Old St. Stephens

Located in Washington County | What you’ll find: Archeological | Birding | Camping | Historical | Outdoor Recreation

Though the town itself is now a ghost town, Old St. Stephens Historical Park is home to one of the most important historical and archaeological sites in Alabama.

Prior to Mississippi becoming a state in 1817 St. Stephens had been the eastern most city of the Mississippi Territory. Upon Mississippi gaining statehood, Alabama became its own territory and St. Stephens the capital. Alabama’s first Governor, William Wyatt Bibb, presided over the first meeting of the Territorial Legislature at the Douglass Hotel on St. Stephens’ High Street.

There are many recreational activities available for visitors, including fishing, RV camping, primitive camping, biking, birdwatching, sightseeing, picnicking, and hiking.

A 100-acre quarry lake provides visitors with a fine place to swim, fish, boat, and relax. Take a hike through the woods to view the town ruins, or cool off on the sugar-white beach on an aquamarine lake. There is a boat ramp available to those who want to fish, or who just want to enjoy the breathtaking scenery from the water. Bird watchers will want to make sure they bring their binoculars and cameras!

During a brief three decades, beginning in the 1790s to its decline in the 1820s, St. Stephens was the site of a Spanish fort, an American fort and trading post, and the Alabama Territorial capitol.

The University of South Alabama Center for Archaeological Studies, and the Alabama Museum of Natural History Summer Expedition Program have ongoing archaeological digs which will shed new light on the people who lived and died at Old St. Stephens.

The park offers many recreational activities available for visitors, including fishing, RV camping, primitive camping, biking, bird watching, sightseeing, picnicking, and hiking. A 100-acre quarry lake provides visitors with a fine place to swim, fish, boat, and relax. Take a hike through the woods to view the town ruins, or cool off on the sugar-white beach on an aquamarine lake. There is a boat ramp available to those who want to fish, or who just want to enjoy the breathtaking scenery from the water. Bird watchers will want to make sure they bring their binoculars and cameras!  The Old St. Stephens Historical Park is also home to one of the most important historical and archaeological sites in Alabama.

This park is located approximately two miles northwest of St. Stephens, AL on the Tombigbee River.  GPS Coordinates of the park entrance are N31.551222,W88.051250.

Nearest Highway: Highway 43

Old St. Stephens was an important site during the settlement of the southwestern frontier in the early 19th century. During a brief three decades St. Stephens became a Spanish Fort, an American trading post, and Mississippi territorial capital as settlers streamed down the Federal Road from the Carolinas and Georgia. At its zenith, c. 1820, the town boasted two or three thousand residents and 450 substantial buildings. Following its boom St. Stephens declined rapidly becoming a ghost town by the 1850s.

Excavation this season continues to focus on the Globe Hotel site. Built c. 1816, the large stone building had a detached kitchen, slave’s quarters, well, stables, and other outhouses. In 1826 the property was bought by Reuben Chamberlain, a native of New Hampshire and War of 1812 veteran. He and his wife Hannah, the daughter of Judge Harry Toulmin, bought the property, opened a dry goods business, and raised their family in the small community until the 1840s when the property was abandoned to the woods.

Several seasons have uncovered the main structure, slave’s quarters, kitchen, and stables. This year we will focus on three areas; a rich midden near the slave’s quarters, the well area, and two privies. The site is pristine and rich in the material culture of the early 19th century.

The Alabama Museum of Natural History Expedition Program manages the camp. Archaeology is directed by USA archaeologist George Shorter. A typical day starts with a hot breakfast, site or lab work until noon, lunch, back on site until 3:30….swimming in the quarry lake, hot dinner, nightly program. One day of paleontology will be conducted in the adjacent quarry.

photos courtesy of RuralSWAlabama.org



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