[The Cahaba River has been an integral part of the growth of Centreville, Bibb County, Alabama.]
Originally located on the west side
In 1828, Centreville was located on the west side of the Cahaba River, on the grounds later occupied by the residence of Judge Pratt and the Bibb County High School. The town was built at the location of a waterfall on the Cahaba River.
After several years a bridge was built over the Cahaba, and the town was moved to the east bank, where the courthouse was built. It was originally incorporated January 21, 1832. The first post office in Bibb County was established in Centreville in 1821.
President Andrew Jackson opened up the area
Andrew Jackson’s regulars and volunteers opened the new territory to pioneer settlement after 1814. Jackson later became our Seventh U.S. President in 1828.
Centreville is the County seat of Bibb County; situated on the Cahaba River; nearly in the center of the county—hence its name. It is about 35 miles southeast of Tuscaloosa, and 72 miles northwest of Montgomery.
Chotard obtained a grant
Sarah Willis Chotard obtained an original land grant from the federal government in 1823 for “services” provided by her husband with the assistance of General Andrew Jackson. “Old Hickory” had been credited with a decisive victory at the Battle of New Orleans (1814) and with driving the British and the Native Indian population out of the newly declared Alabama and Mississippi territories.
A resident named Frank Chotard owned land and a ferry at that location, but early accounts are unclear about his relation to Sarah Chotard. The location had been inhabited by settlers and was known as Falls of the Cahaba and Centerville before the current spelling variation came into common use. The original land grant awarded to Mrs. Chotard consisted of a 160 acre quarter section of land. Her surveyor divided the land into 265 lots, 105 lying on the West side of the Cahaba and 55 on the East bank. She began moving squatters of the land and laid out a plot for the new town of Centreville.
State Capitol moved from Huntsville to Old Cahaba
The State Capitol moved from Huntsville to Old Cahaba (near Selma) where the Cahaba River merges with the Alabama River for the second territorial legislative session in 1820. Due to flooding problems with the second capitol site there was already a move underway to select a new location for the State Capitol. This may explain why Mrs. Chotard was in the capitol city of Old Cahaba when she unexpectedly died in 1824, before her dreams for Centreville could come to fruition.
The famous rocky shoals or falls, clearly visible and just north of the Walnut Street bridge, mark the southern end point of the Appalachian mountain chain. Just south of the Falls Frank Chotard was believed to operate the first ferry to carry traffic across the Cahaba long before a bridge crossing existed. When Centreville was laid out to form a town the local farmers were already dependent on river barges and flatboats to transport their cotton bales to the Port of Mobile.
Centreville became the county courthouse seat
Centreville became the county seat soon after the county was created in 1818. The seat moved briefly in the mid 1820s to present-day Antioch. In 1829 Centreville became the permanent seat for Bibb County after several years of debate and different locations of the county courthouse and the town was incorporated in 1832.
In the 1857-58 state legislative session, a vote was held to relocate the seat to Randolph, but Centreville prevailed. A new county courthouse, the fourth, was completed in 1859. Boundary lines were later redrawn for the town and it was re-incorporated in 1890. That year, a mayor and city council were first elected and are believed to be the Centreville’s first governing body.
Some first settlers
Among the first settlers were David Claiborne R. Johnson, H. Johnson, Fred James, I. Parker, W. Parker, J. Stingfellow, Thomas Crawford, Alex Hill, A. C. Harrison, W H Harrison, W. C. Henry, S. W. Davidson, H Hemphill B. L. Defreese, A. Strongtonboro, Absalom and Hopkins Pratt, J. Carlisle, Joshua West, Elisha, John, Charles and William Cottingham and David L. Lipscomb.
Centreville is surrounded by fine farming lands, rich coal and iron ore deposits, granite and red onyx, artesian wells, and mineral springs, fine mountain scenery, including a natural bridge, and fine roads. In a forest reservation nearby the United States Government placed a herd of elk around 1916, but the elk were gone by 1921.
Centreville’s historic district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 19, 1978. The Historic District includes 7.5 acres and twenty buildings, including the Bibb County Courthouse. It is roughly bounded by Walnut Street, and the East and West Court squares. It features examples of Victorian architecture.
French woman designed Centreville?
Legend has it that Centreville’s designer was a glamorous Frenchwoman who first met General Jackson at a celebratory ball after his victory at the Battle of New Orleans. Another version is that she may have served as his French interpreter during his military tour in the Louisiana territory. She later offered the General a tract of land in her new township but Jackson politely declined the offer.
“Also on the register in Centreville is the Davidson-Smitherman House (ca. 1825).
The Bibb County Training School (established in 1900 as the Centreville Industrial Institute for African Americans), the Sandy Chapel Methodist Church (ca. 1910), and the Vance-Ellison House (ca. 1899) are on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage.
The Cahaba River Historical Park is maintained by the city and provides picnic areas, primitive camping, recreational vehicle accommodations, a boat ramp, trails, and meeting space. Ross F. Gray Memorial Park is located just north of the Bibb County Airport. Centreville hosts a “Christmas on the Square” celebration each December.” A salt water fish, the Sturgeon, was actually caught in the Cahaba River in Centreville in 1941. It had come up the Cahaba to spawn.
- Heritage of Bibb County, Alabama. Clanton, Ala.: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 1998.
- Ellison, Rhoda Coleman. Bibb County, Alabama: The First Hundred Years, 1818-1918. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1984.
- Encyclopedia of Alabama
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