But in the 1820s, the state capital moved to Tuscaloosa; after the Civil War, the county seat moved to nearby Selma, and residents followed, many dismantling and moving their elegant houses. The town site became a refuge for freed slaves and, in more modern times, an overgrown patchwork of fishing and hunting camps.
Today, Old Cahawba is a state historical site, a nature reserve and a ghostly place. The chinaberry-lined streets are dotted with ruins, filled with legends of shootouts and panther sightings, and silent but for the chatter of birds and insects. Under a high, wooded riverbank, near the red-brick columns of a former Old Cahawba mansion, the placid Cahaba meets the much larger Alabama, and flows quietly toward the sea.
Michelle Nijhuis has written about aspen trees and Walden Pond for Smithsonian.
Beth Maynor Young's photographs appear in Headwaters: A Journey on Alabama Rivers.