From top: Pincus Building, Old City Hall and Southern Market, Fort Condé, Barton Academy, Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, and the skyline of downtown Mobile from the Mobile River.
Mobile (IPA: /moʊˈbiːl/) is the third most populous city in the Southern U.S. state of Alabama and is the county seat of Mobile County. It is located on the Mobile River and the central Gulf Coast of the United States. The population within the city limits was 198,915 during the 2000 census. Mobile is the principal municipality of the Mobile Metropolitan Statistical Area, a region of 399,843 residents which is composed solely of Mobile County and is the second largest MSA in the state. Mobile is included in the Mobile-Daphne-Fairhope Combined Statistical Area with a total population of 540,258, the second largest combined statistical area in the state.
Mobile began as the first capital of colonial French Louisiana in 1702. The city gained its name from the Native American Mobilian tribe that the French colonists found in the area of Mobile Bay. During its first 100 years, Mobile was a colony for France, then Britain, and lastly Spain. Mobile first became a part of the United States of America in 1813, left the United States with Alabama in 1861 to become a part of the Confederate States of America, and then returned to the United States in 1865.
Seal Of Mobile, AL
Located at the junction of the Mobile River and Mobile Bay on the northern Gulf of Mexico, the city is the only seaport in Alabama. The Port of Mobile has always played a key role in the economic health of the city beginning with the city as a key trading center between the French and Native Americans down to its current role as the 10th largest port in the United States.
Nickname(s): The Port City or Azalea City or The City of Six Flags
As one of the Gulf Coast's cultural centers, Mobile houses several art museums, a symphony orchestra, a professional opera, a professional ballet company, and a large concentration of historic architecture. Mobile is known for having the oldest organized Carnival celebrations in the United States, dating to the 1700s of its early colonial period. It was also host to the first formally organized Carnival mystic society or "krewe" in the United States, dating to 1830. People from Mobile are known as Mobilians.
European settlement of Mobile, then known as Fort Louis de la Louisiane, started in 1702, at Twenty-seven Mile Bluff on the Mobile River, as the first capital of the French colony of Louisiana. It was founded by French Canadian brothers Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, establish control over France's Louisiana claims. Bienville was made governor of French Louisiana in 1701. Mobile’s Roman Catholic parish was established on 20 July 1703, by Jean-Baptiste de la Croix de Chevrières de Saint-Vallier, Bishop of Quebec. The parish was the first established on the Gulf Coast of the United States. In 1704 the ship Pélican delivered 23 French women to the colony, along with yellow fever which passengers had contracted at a stop in Havana. Though most of the "Pélican girls" recovered, numerous colonists and neighboring Native Americans died from the illness. This early period was also the occasion of the arrival of the first African slaves, transported aboard a French supply ship from Saint-Domingue. The population of the colony fluctuated over the next few years, growing to 279 persons by 1708, yet descending to 178 persons two years later due to disease.
Mobile and Fort Condé in 1725.
These additional outbreaks of disease and a series of floods caused Bienville to order the town relocated several miles downriver to its present location at the confluence of the Mobile River and Mobile Bay in 1711. A new earth and palisade Fort Louis was constructed at the new site during this time. By 1712, when Antoine Crozat took over administration of the colony by royal appointment, the colony boasted a population of 400 persons. The capital of Louisiana was moved to Biloxi in 1720, leaving Mobile in the role of military and trading center. In 1723 the construction of a new brick fort with a stone foundation began and it was renamed Fort Condé in honor of Louis Henri, Duc de Bourbon and prince of Condé.
In 1763, the Treaty of Paris was signed, ending the French and Indian War. The treaty ceded Mobile and the surrounding territory to the Kingdom of Great Britain, and it was made a part of the expanded British West Florida colony. The British changed the name of Fort Condé to Fort Charlotte, after Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, King George III's queen. The British were eager not to lose any useful inhabitants and promised religious tolerance to the French colonists, ultimately 112 French Mobilians remained in the colony. In 1766 the population was estimated to be 860, though the town's borders were smaller than they had been during the French colonial efforts. During the American Revolutionary War, West Florida and Mobile became a refuge for loyalists fleeing the other colonies.
The Spanish captured Mobile during the Battle of Fort Charlotte in 1780. They wished to eliminate any British threat to their Louisiana colony, which they had received from France in 1763s Treaty of Paris. Their actions were also condoned by the revolting American colonies due to the fact that West Florida, for the most part, remained loyal to the British Crown. The fort was renamed Fortaleza Carlota, with the Spanish holding Mobile as a part of Spanish West Florida until 1813, when it was seized by the U.S. General James Wilkinson during the War of 1812.
