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article number 744
article date 12-06-2018
copyright 2018 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Evolution of a City - Year by Year, Mobile Alabama, Part1: 1865-1890
by First National Bank of Mobile

From the 1965 book, Highlights of 100 years in Mobile by the First National Bank of Mobile. The First National Bank of Mobile existed from 1865 until 1985.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This set of articles was produced as a promotion for the First National Bank of Mobile and contains articles as well as extra notes regarding their bank. Some of these articles and notes were edited to keep just interesting, educational content . . . for instance lists of banking officials were omitted.


THE COMING of Spring, 1865, brought the end of The War Between the States—four years of terrible conflict which had sapped both the manpower and the resources of the South.

The smoke that rose from Sherman’s raid still hung like a cloud over the Southern scene, and want from war’s waste still gnawed at the vitals of a defeated but unconquered Confederacy. Echoes from Appomattox had hardly died away when resolute Southerners—their spirit surmounting the shock of surrender—determinedly faced the grim reality of Reconstruction.

Theirs was a staggering task. Conditions everywhere were chaotic. Government was in the hands of Federal military authorities. “Carpetbag” adventurers were swarming southward to prey upon a prostrate people.

Business was at a standstill. Banking was paralyzed. Confederate currency was worthless, and almost the only Southerners who had any money were those who had succeeded in secreting gold or cotton during the war.

Despite that dark outlook, the people of Mobile—then a town of approximately 41,000 population — courageously turned their backs on the tragic past and began immediately to plan and work toward a restoration of order and progress in their beloved city.

The old Guard House Tower, viewed from St. Emanuel Street, looking southeast, as it appeared in the 1860’s.


AS IF the shock of war and defeat were not enough, Fate dealt Mobile a terrific blow on May 26, 1865. It was the “great magazine explosion” which snuffed out the lives of hundreds of persons, wrecked countless business buildings and dwellings, and demolished merchandise and other property with a loss authoritatively estimated at $728,892.

The death-dealing blast took place in the main Ordnance Depot—located at Commerce and Lipscomb Streets—of the United States Army force who were charged with enforcement of martial law under which Mobile was placed immediately after the close of The War Between the States.

Ranking as a major holocaust, it was featured as the leading news of the day in Northern newspapers, which declared that the explosion was deliberately set by certain ex-Confederate officers — “unreconstructed Rebels”—bent on revenge.

It is hardly believable, however, that ex-Confederates, no matter how “unreconstructed” or vengeful they were, would have visited such a rain of death on their own people. The generally accepted version of the cause in Mobile and elsewhere in the South was that the explosion was caused by some laborers who were careless in handling explosives at the dump.

Whatever the cause, it was a terrible catastrophe for Mobile. So terrific was the explosion that it destroyed or damaged all buildings in the area bounded on the north by Bloodgood Street, on the west by Conception Street, on the south by St. Anthony Street and on the east by the river.

Windows in the Battle House, which suffered an estimated $15,000 damage, and in buildings as far south as Conti Street, were shattered. Force of the blast was so great that it caused carriages to capsize on Royal Street, and horses to collapse as if shot to death. A man was blown off the wharf into the river at the foot of Church Street, and a steamer and schooner were wrecked at their moorings in the river.

Accompanying illustrations show a newspaper artist’s conception of the disaster as it was pictured for northern readers. A reporter for the ’Mobile Morning News’ who rushed to the scene of destruction described the explosion as:

“. . . a writhing giant—gaunt and grim—poised in midair. . . bursting shells, flying timbers, bales of cotton, horses, men, women and children co-mingled and mangled into one immense mass.

"The heart stood still, and the stoutest cheek paled as this rain of death fell from the sky and crash after crash foretold a more fearful fate yet impending; the lurid flames began to leap farther from the wreckage. Old and young, soldier and citizen vied with each other in deeds of daring to rescue the crumbled and imprisoned . . ."

The detonation was heard as far distant as Fort Morgan, where soldiers, frightened by the sound, rushed to their parapets, thinking a monitor had set off its magazine. And after a thorough study of records, army officials estimated that 200 tons of munitions had gone up in the explosion.

Artist’s conception of a distant view of the great magazine explosion, as it appeared In Harper’s Weekly In 1865.
Artist’s conception of havoc wrought by the great magazine explosion, as it appeared in Frank Leslie’s illustrated Newspaper, on June 17, 1865.
1200x870 size available. to open in new window.


