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The Old Tavern and Capitol Park: Two Historic Treasures in Tuscaloosa

Two of Tuscaloosa’s historic landmarks, The Old Tavern and Capitol Park, stand today as reminders of our city’s storied past. Built in 1827, the Old Tavern was designed to be an inn and gathering place just down the road from the new capitol building.

Its location was ideal for travelers, as it was near the stagecoach stop and livery stables. In addition to serving as a hotel and meeting place for state legislators, it was the temporary home of Governor John Gayle. It was moved to its current location after the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society acquired the property in 1964. One of the few remaining nineteenth-century taverns in Alabama, the building currently houses a museum that showcases the early history of our area.
Old Tavern in Tuscaloosa

The Old Tavern was built in 1827, during the time that Tuscaloosa
served as Alabama’s capital.

Tuscaloosa becomes the state capitol

After Cahaba was abandoned as the state capital, Tuscaloosa served as Alabama’s capital from 1827 to 1846. At the time, Tuscaloosa was a thriving community along the Black Warrior River. But it was later found to be too far west as the population of eastern parts of Alabama grew. Thus, the capital was moved to Montgomery, a more central location, in 1846.

All that remains of Tuscaloosa’s capitol building are ruins that can be seen today in Capitol Park, located at 2828 Sixth Street in downtown Tuscaloosa.

Old Tavern Museum

A visit to the Old Tavern Museum provides a glimpse of life in the early days of Tuscaloosa’s history.

Capitol Park ruins

Capitol Park, located near the Old Tavern, features ruins of the former state capitol building.

Greek Revival and Federal style building

Designed by William Nichols in the Greek Revival and Federal styles, the capitol building was impressive. It was Nichols’ first project as the state architect of Alabama.

The building had three wings that met in a ninety-foot tall rotunda under the copper clad dome. It was built upon a hill so that it could be seen by ships along the Black Warrior river. It is said to have influenced the architectural style of many structures in Tuscaloosa, as the city moved away from its agricultural heritage to its identity as home of the University of Alabama.

When the capital was relocated to Montgomery, the building was used by the Alabama Central Female College until 1923.

Alabama Central Female College

The former Capitol building became the Alabama Central Female College in 1923.

Preserved ruins on the site

On August 22, 1923 the building burned to the ground in a fire that was attributed to faulty wiring. In the 1930’s, funds provided by the Works Progress Administration allowed for the site to be cleared for use as a park. People from the area gathered bricks and other materials from the ruins of the fire to construct their homes and decorate their yards.

An archeological excavation begun in 1989 exposed the outline of the capitol. A design committee, which included UA historian and architecture expert Robert Mellown, drew up plans to create a ruin that would place the columns and other stone fragments in their original location. Today, a portion of a brick wall, a part of the foundation, and two stone columns are all that remain from the building. These reconstructed architectural ruins now stand as a reminder of Tuscaloosa’s early days. With its beautifully preserved ruins, the park provides a perfect backdrop for photographs, and it is also used for weddings, plays, and other special occasions.

Capitol Park gazebo

The gazebo at Capitol Park is a popular spot for gatherings.

Performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream

A past performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Capitol Park.

Special events at these historic sites

Make a visit soon to the Old Tavern and Capitol Park. Now operated by PARA, Tuscaloosa County’s Parks and Recreation Authority, this park is a family-friendly green space in the heart of downtown Tuscaloosa.

For special events, contact PARA if you are interested in renting the park. The Old Tavern is also available for rent for private parties, meetings, and special events.

—- Bottom Line —-

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