HABS photo of the Southern Hotel (built c.1837) on Water Street.
By the time Mobile was included in the Mississippi Territory in 1813, the population had dwindled to roughly 300 people. The city was included in the Alabama Territory in 1817, after Mississippi gained statehood. Alabama was granted statehood in 1819; Mobile's population had increased to 809 by that time. As the river frontage areas of Alabama and Mississippi were settled by farmers and the plantation economy became established, Mobile's population exploded. It came to be settled by merchants, attorneys, mechanics, doctors and others seeking to capitalize on trade with these upriver areas. Mobile was well situated for trade, as its location tied it to a river system that served as the principal navigational access for most of Alabama and a large part of Mississippi. By 1822 the city's population was 2800.
From the 1830s onward, Mobile expanded into a city of commerce with a primary focus on the cotton trade. The waterfront was developed with wharves, terminal facilities, and fireproof brick warehouses. The exports of cotton grew in proportion to the amounts being produced in the Black Belt; by 1840 Mobile was second only to New Orleans in cotton exports in the nation. With the economy so focused on one crop, Mobile's fortunes were always tied to those of cotton, and the city weathered many financial crises. Though Mobile had a relatively small slave-owning population compared to the inland plantation areas, it was the slave-trading center of the state until surpassed by Montgomery in the 1850s. By 1860 Mobile's population within the city limits had reached 29,258 people; it was the 27th largest city in the United States and 4th largest in what would soon be the Confederate States of America. The free population in the whole of Mobile County, including the city, consisted of 29,754 citizens, of which only 1195 were black. Additionally, 1785slave owners held 11,376 slaves, for a total county population of 41,130 people.
The Tacon-Barfield Mansion (built c. 1896) on Government Street.
During the American Civil War, Mobile was a Confederate city. The first submarine to successfully sink an enemy ship, the H. L. Hunley, was built in Mobile. One of the most famous naval engagements of the war was the Battle of Mobile Bay, resulting in the Union taking possession of Mobile Bay on 5 August 1864. On 12 April 1865, 3 days after the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Courthouse, the city of Mobile surrendered to the Union army to avoid destruction following the Union victories at the Battle of Spanish Fort and the Battle of Fort Blakely. Ironically, on 25 May 1865, the city suffered loss when some three hundred people died as a result of an explosion at a federal ammunition depot on Beauregard Street. The explosion left a 30-foot (9 m) deep hole at the depot's location, sunk ships docked on the Mobile River, and the resulting fires destroyed the northern portion of the city.
Federal Reconstruction in Mobile began after the Civil War and effectively ended in 1874 when the local Democrats gained control of the city government. The last quarter of the 19th century was a time of economic depression and municipal insolvency for Mobile. One example can be provided by the value of Mobile's exports during this period of depression. The value of exports leaving the city fell from $9 million in 1878 to $3 million in 1882.
The turn of the century brought the Progressive Era to Mobile and saw Mobile's economic structure evolve along with a significant increase in population. The population increased from around 40,000 in 1900 to 60,000 by 1920. During this time the city received $3 million in federal grants for harbor improvements to deepen the shipping channels in the harbor. During and after World War I, manufacturing became increasingly vital to Mobile's economic health, with shipbuilding and steel production being two of the most important. During this time, social justice and race relations in Mobile worsened, however. In 1902 the city government passed Mobile's first segregation ordinance, one that segregated the city streetcars. It legislated what had been informal practice, enforced by convention. Mobile's African-American population responded to this with a two-month boycott, but it did not change the law. After this, Mobile's de facto segregation was increasingly replaced with legislated segregation as whites imposed Jim Crow to maintain dominance.
Dauphin Street looking east toward the RSA Battle House Tower and AmSouth Bank Building.
World War II led to a massive military effort causing a considerable increase in Mobile's population, largely due to the massive influx of workers coming to Mobile to work in the shipyards and at the Brookley Army Air Field. Between 1940 and 1943, more than 89,000 people moved into Mobile to work for war effort industries. Mobile was one of eighteen U.S. cities producing Liberty ships. Its Alabama Drydock and Shipbuilding Company supported the war effort by producing ships faster than the Axis powers could sink them. Gulf Shipbuilding Corporation, a subsidiary of Waterman Steamship Corporation, focused on building freighters, Fletcher class destroyers, and minesweepers.
