Tales of Tuscaloosa: Castle Dangerous (September 21, 1900) Featured

The gully at the end of Washington St. (now Lurleen Wallace Blvd. North). Broad and Market Streets are now University Blvd. and Greensboro Ave. respectively. Detail from an 1887 perspective map. The gully at the end of Washington St. (now Lurleen Wallace Blvd. North). Broad and Market Streets are now University Blvd. and Greensboro Ave. respectively. Detail from an 1887 perspective map.

Mr. and Mrs. Jeff Miller were walking toward the end of Washington Street, now known as Lurleen B. Wallace Boulevard North in downtown Tuscaloosa. It was Friday evening, September 21, 1900. In the darkness, the 68-year-old Mrs. Miller did not see the edge of a gully that had eaten into the street, and she fell to her death. Later, her husband received a settlement from the City of $2500—equal to about $65,000 over a century later.  

The Washington Street gully was part of a large ravine covering about 40 acres. In places, it was as much as 100 feet deep. Its expansion threatened several streets and buildings. Part of the area near Market Street (now Greensboro Ave.) was stabilized by construction of the Burchfield Hotel in 1912. A few years later, a dam across part of this ravine created Stallworth Lake. Eventually, the lake and adjacent areas became a city landfill. After filling, River Road (now Jack Warner Parkway) extended across the site, and a farmer’s market and baseball fields were constructed. In 2010, the ball fields and underlying waste were removed, and the Tuscaloosa Amphitheatre was built upon the site. 

The gully at the intersection of College and Broad Streets. Detail from an 1887 perspective map. College St. is now 21st Ave. and extends down the hill to Jack Warner Parkway.

Another troublesome ravine known as the “Big Gully” reached the intersection of College and Broad Streets (21st Ave. and University Blvd.). William R. Colgin was said to have constructed the first frame house in Tuscaloosa near it sometime prior to 1821. One night in 1840, part of the Big Gully washed out, leaving the house on its edge. Afterwards, the Colgin Home was known as “Castle Dangerous,” perhaps in reference to the last novel by Sir Walter Scott published in 1831. After repeated repairs and collapses, the gully was finally stabilized. Benjamin Hardaway, a University of Alabama civil engineer, developed a successful design and oversaw the project. 

There were other big gullies that constantly eroded away from the south bank of the Black Warrior River. A gully at the ends of Jackson and Deer Streets (now 28th and 30th Avenues) eroded so far that by 1887, it was nearing the former State Capitol building. Another gully extended beneath Huntsville Road (University Blvd.) into an area that was later filled and became the Audubon Place neighborhood. These ravines were so troublesome that two streets, Spring and Pine (2nd and 3rd), were never constructed.

As shown on a 1944 University of Alabama campus topographic map, a nearly 45-foot deep gully extended into campus behind Morgan and Bidgood Halls and several dormitories. Thousands of cubic yards of material were used to fill and stabilize the area. The site is now occupied by tenHoor Hall and parking decks.

These gullies were all significant obstacles to the eastward expansion of a growing Tuscaloosa, and they posed a formidable threat to northern portions of downtown. After more than a century, they were brought under control, but they still require vigilance and maintenance to keep them in check.  

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Druid City Living (DCL) is Tuscaloosa, Alabama's premier community newspaper, covering the great people, places and activities of the area.

 

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