· Walk & Marvel at the Old Dauphin Historic District
The second of the historic residential areas that I strongly recommend you walk, or at least drive through, is the Old Dauphin Historic District. The district will give you an idea of what late 19th century Mobile looked like including working class homes, public buildings, and mansions. Park your car just off Government Street or on Dauphin Street and take a look around.
The Old Dauphin Way Historic District is named for Dauphin Street which is at the center of the district. The district was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 and is the largest of the historic residential districts in Mobile with over 1,400 buildings and 750 acres. It contains not only homes but churches and some fabulous bed and breakfasts. The Shepard Home featured in my photo below has to be one of the prettiest bed and breakfasts I have ever seen. However, the district is not just about mansions. The majority of the homes are working class homes from the late 1800's and early 1900's. Architectural styles include Queen Anne, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, French Normanday, Colonial Revival, and Tudor Revival.
· Walk the Oakliegh Historic District
Mobile has some of the most beautiful old residential neighborhoods of anywhere in the Deep South. What I found surprising is how many of them there are.
After leaving downtown the first striking neighborhood I came across was the Oakleigh Garden District. This beautiful area is so amazing it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places way back in 1972. To keep from stopping the car constantly to take pictures I got out of the car and started to walk. Just when you think you have seen the most striking home another block leads you to even more impressive houses. Homes in the area were built during the first decade of the 19th century up until the 1940's.
Houses in the area have many styles but are mostly characterized by columns and large porches. The center of the area is the pretty Washington Square. The neighborhood is actually quite large and is bounded by Rapier Avenue, Selma, Broad, and Texas Streets. According to Wikipedia the district covers 1,453 acres and contains 288 contributing buildings. However as large as it is, is it still smaller than the Old Dauphin Historic District, another one of my tips for walking Mobile.
· Spanish Plaza Park: Beautiful Mosaic Benches and Seal
This downtown park is a must to see. The park is meant to pay tribute to the Spanish occupation of Mobile. In addition, it is to recognize Mobile's sister city of Malaga, Spain. Aside from a series of central fountains the park has a series of beautiful mosaic benches that recognize certain cities in Spain. There is also a mosaic seal in the center of the park. At least one of the benches is a gift from the City of Malaga, Spain to Mobile.
This is a great place to walk, observe and even sit down and people watch. The park is hard to miss on Government Street, one of the principal streets in Mobile.
Looking at Cathedral Square today, it is hard to envision it as a cemetery years ago. However back in the 18th century the area was a Catholic cemetery called Campo Santo. Adjacent to a Catholic church, the proximity of the area was a natural for burials. In 1819 the burials were moved to the Church Street Graveyard to allow for expansion of Mobile's downtown. Once the dead were relocated the area built up as a commercial area including many big shops and businesses. Over time the area deteriorated and in 1979 the buildings were demolished as part of a redevelopment project to build a city park. The park that you see today was completed in 1996.
The square will take less than a few minutes to walk. If time permits I would recommend entering the Immaculate Conception Cathedral on the far end of the square. The church is open for viewing and praying most days of the week.
Today the square is flanked on one side by Immaculate Conception Cathedral, on two sides by commercial businesses, and on another side by older residences that have been converted into museums, offices and businesses.
What a great idea for the folks in Mobile to make the reconstructed Fort Conde their visitor center. We arrived on a weekday morning and the volunteers and staff that man the desk could not be more helpful. After finding out our interests they pointed out sites that were within close walking distance. Super friendly and helpful! A true credit to promoting tourism in Mobile.
If you leave the doors of the Welcome Center and go to the interior courtyard there is a nice little museum about the history of Fort Conde and Mobile. Construction of the fort began by the French in 1723. The fort was named after the Prince of Conde. Given how other wooden forts in the area deteriorated rapidly in the humid climate, this fort was built with bricks on a stone foundation. There was also a mote built around the fort along with additional earthen defenses to make it difficult to breach. The fort was constructed to protect the Mobile River and Mobile Bay from invaders. The fort originally covered several blocks in downtown Mobile. The current day fort occupies less than one third of the original fort.