The years after World War II brought about changes in Mobile's social structure and economy. Instead of shipbuilding being a primary economic force, the paper and chemical industries began to expand, and most of the old military bases were converted to civilian uses.
After World War II and their sacrifices in service, African Americans stepped up their efforts to achieve equal rights and social justice. Some residents of Mobile had considered the city to be tolerant and racially accommodating compared to other cities in the South, especially as the police force and one local college became integrated in the 1950s. Buses and lunch counters were voluntarily desegregated by the early 1960s. Mobile's African-American citizens were not as content with the status quo as such residents believed. In 1963 three African-American students brought a case against the Mobile County School Board for being denied admission to Murphy High School. The court ordered that the three students be admitted to Murphy for the 1964 school year, leading to the desegregation of Mobile County's school system. The Civil Rights Movement led to the end of legal racial segregation with passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In the late 1960s, Mobile's economy was dealt a blow with the closing of Brookley Air Force Base. This and other factors ushered in a period of economic depression that lasted through the 1970s. Beginning in the late 1980s, the city council and mayor began an effort termed the "String of Pearls Initiative" to make Mobile into a competitive city. The city initiated construction of numerous new facilities and projects, and the restoration of hundreds of historic downtown buildings and homes. Violent crime was reduced, and city and county leaders attracted new business ventures to the area. The effort continues into the present with new city government leadership.
Shipbuilding began to make a major comeback in Mobile. In 1999 Austal USA was founded, a joint venture of Australian shipbuilder Austal and Bender Shipbuilding (Bender would later sell its interest to Austal).
Mobile is home to an array of cultural influences with its mixed French, Spanish, Creole and Catholic heritage, in addition to British and African, distinguishing it from all other cities in the state of Alabama. The annual Carnival celebration is perhaps the best illustration of this. Mobile has the oldest Mardi Gras celebration, dating to the early 1700s of French colonial times. Carnival in Mobile has evolved over the course of 300 years from a sedate French Catholic tradition into a mainstream multi-week celebration across the spectrum of cultures.
A Carnival parade on Royal Street in Mobile.
Mobile's Carnival celebrations start as early as November with several balls, with the parades usually beginning after January 5. Carnival celebrations end promptly at the stroke of midnight on Mardi Gras, signaling the beginning of Ash Wednesday and the first day of Lent. In Mobile, locals use the term Mardi Gras as a shorthand to refer to the entire Carnival season, although it literally means Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. During this time Mobile's mystic societies build colorful Carnival floats and parade throughout downtown with masked society members tossing small gifts, known as throws, to parade spectators. Mobile's mystic societies, essentially private clubs, also give formal masquerade balls, which are almost always invitation only and are oriented to adults.
Mobile first celebrated Carnival in 1703 when French settlers began the festivities at the Old Mobile Site. Mobile's first Carnival society began in 1711 with the Boeuf Gras Society (Fatted Ox Society). In 1830 Mobile's Cowbellion de Rakin Society was the first formally organized and masked mystic society in the United States to celebrate with a parade. The Cowbellions got their start when Michael Krafft, a cotton factor from Pennsylvania, began a parade with rakes, hoes, and cowbells. The Cowbellians introduced horse-drawn floats to the parades in 1840 with a parade entitled, “Heathen Gods and Goddesses". The Striker's Independent Society was formed in 1843 and is the oldest surviving mystic society in the United States.
Carnival celebrations in Mobile were cancelled during the American Civil War. In 1866Joe Cain revived Mardi Gras parades when he paraded through the city streets on Fat Tuesday while costumed as a fictional Chickasaw chief named Slacabamorinico. He celebrated the day in front of the occupying Union Army troops. The year 2002 saw Mobile's Tricentennial celebrated with parades that represented all of Mobile's mystic societies, both black and white.
In 2009, for the first time in the city's history, Mardi Gras reached the 1,000,000-attendee milestone during the 5-day citywide celebration .
Archives and libraries
The Ben May Main Library on Government Street.
