Ghost towns are fascinating reminders of our past, reflecting bygone eras and communities that faded away due to disease, economic decline, or political shifts.
But, in these spots throughout Alabama, travelers will find much more than abandoned buildings with a spooky vibe. In each village or hamlet, you’ll discover fascinating stories from the state’s rich history and explore sublime forests and waterways. If you have a passion for history, and a love of the outdoors, you don’t want to miss these fascinating ghost towns in Alabama.
Historic Blakeley State Park
Historic Blakeley State Park sits beside the fertile waters of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, which covers about 260,000 acres, making it the second-largest delta in the country.
Those familiar with Civil War history know that Blakeley was the site of the last major battle of the war, but the area has an interesting history that stretches back thousands of years.
About 4,000 years ago, the Paleo-Indians first inhabited the area, and Europeans began settling in the 1500s. Soon after the United States took possession of the region, an entrepreneur named Josiah Blakeley realized the potential of this land as a sea port and bought 7,000 acres. In 1813, he began surveying the property, laying out a grand plan for a new town that would rival neighboring Mobile. Soon, he started selling lots, and in 1814 the town of Blakeley was officially established.
Unfortunately, mosquitoes infested the area, which was surrounded by bays, creeks, bayous, and swamps. In 1828, a series of yellow fever epidemics broke out, and soon the city of 4,000 spiraled into decay. By the mid-1800s, Blakeley was abandoned.
Today you can walk the old main street of Blakeley along the banks of the delta and see the recently unearthed remains of the old town courthouse. On main street, you’ll stroll in the shade of 400-year-old live oaks that once lined the bustling city streets, while the battlefield and the delta provide a magnificent backdrop for your walk.
St. Stephens Historical Park
St. Stephens is known as the place "where Alabama began." First settled by the Spanish in 1789, this settlement on the Tombigbee River eventually became the first territorial capital of Alabama. Now, the site is part of St. Stephens Historical Park, where scholars and universities are painstakingly reconstructing the layout of the town.
Because St. Stephens sits at a sharp bend in the Tombigbee River, ships heading north from the Gulf and Mobile would have to stop where shallow water prevented further movement to the north. While St. Stephens began as a small, Spanish-occupied fort high atop the limestone bluffs, the Spanish ceded the land to the United States in 1799 and the population of 190 swelled to 7,000. In 1817 it was named the capital of the Alabama Territory and served as the seat of government until Alabama became a state, whose capital was established in Cahawba in 1820.
Archaeologists have identified many of the city streets and intersections to the point of even providing house numbers and some history of the families that lived there. Your visit will take you past old wells and the dig site of the Globe Hotel, the main stopping point and lodging for travelers and businessmen throughout the region.
Old Cahawba Archaeological Park
Old Cahawba has seen it all. Located in what is now the town of Orville, just south of Selma, this active archaeological site was established as Alabama’s first capital in 1820. Sitting at the confluence of the Alabama and Cahaba rivers, Old Cahawba served as the ideal capital. Both waterways were thriving steamboat routes, making it possible to easily transport cotton from the Black Belt of Alabama to the Gulf and the port city of Mobile.
The rivers, however, were prone to severe flooding, and mosquitoes thrived in the area. Following a yellow fever epidemic, the state moved the capital to Tuscaloosa, and then Montgomery just six years later.
Despite the move, Old Cahawba continued to grow and reached a population of 3,000 by 1859. But its growth was cut off by the Union navy during the Civil War when they blockaded the river. In 1863, the Confederate Army converted a cotton warehouse into a POW camp to house captured Union soldiers. While the camp was designed to hold 660 men, some 3,000 were imprisoned there by 1865.
Today you can roam the deserted streets of Old Cahawba, which are named just as they were in the mid-1800s. Your ramble takes you to the old one-room school house and two cemeteries, including the New Cemetery where wealthy white people were buried with ornate tombstones, and the Negro Burial Ground, which was established in 1819. The last burial held there was in 1959.
You can also visit the spot where the POW camp once stood and walk among tall brick columns that are the only remnants of the Crocheron family mansion. In 1865, Confederate General Forrest and Union General Wilson met in the mansion for a few hours to discuss exchanging prisoners. The only reason the columns still stand is that their unique design made the bricks useless to scavengers.
The Town of Spectre at Jackson Lake Island
This one is a little different—a ghost town that never was. The reason? The buildings on this small island along the Alabama River in Millbrook, just north of Montgomery, were originally sets for the 2003 Tim Burton movie Big Fish. The set pieces for the fictional town of Spectre were left abandoned in place on Jackson Lake Island. Now, almost 15 years later, the buildings are decaying and resemble a ghost town.
The best part is that you can visit and walk the streets of Spectre to take in not only the town but also some wonderful views of Gum Chute and Jackson Lake. On the island, you’ll find a kayak launch as well as places to camp in a tent or RV. Day use fee is $3 per person (children under two are free), while camping is $10 per person per night.
Originally written for BCBS of AL.