Wetumpka

I don't have much to add in today's post.  Keep reading to see the transcription of the large stone historical marker standing on the grounds of the Elmore County Courthouse in Wetumpka, which gives a pretty thorough overview of the town's past and founding.

Wetumpka stone historical marker side 1, Wetumpka, Elmore County, Alabama

The land area which now comprises the city of Wetumpka was inhabited by various Indian cultures prior to the inward migration of the white man, at the turn of the 19th century. The largest Indian village near here was located on the east bank of the Coosa River one mile south of this point. This village was known as “Oche-au-po-fau” (Hickory Ground) and was composed mainly of Muscogees. After the 1814 surrender of the Creek Confederacy at Fort Toulouse, there came an influx of settlers to this fertile land, many bringing slaves.

The U.S. Government surveyed the future town site in 1831. A major part of the site east of the river was still Indian territory, but was ceded to the U.S. by the Cusseta Treaty of 1832. That year lots were auctioned to the public. By late 1836, all remaining Indians had been moved to reservations in Oklahoma.

In 1834, the state legislature chartered the town of Wetumpka which was on both sides of the river. The west side was in Autauga County and the east side north of the former Indian boundary line, which ran easterly from the falls, was in Coosa County. The east side south of the Indian boundary line was in Montgomery County, but this latter portion was transferred to Coosa County in 1837.

Wetumpka stone historical marker side 2, Wetumpka, Elmore County, Alabama

The name ‘Wetumpka’ was taken from the Indian words ‘we-wau’ (water) and ‘tum-cau’ (rumbling or sounding), in reference to the noise made by the rocky shoals of the river.

In 1837. the legislature divided the town and incorporated the area on the west side of the river as West Wetumpka. In 1939, the two towns were reunited by the legislature as one city known as the City of Wetumpka. That same year, Wetumpka was chosen as the site for the first state prison.

After the destruction of a prior bridge by flooding, a student, covered bridge was constructed in 1844 by the famous builder, Horace King, a former slave who had been freed by the legislature the preceding year. This covered bridge was located on the same site as the Bibb Graves Bridge. This covered bridge was swept away in the Great Flood of 1886, the same flood which altered the course of the Tallapoosa River and formed Parker’s Island.
— Marker erected by BSA Troop 52

Elmore County Courthouse, site of the Wetumpka stone historical marker, Wetumpka, Elmore County, Alabama

 

Wetumpka Impact Crater

This post is going back.  Way, way back.  83 million years back, by some estimates.  You may have already guessed from the title of the post, but if not I'm going to go ahead and spill the beans.  There's a huge crater just east of downtown Wetumpka.  It's really, really big.  The crater is almost five miles across, it was created in the late Cretaceous period, and best estimates put the object that crashed at about 1000 feet wide.  Don't believe me?  Check out these maps.

First, we have a normal topographical map of the area.  Can you make out the crater?

Image courtesy of Auburn University

If your imagination needs a little nudge, here's another view, with the ridges around the crater highlighted.

Image courtesy of the Wetumpka Chamber of Commerce

People have noticed that something weird was happening in Wetumpka, geologically speaking, for nearly 150 years.  In 1891, University of Alabama professor Eugene Allen Smith was the first to note the abnormalities.

Now when one considers that the Mooreville Chalk sets in ... this range of hills ... these outlying tracts become difficult to explain except upon the supposition of a depression of several hundred feet, the whole thickness of the Eutaw strata
— Eugene Allen Smith - Report of the State Geologist, p. 552

It would be almost a century before anyone even considered the possibility that the abnormalities near Wetumpka could be explained by an impact event.  H.J. Melosh wrote the first major work on impact cratering in 1989, and the following excerpt from the preface helps explain why that was the case.

As recently as 1950 most astronomers believed that the lunar craters were giant volcanos, and all but a few geologists derided the idea that the Earth’s surface has been scarred by impact structures kilometers in diameter. A similar lack of appreciation led the eminent geologist G.K. Gilbert in 1896 to reject impact as the process that created Meteor Crater, Arizona. Impact cratering has risen from complete obscurity to become one off the most fundamental geologic processes. One meteoriticist has even suggested that future historians will accord the recognition of impact cratering as equal importance with the development of plate tectonics.
— H.J. Melosh, Impact Cratering: A Geologic Process

A team of geologists, led by Thornton L. Neatherly, visited the site in 1969, and they were the first to hypothesize that the structure was the result of a meteorite impact.  They published a paper in 1976 where they dubbed it the "Wetumpka Astrobleme", astrobleme being Greek for "star wound".  Another team led by Neatherly finally had the opportunity to prove the hypothesis in 1998, when they drilled 630 feet into the center of the crater.  Their findings were published in 1999, and the report showed that the samples of iridium and shocked quartz proved the impact theory.  The historical marker was erected three years later.

Wetumpka Impact Crater historical marker, Wetumpka, Elmore County, Alabama

Wetumpka Impact Crater

The ridges located here are the remnants of a six-mile diameter circular feature created some 85 million years ago by an estimated 1,000-foot diameter asteroid. The area at the time of impact was a shallow sea. The ridges consist of a variety of metamorphic rocks and surround a central area comprised of large jumbled blocks of younger geologic strata. Drilling in the central area of the crater recovered fragments of rocks showing characteristic mineral alteration only associated with impact structures. The structure, although known for more than a century, was first identified as an impact crater in the 1970s.
— Alabama Historical Association - 2002

Reverse of the Wetumpka Impact Crater historical marker, Wetumpka, Elmore County, Alabama

Site of the Wetumpka Impact Crater historical Marker, U.S. 231, Wetumpka, Elmore County, Alabama

Unfortunately, I spent several hours on two separate occasions looking for a spot to take a photo that really conveyed the size and existence of the crater, but I came away empty handed.  The crater is huge, and the entire structure is covered by trees on all sides, so it really just looks like hills.  I suspect that there are a few backyards up on those ridges that might have excellent vistas where you can get a real sense of the circular feature, but I wasn't willing to trespass to find out.  If you know anyone who owns property with that kind of view, let me know and we'll re-visit the topic.