly a few of these ghost towns were lack luster, I happened upon one on my trip that I wasn’t aware existed between Prairie Bluff and Cahaba. Alberta, Alabama in Wilcox County has never been reported as its own separate community although it had a post office that suspended service in 2006. Although the post office has collapsed you can still read it’s title in black military lettering on the white cinder blocks. There were at least half a dozen abandoned structures at the intersection of Alberta Station.
Cahaba was the first state capital of Alabama. Originally built in 1818, the history has been very well documented compared to the other ghost towns in the state. The original grid of streets that make up the site of “Old Cahawba” are preserved for visitors to drive around and see the remains of the town. Montgomery was made the state capital in 1846. The town grew to a population of 2000 before dropping to approximately 700 by 1870. By 1903 Cahaba was practically abandoned. Click here to see the expanded post on the Cahaba Ghost Town.
Unfortunately I hadn’t allowed enough time extra time to stop for photos and the sun ultimately ended up setting before I made it to Robinson Switch Road, convenient crossroads and travel trade post and Jackson Lake Island, the fictional town of Spectre built in 2003 for the Tim Burton film Big Fish. On January 7, 2020 I visited the Film Set Ghost Town of Spectre, click here to see the post. The road trip could be done as I planned it over the summer during Daylight Savings Time although with a 5 PM sunset it wasn’t possible. This is the first road trip that I’ve ever tried to catalog in such a way so thank you for reading and be sure to check out the expanded posts on Byrne’s Lake, Searcy Mental Hospital, St. Stephens and Cahaba, linked above.
Shot on Canon EOS M100 15-50mm