If you are ever driving south on Interstate 65 just before you cross the Tennessee River, you’ll notice how wild the land along its banks seems today.
If you look to the left, away from the Decatur side, you will be looking at a piece of hidden Huntsville history – an area that was once known as the town of Cottonport, Alabama.
One of Alabama’s Earliest Ghost Towns
Located southwest of the Town of Mooresville, Cottonport arose alongside the Tennessee River in 1818, but would not be officially declared a town until 1829.
Its location along the river was advantageous to farmers, who would come from neighboring communities to load their crops and cotton on barges to float to larger markets.
This land and river traffic helped the small port town flourish. Multiple cotton warehouses were built, a town square was formed and many homes dotted the landscape.
Cottonport was a thriving community until it became one of Alabama’s earliest ghost towns.
What Happened to Cottonport, Alabama?
While the water was a blessing to the town, it soon became its curse. While men were traveling the waterways, mosquitoes were busy breeding along its banks.
This led to outbreaks of malaria in many towns along the river, but Cottonport seemed to receive a demon’s wrath of an outbreak. So much so, that the town was simply abandoned.
Cottonport has been researched by many historians over the years but they find few answers. No one knows what happened to the buildings that formed the town, nor the destinations of those residents who didn’t die during the malaria outbreak.
It’s as if the entire town of Cottonport ceased to exist overnight. That is until some Cottonport residents reappeared 120 years later.
In 1968, as I-65 was being built through Limestone County, a grader uncovered 12 bodies near the Tennessee River. The coffins had long since deteriorated, and there were no markers, so confused state officials halted construction to get to the bottom why the bodies were there.
What they found were 183 more bodies.
After much consternation, historians decided the state had uncovered the cemetery of the lost town of Cottonport.
Unable to reroute I-65 around the cemetery, the state requested bids from cemeteries statewide with room to re-inter the bodies.
194 were interred at Hayden Cemetery in New Hope.
Today, there is a sign directing people to the “194 Unknown Graves” and a small granite footstone inscribed with only a number to reflect the person’s identity.
If you have been reading closely, you have surely noticed that 195 bodies were exhumed, but only 194 were reinterred.
So what happened to the other body?
Well, that my friend is another story for another time.