Old Alabama House Has a Fascinating Story

Fambro-Arthur house | Dallas County, Alabama | c. 1845

The incredible story of this home begins in the 1830s when William Fambro, who had grown up as an orphan in Tennessee, moved to the river town of Cahawba in Alabama. Shortly after, he began practicing law and bought land there by 1837. By 1840, he owned lots 9-12 in town and built this home on Lot 11. Some histories remark that William may have constructed the house using two older structures dating from the Capitol Era (1819-1826). He and his wife Elizabeth would live in the home with their two minor wards from the time of their marriage in 1842 until 1855. The home would change hands a few more times before Ezekiel Arthur came to own it in 1894.

The story of Ezekiel Arthur is a fascinating one. He was born into slavery and was bought and sold three times. His name was changed each time, as he was further separated from his family, finally ending up at a plantation in Alabama. After Emancipation, Ezekiel traveled across the South trying to find his mother and sisters who had been sold away. They came to Cahawba to settle where he bought this house for $2,000 in 1894. 

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Ezekiel and his son Sam would farm corn, cotton, and sugar cane on this property. They had their own hay press, their own mules, and a mill that produced syrup they sold to cafes in nearby towns. After Ezekiel’s passing his son Sam continued to farm the land. Some years later, he met Mattie Walden while she was working for an attorney in Selma. Their two-year courtship resulted in their marriage and Mattie moving to Sam Arthur’s 68-acre parcel in Cahawba. Sam and Mattie would have 2 daughters while living here until Sam passed away from a heart attack at the age of 68. Mattie would finish raising her 2 daughters here alone and lived here until she died in 1995 in her 80s. The home has been empty ever since.

Architectural Notes

This raised-cottage style of home was probably popular around the town of Cahawba in the middle 1800s due to the frequent flooding the town endured. The bottom level of this style home could also could have served as spare bedrooms for the family, servant’s quarters, or to house chickens and pigs. The bottom level is some 6 feet tall, with a sunken basement area of several rooms beneath it. The other private residences that were once scattered around Cahawba have all but disappeared, save for the Fambro house. The property used to be scattered with various outbuildings as well.

A wide, double-leaf front door is handsomely paneled in the Greek Revival manner and framed by a classical architrave adapted from pattern book models. At one point, there was even a matching two-column doric portico and features a combination brick and clapboard exterior. An artesian spring and a one-time fish pool can be found still in the yard today. 

Currently, the Alabama Historical Commission is working on stabilizing the structure from collapsing. This is one of only two antebellum structures still standing in the town of Cahawba, Alabama. For more about visiting Cahawba Historic Park, please visit their website HERE.

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6 thoughts on “Old Alabama House Has a Fascinating Story”

  1. I love to hear anything about the history of the people who lived in These homes and the architecture! I am a history buff and love all of our heritage of those who came before us !

  2. Are there any photos of it back before it started falling apart ? At the beginning, but also later on when the pictures would be in color?

  3. Dennis Carlisle

    I have been watching this house for years and its still the same unrestored state. Its amazing that it’s still standing. It has good bones and the potential for that new Greek revival porch would make the house a show place gem. It would also be a great introduction to Cahawba State Park, with now its human history; which I’m sure that’s not lost on the “State”.
    Not to be crass, but If they need Architectural services for restoration I would love to help. For a reduced fee of course.

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