The National African American Archives and Museum features the history of "Colored Carnival", African-American participation in Mobile's Mardi Gras; authentic artifacts from the era of slavery, and portraits and biographies of famous African Americans. The University of South Alabama Archives houses primary source material relating to the history of Mobile and southern Alabama, as well as the university's history. The archives are located on the ground floor of the USA Spring Hill Campus and are open to the general public. The Mobile Municipal Archives contains the extant records of the City of Mobile, dating from the city's creation as a municipality by the Mississippi Territory in 1814. The majority of the original records of Mobile's colonial history (1702-1813) are housed in Paris, London, Seville, and Madrid. The Mobile Genealogical Society Library and Media Center is located at the Holy Family Catholic Church and School complex. It features handwritten manuscripts and published materials for use in genealogical research. The Mobile Public Library system serves Mobile and consists of eight branches across Mobile County, featuring its own large local history and genealogy division housed in a facility next to the newly restored and enlarged Ben May Main Library on Government Street. The Saint Ignatius Archives, Museum and Theological Research Library contains primary sources, artifacts, documents, photographs and publications that pertain to the history of Saint Ignatius Church and School, the Catholic history of the city, and the history of the Roman Catholic Church.
Entertainment and arts
Museum of Art
The Mobile Museum of Art features European, Non-Western, American, and Decorative Arts collections. The Saenger Theatre of Mobile was opened in 1927 and is a modern dynamic performing arts center. It is home to the Mobile Symphony, conducted by Maestro Scott Speck, and Space 301, a contemporary art gallery. It also serves as a small concert venue for the city. The Mobile Civic Center contains three facilities under one roof. The 400,000 sq ft (37,161 m2) building has an arena, a theater and an exposition hall. It is the primary concert venue for the city and hosts a wide variety of events. It is home to the Mobile Opera and the Mobile Ballet. The 60-year old Mobile Opera averages about 1,200 attendees per performance. A wide variety of events are held at Mobile's Arthur C. Outlaw Convention Center. It contains a 100,000sq ft (9,290 m2) exhibit hall, a 15,000 sq ft (1,394 m2) grand ballroom, and sixteen meeting rooms. Additionally, the city sponsors BayFest, an annual three-day music festival with over 125 live musical acts on nine stages.
Front Entrance at The Saenger Theatre
The Oakleigh Period House Museum
The Bragg-Mitchell Mansion
Mobile is home to a variety of museums. Battleship Memorial Park is a military park on the shore of Mobile Bay and features the World War II era battleship USS Alabama (BB-60), the World War II era submarine USS Drum (SS-228), Korean War and Vietnam War Memorials, and a variety of historical military equipment. The Museum of Mobile chronicles 300 years of Mobile history and material culture and is housed in the historic Old City Hall (1857). The Oakleigh Historic Complex features three house museums that interpret the lives of people from three levels of Mobile society in the mid-19th century. The Mobile Carnival Museum, which houses the city's Mardi Gras history and memorabilia, documents the variety of floats, costumes, and displays seen during the history of the festival season. The Bragg-Mitchell Mansion (1855), Richards DAR House (1860), and the Conde-Charlotte House (1822) are historic antebellum house museums. Fort Morgan, Fort Gaines, and Historic Blakeley State Park figure into local American Civil War history. The Mobile Medical Museum is housed in the historic Vincent-Doan House (1827) and features artifacts and resources that chronicle the history of medicine in Mobile. The Phoenix Fire Museum is located in the restored Phoenix Volunteer Fire Company Number 6 building and features the history of fire companies in Mobile from their organization in 1838. The Mobile Police Department Museum features exhibits that chronicle the history of law enforcement in Mobile. The Gulf Coast Exploreum is a non-profit science center located in downtown. It features permanent and traveling exhibits, an IMAX dome theater, a digital 3D virtual theater, and a hands-on chemistry laboratory. The Dauphin Island Sea Lab is located south of the city near the mouth of Mobile Bay. It houses the Estuarium, an aquarium which illustrates the four habitats of the Mobile Bay ecosystem: the river delta, bay, barrier islands and Gulf of Mexico.
Parks and other attractions
Bienville Square from Saint Joseph Street.
The Mobile Botanical Gardens feature a variety of flora spread over 100 acres (40 ha). It contains the Millie McConnell Rhododendron Garden with 1,000 evergreen and native azaleas and the 30-acre (12 ha) Longleaf Pine Habitat. The Bellingrath Gardens and Home are located on Fowl River and contain 65 acres (26 ha) of landscaped gardens and a 10,500 sq ft (975 m2) mansion dating to the 1930s. The 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center is a new facility for exploring the Mobile, Spanish, Tensaw, Appalachee, and Blakeley River delta.
The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is the motherchurch of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mobile.
