Saturday, January 31, 2015

Singleton argued that Claiborne should be restored just like Old Cahaba

George 'Buster' Singleton
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Cahaba is being restored – Why not Claiborne?,” was originally published in the Oct. 7, 1993 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

Tuesday, the 28th of September, I ventured forth and visited the old town of Cahaba. I had received through the mail a pamphlet telling about Archeaology Week at Cahaba and the guided tours of the old capital.

Eager to see all that I could in the one day that I was going to be at Cahaba, I set out at an early hour to cover the 88 miles that lay between.

As I proceeded toward Cahaba and the tours that awaited me there on the banks of the Alabama and Cahaba rivers, I began to compare the two old, early Alabama towns. With my interest in history, I certainly knew that the old town of Claiborne, here within our county, had almost been selected for the capital when it was moved from Cahaba to the town of Tuscaloosa.

Descending the long hill that leads down to the old town site and the river bank, I was amazed to see the progress that had been made since my last visit less than two years ago.

There, before my eyes, was an attractive visitors’ center. This center had once been a home here in Cahaba. In the late 1800s, it had been removed from its location here by the river and transported to Selma. Within the past two years, the historical commission had been successful in getting the house returned back to its original setting.

While I stared in amazement at the old building, I thought of the visitors’ center at the old historical town of Claiborne. I couldn’t remember a visitors’ center being there; in fact, I couldn’t remember anything being there that might entice a visitor to stop and step back in history for a look at yesterday. If I remembered correctly, Claiborne had a much larger population than the capital of Cahaba. In fact, over 2,000 more.

Upon entering the visitors’ center, I was met by a very knowledgeable guide of the area. I was given pamphlets about that which I was about to see on the upcoming tour. I was asked to sign the visitor register. As I quickly glanced over some of the names and places of those listed there, I saw names from such places as Germany, Spain and several cities within the United States – places from which these tourists had to travel a considerable distance to get here.

I shuddered to think about a tourist from Germany trying to find a tourist information center around our Claiborne town.

The area I was about to tour had been our state’s capital from 1820 to 1826. It had also been a thriving antebellum town. During the later days of the Civil War, the old town of Cahaba was to become a filthy and lice-infested prison for over 3,000 captured Union soldiers.

These prisoners were held in a small, cramped area not much larger than a small four-room house. Many held here would never leave the dirty, filthy prison alive. Their final resting places continue to this day to be a mystery; no one knows for sure just where they are buried.

In 1865, a flood of the Alabama and Cahaba rivers would have a devastating effect on this town located here where the rivers join. In 1866, the county seat was moved to Selma.

In less than 10 years, almost all of the houses had been dismantled and moved. Those that were not dismantled and moved fell to the torch and decay. Just as the town of Claiborne did, Cahaba was slowly slipping into oblivion.

The abandoned courthouse became a meeting place for freed slaves who were seeking new political power. Cahaba became the “Mecca of the Radical…

[Editor’s Note: At this point in the Oct. 7, 1993 edition of The Monroe Journal, Singleton’s column appears to end on the same page it began on. There’s no “jump line” telling readers where to turn next for the remaining portion of Singleton’s column. However, if you continue looking through the paper, you’ll find it several pages later, but, as  you’ll see below, a portion of the column appears to be missing as it seems to pick up in the wrong place. What follows is the rest of Singleton’s column as it appears on the “jump page.”]

…partly uncovered a portion of a heavy rock wall that some believe surrounded three sides of the large ancient village. There are those who believe that perhaps this early site might even be the ruins of Maubila.

Much is being done to excavate and restore the history of our state’s first capital. There is much to be seen here on the banks of the two rivers. I have never understood why we sit idle and twiddle our thumbs while the historic locations within our county slowly disappear from the scene.

Tourist dollars

With very little effort, we too could have tourists from Germany, Spain and many other places throughout the world flocking to Monroe County. Each would bring tourist dollars that would be spent on guided tours of the many historic locations within our boundaries.

It has been estimated that over 90 cents of every tourist dollar remains within the area where it is spent. We are sleeping through a critical time pertaining to the restoration of our historical locations. These are just as much of historical importance as any other within our state.

So, sleep on Monroe County; the time is fast approaching when our few historic locations that remain will have disappeared into oblivion. And as we sink deeper into our world of fantasy and make believe, the ghosts from the past cry out and beg to be remembered.

(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)

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