ONE OF the first and most necessary steps in rehabilitating Mobile was the creation of additional banking facilities. Accordingly, on May 8, 1865, a group of prominent Mobile citizens gathered at the old Battle House for the purpose of organizing a new bank in Mobile.*

* Three banks were already in existence n Mobile in 1865—the Southern Bank of Alabama, located at the southeast corner of St. Francis and St. Joseph Streets; the Mobile Savings Bank, on the present location of Julius Goldstein & Son on Royal Street; and the Bank of Mobile on the northeast corner of Conti and Royal Streets.

It was felt that the purpose in mind could be best accomplished through the organization of a bank to be chartered under the National Banking Act. Various meetings followed the first, and formal application for a charter was made in August, 1865.

It was originally contemplated that the bank start with $100,000 capital but the Federal authorities required that not less than $200,000 be subscribed. The required amount was raised and the charter was issued on October 18, 1865.

So began the First National Bank of Mobile, which is now the oldest bank in Alabama, and whose charter also antedates those of all other National Banks in the Southern states of Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina.

¶ Within four months after receiving its charter as a National Bank on October 18, 1865, the business of the First National Bank had increased to a point where an addition to its original capital stock was deemed advisable. The directors of the bank therefore decided at their meeting on January 15, 1866, to increase the capital stock to the sum of $300,000.

At this same meeting, the president and cashier of the bank were authorized to arrange for obtaining daily gold quotations from New York and New Orleans, and to select a London correspondent. That authorization evidences the fact that ever since its earliest days, the First National Bank has been actively engaged in furnishing complete banking service for its customers.

The First National Bank’s first home, located on the northwest corner of Royal and St. Francis Streets, as it appeared in 1865.


ON MAY 11, 1866, Mobile’s Board of Aldermen, with Mayor J. M. Withers presiding, adopted a resolution donating three acres of land to the United States Government, to be used as a National Cemetery.

The resolution, published the following day in ’The Mobile Daily News,’ read as follows:

“Resolved, that the mayor, aldermen and council hereby donate to the United States Government three acres of land in the new burying ground as a place of burial for United States soldiers, to include the ground now occupied by the Federal dead, and that the committee is hereby required to set aside and designate the boundaries of the said three acres. . . "

Action of the aldermen was in compliance with a request made by Col. W. D. Wickersham, chief of the quartermaster department of Alabama, and was the first step toward establishment of the now beautifully-kept burial ground for those who died in the military services of the United States.

Immediately after the parcel of land was laid off, the government started transferring bodies of those who died at Fort Gaines, Fort Powell, Spanish Fort, Fort Blakely, Fort Morgan, and from other points in Alabama to the Mobile cemetery.

In 1894, the city donated an additional strip of land to the National Cemetery, extending it to Virginia Street and enlarging it to 5.24 acres. In this addition the remains of soldiers who died at Fort Jackson (Bienville’s old Fort Toulouse) are buried.

In 1935, the U. S. Government purchased 2.41 acres of land on the south side of Virginia Street and immediately north of the Jewish Cemetery as another addition. In this latest addition, the United Daughters of the Confederacy placed a marker on the site of the old Confederate breastworks which were located there.

At present 4,704 persons, including victims of The War Between the States, the Indian Wars, Spanish-American War, Philippine Insurrection and the Great War are interred in the area. One thousand four hundred and twenty-one of those are unknown.

Soldiers of The War Between the States buried in the plot came from the following states: Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont and Wisconsin.

Adding to the beauty of the cemetery, which now comprises 7.65 acres, are two magnificent azalea beds planted there by the Francis Marion Inge Chapter of the American War Mothers.

Records of the National Cemetery also show that the bodies of 15 men were brought back from Europe and reinterred here.


THE War Between the States caused virtual suspension of Mobile’s Carnival celebrations during the four years 1861-1865. The conflict drew most of the city’s young manhood to military services of the Confederacy and dampened too the cheerful spirit necessary to such occasions.

But Mobile, proudly claiming the title, “Mother of Mystics*,” would not long be deprived of her parades, colorful tableaux and dances. On Shrove Tuesday of 1866, Joe Cain, a market clerk, revived the annual celebration by staging a one-man show. Cain, according to the late Erwin Craighead, in his book, ’Mobile: Fact and Tradition,’ appeared on this occasion dressed as an Indian chief, calling himself ’Slackabamirimico.’

Another version, also taken into account by Craighead, says that Cain arrived in a decorated charcoal wagon, and played music. On Shrove Tuesday of the following year (1867), Cain reappeared—this time leading a group of sixteen former Confederate soldiers, who called themselves “The Lost Cause Minstrels”.

