Good Sam RV Travel Guide & Campground Directory

Highs and Lows by the Chattahoochee – Eufaula, Alabama

Enjoy history and nature from “High Bluffs” to the “Little Grand Canyon” of this Southeastern river area.

By Lisa Halvorsen

Eufaula, Alabama, invites visitors to stop and stay a spell to experience its Southern charm and numerous attractions, from its historic homes to its natural areas.

Located on the banks of the Chattahoochee River, Eufaula (pronounced you-fall-uh) gets its name from a Creek Indian tribe that was living here in 1823 at the time of the first permanent white settlement. In the Creek language, the word “Eufaula” means “high bluffs,” referring to the steep embankments overlooking the river.

One of the first things that will strike you about this community is the large number of mid- to late 19th-century buildings, many of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They are part of the Seth Lore and Irwinton Historic District, which lays claim to being not only the largest historic district in southeastern Alabama and the second largest in the state, but also the state’s most extensive collection of domestic Italianate architecture.

Maps for self-guided walking or driving tours of the district, as well as information on other attractions in the county, are available at the Eufaula/Barbour County Chamber of Commerce, weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The chamber is located in a historic building, the James S. Clark Center, which was built in the late 1800s as a Central of Georgia freight train depot.

Exploring the Historic District

Your map provides information on more than 60 of the 700 historic homes, churches, cemeteries, and commercial buildings in the historic district. Your best bet is to park along one of the tree-lined streets and just get out and walk. A large number of the homes – many of which are private residences – can be found along North Eufaula Avenue, North and South Randolph Avenue, and East and West Broad Street. You may recognize some of these names from “Sweet Home Alabama,” the 2002 movie starring Reese Witherspoon.

Among the highlights of the historic district are two house museums, the Shorter Mansion and Museum, which today is headquarters for the Eufaula Heritage Association, and Fendall Hall, which served as a Confederate hospital during the Civil War.

The Shorter Mansion is a Neoclassical Revival home that was built by wealthy cotton planter Eli Sims Shorter, the nephew of Alabama’s Civil War governor, John Gill Shorter. Shorter Mansion was called “Eli’s Folly” because he spent more than $100,000 renovating a one-story house into an elegant mansion, completing the work in 1860.

The home, which is furnished with period antiques, also houses the Eufaula Historical Museum. Established to honor the six Alabama governors from Barbour County, it includes their portraits and memorabilia, as well as a portrait of Admiral Thomas Moorer, a two-term chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and some of the gifts he received from foreign countries. Other exhibits include a flag that went to the moon, heirloom clothing, antique dolls and toys, and items and photographs relating to Eufaula history, including the town’s sesquicentennial celebration in 1973. Eli Shorter’s wife, Wileyna Lamar Shorter, was an heiress to the S.S.S. Tonic fortune, so there’s also an interesting display of the company’s early products.

At the mansion ask about the Civil War-era family cemetery where John Gill Shorter, his family and his slaves are buried. You also can obtain information about the Eufaula Pilgrimage, sponsored by the Eufaula Heritage Association. This annual house tour takes place every spring and includes art exhibits, an antique show, garden tours, afternoon teas, a cemetery tour and musical performances in addition to tours of several private homes.

Fendall Hall is a rare example of 1860-era Italianate style. Among the home’s prominent features are its beautiful entrance hall with a black-and-white Italian marble floor and the murals painted by an itinerant French artist in the 1880s.

Just down the street from Fendall Hall is the Greek Revival-style Cato-Watson House, built by the “Great Secessionist” Lewis Llewellyn Cato. It was the site of a huge celebration in 1861 when Alabama seceded from the Union.

Kendall Manor was built in the mid-1800s by cotton king James Turner Kendall who spared no expense to make this Italianate Renaissance-style home with its belvedere and fluted columns a showplace. Or check out Highland View, which Eli Sims Shorter built in 1870 as a wedding present to his daughter Ann. She never moved into the house, which then sat vacant for three decades.

Another historically significant building is the Tavern, the first permanent structure in Eufaula. It was built in 1836 as an inn, and then later served as an Episcopal Church and Civil War hospital. Several Confederate soldiers who died at the hospital are buried in Fairview Park and Cemetery where you’ll also find graves of the town’s early residents, both the affluent and the poor, including slaves.

Nearby Historical Attractions

If you like unusual historic architecture, visit nearby Clayton, 20 miles west of Eufaula. Alabama’s only remaining eight-sided antebellum house is located here. The two-story home, which has a flat roof with a cupola, served as Union Cavalry Commander Benjamin H. Grierson’s headquarters in April 1865.

Include a stop at the historic Clayton Cemetery. Among the many gravestones, you’ll find one that’s shaped like a whiskey bottle. It marks the gravesite of W.T. Mullen, who “drank himself to death,” according to his wife, who commissioned this unique headstone. Mullen died in 1863 at the age of 29.

You might head to Lumpkin, Georgia, just over the state line, to visit Westville, a living history museum where costumed interpreters educate visitors about the culture, trades, and handicrafts of 1850s Georgia. Most of the 30 homes and shops, among them a cotton planter’s house, doctor’s office, county courthouse, and dog-trot log house, are authentically restored pre-Civil War buildings that were moved here to create a historic village.

Watch a shoemaker or quilter at work or a farmer plowing his field with a mule. Catch a lesson at the one-room schoolhouse, or ask a docent to teach you how to roll a hoop, a popular children’s activity in this era.

The Great Outdoors

While in the area, visit Providence Canyon State Park – the “Little Grand Canyon of the Southeast” – located seven miles west of Lumpkin. At the visitor center you will learn about the 1,108-acre park and its 16 colorful canyons including how they were formed through poor agricultural practices that caused soil erosion in the early 19th century. Other exhibits focus on the geology, flora and fauna of the canyons.

Rangers can direct you to the best lookout spots for photos. Or hike the three-mile long Canyon Rim Trail, which provides amazing vistas and access to the canyon floor and 10 slot canyons. Summer visitors will see the rare plumleaf azalea, which grows throughout the canyons and produces flaming orange-red blooms from July through September.

Return to Eufaula to visit the Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge, located eight miles north of the city center on Alabama State Route 165. It was established in 1964 on the Walter F. George Reservoir, an 85-mile long lake formed along the Chattahoochee River on the Alabama-Georgia border. More commonly called Lake Eufaula, it’s nicknamed the “Big Bass Capital of the World” and is popular with anglers and boaters.

The national refuge is on the upper part of the lake and along the Mississippi Flyway, a major bird migration route. Nearly 300 bird species have been spotted here including numerous shorebirds, waterfowl and migrating neotropical songbirds. You also may see alligators, otters, raccoons, deer, and possibly even coyotes, armadillos and bobcats as you explore the park by boat, on foot, or private vehicle via the seven-mile scenic driving route.

Another good place for observing birds, fishing, and boating is Lake Point State Park, which borders the Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge on the Alabama side of the river. Or try Florence Marina State Park at the northern end of the refuge on the Georgia side. It’s next to a natural deep-water marina with an accessible deep-water fishing pier. It has a small interpretive center where visitors can learn about the local history, Native Americans and nature, including the birds, fish, amphibians and other wildlife found in the park.

Whether you are a history buff or prefer outdoor recreation, you’ll find many fascinating places to visit and things to do in Eufaula and nearby communities.

For More Information

Eufaula/Barbour County Chamber of Commerce
333 East Broad Street
Eufaula, AL 36027
(334) 687-6664, (800) 524-7529

For a complete listing of campgrounds in the area, please consult your 2010 Woodall’s North American Campground Directory.