The Conde-Charlotte House
Mobile has more than 45 public parks with some that are of special interest. Bienville Square is a historic park dating to 1850 in the Lower Dauphin Street Historic District and is named for Mobile’s founder, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville. This park was once a principal gathering place for the citizens of the city and remains popular today. Cathedral Square is a performing arts park in the Lower Dauphin Street Historic District overlooked by the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Fort Condé is a reconstruction of the original Fort Condé, built on the old fort's footprint. It is the city’s official welcome center and living history museum. Spanish Plaza is a downtown park that honors the Spanish occupation of the city between 1780 and 1813. It features the "Arches of Friendship", a fountain presented to Mobile by the city of Málaga, Spain. Langan Park is a 720-acre (291 ha) municipal park that features lakes and natural spaces. It is home to the Mobile Museum of Art, Azalea City Golf Course, Mobile Botanical Gardens and Playhouse in the Park.
The Bellingrath Gardens And Home
The moon bridge at Bellingrath.
A reflecting pool.
The Japanese garden
A house within the De Tonti Square Historic District.
Mobile has antebellum architectural examples of Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, and Creole cottage. Later architectural styles found in the city include the various Victorian types, shotgun types, Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, Spanish Colonial Revival, Beaux-Arts and many others. The city currently has nine major historic districts consisting of Old Dauphin Way, Oakleigh Garden, Lower Dauphin Street, Leinkauf, De Tonti Square, Church Street East, Ashland Place, Campground, and Midtown.
Old Dauphin Way
1569 Dauphin Street
1752 Dauphin Street
14 South Reed Avenue
1406 Brown Street
Oakleigh Garden Historic District
910 Government Street
300 Chatham Street
1005 Government Street
250 Chatham Street
1012 Palmetto Street
Lower Dauphin Street
Washington Firehouse No. 5
Spira and Pincus Building
Merchants National Bank Building
Leinkauf Historic District
1464 Church Street
159 Michigan Avenue
211 Michigan Avenue
255 Dexter Avenue
260 Dexter Avenue
262 Dexter Avenue
De Tonti Square Historic District
The Richards DAR House at 256 Joachim Street.
258 State Street.
254 St. Anthony Street.
256 State Street.
261 Joachim Street.
Church Street East Historic District
The Martin Horst House on Conti Street.
Christ Church Cathedral.
Houses on St. Emanuel Street
The Bishop Portier House on Conti Street.
Ashland Place Historic District
Campground Historic District
Midtown Historic District
George Fearn House
103 Florence Place
104 Florence Place
129 Florence Place
143 Florence Place
The old United States Marine Hospital, restored and adapted for reuse by the Mobile County Health Department.
Mobile has a number of historic structures spread throughout the city. Some of Mobile's historic churches include Christ Church Cathedral, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Emanuel AME Church, Government Street Presbyterian Church, St. Louis Street Missionary Baptist Church, State Street AME Zion Church, Stone Street Baptist Church, and Trinity Episcopal Church. Two historic Roman Catholic convents survive, the Convent and Academy of the Visitation and the Convent of Mercy. Barton Academy is a historic Greek Revival school building and local landmark on Government Street. The Bishop Portier House and the Carlen House are two of the many surviving examples of Creole cottages in the city. The Mobile City Hospital and the United States Marine Hospital are both restored Greek Revival hospital buildings that predate the Civil War. The Washington Firehouse No. 5 is a Greek Revival fire station, built in 1851. The Hunter House is an example of the Italianate style and was built by a successful 19th century African American businesswoman. The Shepard House is a good example of the Queen Anne style. The Scottish Rite Temple is the only surviving example of Egyptian Revival architecture in the city. The Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio Passenger Terminal is an example of the Mission Revival style.
The city has several historic cemeteries that were established after the colonial era. They replaced Mobile's colonial Campo Santo, of which no traces remain. The Church Street Graveyard contains above-ground tombs and monuments spread over 4 acres (2 ha) and was founded in 1819, during the height of the yellow fever epidemics. The nearby 120-acre (49 ha) Magnolia Cemetery was established in 1836 and was Mobile's primary burial site during the 19th century with approximately 80,000 burials. It features tombs and many intricately carved monuments and statues. The Catholic Cemetery was established in 1848 by the Archdiocese of Mobile and covers more than 150 acres (61 ha). It contains plots for the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, Little Sisters of the Poor, Sisters of Charity, and Sisters of Mercy, in addition to many other historically significant burials. Mobile's Jewish community dates back to the 1820s and the city has two historic Jewish cemeteries, Ahavas Chesed Cemetery and Sha'arai Shomayim Cemetery.