Dauphin Island, AL
Archive of Historical Data, Books, Maps And Other Materials

Taken from the EDITORIAL PAGE
Preserve Jewels of History
Friday, June 6, 2008

IT HAS been said that each new moment comprises everything that has happened before it. In that sense, Mobile County's moment encompasses gritty, determined French explorers and gallant Civil War soldiers huddled behind the walls of Fort Gaines.

That's why Mobilians owe it to history and to the future to ensure the preservation of Old Mobile-Fort Louis de la Louisiane Site as well as the Confederate fort on Dauphin Island. Unfortunately, both historic sites face extinction because of neglect. They have been placed on the list of 11 Alabama "Places in Peril."

Other sites on the list, which was prepared by the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation and the Alabama Historical Commission, are priceless relics from the state's past. One is the small farm house in rural Coffee County where the colorful Gov. James E. "Big Jim" Folsom grew up.

All the sites deserve to be protected for posterity. But the two Mobile County sites are particularly integral to understanding south Alabama's history.

Old Mobile was founded in the early 1700s near what today is the town of Axis, and became the capital of French Louisiane. Fort Louis de la Louisiane sat nearby, becoming the center of trade for the area.

Mobile was moved to its current site in 1711.

Historic Fort Gaines was built on Dauphin Island in 1861. Taken into Confederate hands at the start of the Civil War, the fort - along with Fort Morgan across the mouth of the bay - provided protection for Mobile Bay and the city.

On Aug. 5, 1864, Fort Gaines rained a devastating barrage of cannonball onto the advancing fleet of Union Adm. David Farragut (of "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" fame). Adm. Farragut's ships bested the Confederate defenses in the Battle of Mobile Bay and pushed northward into the bay, ultimately forcing the city of Mobile to surrender.

The fort was refitted to provide coastal defense during the later Spanish-American War. Preservation of Fort Gaines and Old Mobile will require coordinated local efforts. Granted, some praiseworthy exploratory work has been done under direction of the University of South Alabama Center for Archeological Studies. But more needs to be done, and soon, to preserve and display the history that helped make the Mobile area what it is today.