The museum contains another of interesting displays about early colonization of Mobile. The displays are enhanced by the fact that they are within reconstructed portions of the fort. We spent somewhere between twenty to thirty minutes in the museum and both agreed it was time well spent. The museum is open daily from 8 am to 5 pm. There is no admission charge. There is limited free two-hour parking on the street and many paid lots in the area.
This cathedral is magnificent, and one that you would believe could only be found in Europe for its splendor and detail of class and dignity. Construction began in 1835 but was delayed due to economic times, but got completed in 1844. Further additions continued through the 1870's to become one impressive monument to religion.
This was quite a surprise in the mix of themes displayed, and mix of cultures featured. The displays are thorough and well presented. One place to view this intricate detail is the site with 10 houses by Aaron Friedman. Other areas depict the history of Mobile and its fame and glory days.
This house is operated and maintained by the DAR women who take great pride in its upkeep. The tour of the home may last 2 hours, if you let them have their discussion, and it is well worth the tour. The home was furnished with items from DAR inventory, and spans 1820's through 1880's. The style was dine-in Italian facade to depict the theme of the time.
Admission is $10, but for the time and topic discussed, a bargain.
· Bragg-Mitchell House
The home property was purchased by John Bragg in 1855, who later became a Judge and went on to serve as a Congressman. He died in 1878 and 2 years later sold to the Pratts, who kept the home in the family a short time and later to many other families.
Furnishings were added by donations from many who had tradition and ties to the home.
The house was first a jail in 1822, but in 1849 Charles Kirkbride, a local merchant bought the building and did major reconfiguration. the house is not big, but does have a lot of class for its time. There is French style for some of it, and Greek Revival for some other.
The tour is about 1 1/2 hours and very interesting as presented by Dame of Colonial era. They furnished the home with varied period pieces, different in each room, and all very good condition.
· Battleship Memorial -Airplanes of Old
There are 23 great vintage planes to view and walk by. That also includes a A12 spy plane; not acknowledged until much later in its use. The display of the planes is very interesting if you are into that, and I was.
· USS Drum Submarine
The sub had many trips out to sea during WWII; 12 in total. It had a great deal of depth charges trying to up end it, but made it through tough times. The sub was decommissioned in 1946, and on standby use until 1969 when it was transferred to this memorial in Mobile.
· USS Alabama Battleship
The state name has a lot of tradition in that this is the 6th ship using the name (one was Confederate). This ship was commissioned in 1942 and in many battles of WWII, but never damaged. It was retired in 1962 and Mobile got the ship in 1964 for touring and pride to show it off. You can tour the whole ship and the tour could last 2 to 3 hours if truly interested in the living culture and how the ship operates.
The ship had 2500 sailors and marines on board, and they were cramped in space for most areas.
· Fort Conde
Fort Condé was built by the French and named in honor of King Louis XIV’s brother. Originally Fort Condé and its surrounding features covered about 11 acres of land. It was built of local brick, stone, earthen dirt walls, and cedar wood. Twenty black slaves and five white workmen did the initial work on the fort. If the full-size fort were present today, it would take up large sections of Church, Royal, Government, St. Emanuel, and Theatre Streets in downtown Mobile.
The Fort has been renamed several times. From 1763 to 1780, England was in possession of Mobile and the fort was renamed Fort Charlotte in honor of King George III’s wife. From 1780 to 1813, Spain ruled Mobile and the fort was renamed Fort Carlota. In 1813, Mobile was occupied by United States troops and the fort again named Fort Charlotte. In 1820, Congress authorized the sale and removal of the fort and by late 1823, most above ground traces of Mobile’s fort were gone.
The current Fort Condé, about 1/3 of the original fort recreated in 4/5-scale, opened on July 4, 1976 as part of Mobile’s United States bicentennial celebration.
Fort Conde is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily.
Admission is free.
The fort museum contains historic artifacts of Native Americans and Europeans and dioramas and maps which illustrate the history of the fort. Offshoot exhibit rooms called Lifeways give visitors a taste of what Colonial life was like.