Mobile Alabama is one of the oldest cities in the United States. Although long inhabited by Native Americans, the French established the first European settlement here in 1702. The city bounced between French and British hands multiple times during the 18th century and ended up with the British until 1813 when it became part of the U.S.
The city’s harbor (the only seaport in the state) played a critical role in the Civil War, at least until the harbor and city were captured by the Union in 1865.
The Birthplace of Mardi Gras
Although one may think more about Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Mobile had the first organized U.S. Mardi Gras celebration in 1703. While celebrations were discontinued during the Civil War, they resumed in 1866. Today, a Mardi Gras Museum, located in the historic Bernstein-Bush house, showcases over 300 years of Mardi Gras history. Mardi Gras Park contains colorful statues of popular Carnival characters.
The Africatown Heritage House is a local community house that highlights the Clotilda, the last known slave ship to enter the country in 1860. After the Civil War, the formerly enslaved people purchased land and started their own community that became known as Africatown. While the remnants of the ship reside in the mud of Mobile Bay, exhibits tell the story of the ship’s survivors and dependents.
Mobile Historic Districts
Although its original Colonial French, Spanish, and English buildings were destroyed by early 19th-century fires, several historical districts around the city center contain a wide range of buildings from the early 19th through early 20th century. Styles range from tiny Gulf Coast cottages, such as those of 19th-century servants, through merchant-class Victorians and brick townhouses to neo-classical mansions.
The city’s visitor bureau provides maps of many of these districts. Most neighborhoods were quite walkable and better appreciated on foot. We found many of these districts interesting.
The city’s primary commercial and entertainment district begins beautifully at the corner of Royal (look for the building with the type of lovely French-style balconies that adorn New Orleans’ French Quarter). As you progress uptown, the primarily 19th- and early 20th-century, two- and three-story brick buildings reflect a range of architectural styles from Federal, neo-Classical, and even Art Deco. Unfortunately, on this visit, two years after the pandemic, the area, while pretty, remains plagued by high vacancies.
Church Street East
The district used to reflect a broad range of architectural styles that reflected the different stages of the city’s colonial past from French, English, and Spanish occupations. Destroyed by fires, the area has since been rebuilt in an even broader range of styles prominent from the early 19th– through early 20th centuries—including Gulf Coast Cottages.
The dense residential area near the Dauphin commercial district is characterized by upscale mid-19th-century homes of many styles on smaller lots, including brick townhouses and a few mansions. Some places, such as the Richards DAR House Museum, are adorned with filigree balconies and fences.
The pretty and diverse neighborhood is characterized by and named for the profusion of huge, majestic Live Oak trees that line the residential blocks (creating havoc with city sidewalks) and parks. The economic diversity of the neighborhood is reflected in the diversity of house sizes. They range from tiny Gulf Coast Cottages and Shotgun homes that were built by and for laborers, to relatively unadorned, but huge, well-maintained mansions.
The relatively small area has larger, generally early-to-mid 20th-century private homes on larger lots studded with lovely Live Oaks. Styles range from Craftsman to mid-century Ranch to Classical Revival.
Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum
Hank Aaron fans might also want to stop his childroom and museum. However, our time was running short so we passed.
We only had time here for one lunch at the Half Shell Oyster House. We started with a plate of raw gulf oysters followed by cornmeal-fried oysters and a seafood potpie with gulf shrimp, crawfish, crabmeat, peas, carrots, and corn in a remoulade-like sauce under puff pastry along with Caesar salads. While the food was pretty good, nothing was memorable.