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St. Stephens Historical Park tells important story

Washington County was the first county formed in Alabama, and St. Stephens played a major role in the early history of the state. About 30 years before Alabama was granted statehood, St. Stephens, located on the Tombigbee River, was the territorial capital.

Today, visitors can learn about how Alabama began by visiting The St. Stephens Historical Park, a state park designed to preserve the history of the territorial capital that includes artifacts of the town that thrived from 1799 to 1829.

Camp grounds with 40 RV slots and nine cabins sit near a 70-acre quarry lake with over 15 miles of trails for hiking and horseback riding. The park has a boat launch and a disc golf course. Overnight stays at RV spots or in cabins are typically booked fully every summer. The cabins are even more popular this summer as guests can stay distanced enough from others to be safe.

Jennifer Faith, director of St. Stephens Historical Park, said, “We are working on a more family friendly park, transitioning away from ATV rides to horse riding, and from a public beach to a quieter, private beach only for overnight guests.”

The park staff is now working on setting up field trip programs for school children so they can learn more about the founding of Alabama.

The history of Washington County is strongly influenced by Native Americans. St. Stephens served as a trading post for the Choctaw. The region in southwest Alabama was controlled for hundreds of years by the Native Americans who lived there. Then, as settlers moved in, several different countries claimed the land, including France, England, and Spain.

The Native Americans who lived and built communities on the land that is now Washington county played and still play a large role in the culture and history of the area.

After the U.S. government claimed St. Stephens, the trading post grew quickly. The population of the town expanded by ten times in the span of three years and continued to flourish for years. The town started to diminish because of yellow fever outbreaks and advancements in boating that allowed people to pass up the trading stop on the Tombigbee.

Today, the history of St. Stephens is honored throughout the park, which is an important archaeology site. Archaeologists from the University of South Alabama and other universities visit multiple times a year to host public digs and then take back found artifacts to their labs to examine.

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