If newspaper accounts are to be taken as conclusive, revival of carnival celebrations in Mobile began in earnest in 1868. On the morning of February 25, 1868, ’The Mobile Tribune’ carried the following description of carnival events of the previous day:

“The society which turned out was the ‘L. C.’, which has recently sprung into existence. About four o’clock in the afternoon a covered wagon with a bale of hay in it, drawn by two horses, suddenly appeared on Royal Street, near Dauphin.

"The occupants of the curious looking vehicle numbered five and represented a strolling band of minstrels. Each individual had a musical instrument in his hand. This novel crowd stopped in front of ’The Tribune’ office and favored us with a ‘delightful serenade.’"

In closing, the reporter stated: “The ‘L. C’s.’ deserve credit for having taken the initiatory step in celebration of Mardi Gras, and we have every reason to believe that the next Mardi Gras day will be celebrated in a most magnificent manner."

But Mobile did not have to wait until “next Mardi Gras Day” to witness a celebration in the “magnificent manner”. On the very evening of the day on which the foregoing newspaper story appeared in ’The Tribune,’ the "Order of Myths" presented their first Mardi Gras parade, which was described by The Tribune on the morning of February 26, 1868, as follows:

“The first anniversary celebration of the ’Order of Myths’ society was a grand success, and the observance of Mardi Gras of 1868 will long be remembered by the community of Mobile.

“Shortly after eight o’clock Tuesday night, the O. O. M’s. appeared at the corner of Government and Royal Streets and launched a parade through downtown streets to Temperance Hall, where the remainder of the evening was devoted to a grand ball.

“Prior to the ball, several tableaux from ‘Lalla Rookh’ were presented. The celebration was a magnificent affair and far surpassed the expectations of all beholders. There are few of our readers who have not pored over the pages of ‘Lalla Rookh’ and who are not acquainted with the history of this Eastern romance.

“The tableaux of last evening were excellent and elicited warm applause . . . The lateness of the hour and our little acquaintance with the history of the organization of the society, which is strictly secret, precludes our giving as extended a notice as we might desire. We can only say that as to the first anniversary turnout, the O. O. M’s. have every reason to be pleased with themselves."

* Mobile’s Mardi Gras celebrations began with the pranks perpetrated by soldiers under Lt. Marlos Langlois (the father of Fifise Langlois, who introduced the azalea in Mobile) at Fort Louis de Ia Mobile. The soldiers held their celebration yearly on St. Louis Day (August 25th) beginning in 1704 and continuing up to 1842.

When Bienville moved the settlement to the present site of Mobile in 1711, Lt. Langlois instituted the Shrove Tuesday celebration of Boeuf Gras, which was continued intermittently until the outbreak of The War Between the States in 1861.

Also in Spanish times in Mobile, there was a Spanish Mystic Society, which paraded on Twelfth Night (January 6th.) Those celebrations continued until January 5th, 1835, when the society gave its last demonstration on the night preceding Twelfth Night.

In 1830. Michael Krafft and others paraded on New Year’s Eve, and three years later called their society ’Cowbellion de Rakin.’ Out of this society grew the ’Strikers,’ the T. D. S., and other groups who also paraded on New Year’s.

All those societies, however, were practically dormant during The War Between the States. The Joe Cain, mentioned in the foregoing story, enjoyed quite a reputation as a wit in Mobile.

“Lord Mayor’s Barge.”—A float in the O. O. M. Parade “Odd Crafts”, on February 26, 1884.
“Mexican Gulf Privateer”—Another float In the O. O. M. Parade “Odd Crafts”, on February 26, 1884.

¶ In the early days of banks, there were no “Safe Deposit Boxes” as we know them today. If a customer wished to leave valuables with the bank, he would simply put them in a box of his own choosing, mark the box, and ask the bank to store the box in the bank’s vault.

No receipt was given at the time the box was left, and none was taken when the box was called for.

¶ The First National Bank during its first year of existence demonstrated its faith in and loyalty to the people it served. For instance, in 1866, when carpet baggers had straddled the state, tax collections were at a low ebb and the Slate of Alabama was hard pressed for funds. Responding to the need of the times, the First National Bank lent the state $25,000—a large sum in those hard times. It took a patriotic spirit to place faith in a state that was helpless beneath debt and the rule of those not interested in its future.

On many other occasions the First National has responded to Alabama’s call for financial help, and has also many times helped local governments through the extension of credit.


ABOUT 9:30 in the morning on December 28, 1867, the silence of placid old Royal Street, between Dauphin and St. Francis, was abruptly shattered by the sharp report of pistol fire. Employees of the First National Bank (then located on the northwest corner of Royal and St. Francis) looked up from their work, and, like scores of others in nearby buildings, rushed into the street.

To their amazement, they saw U. S. District Judge Richard Busteed—a northerner appointed by President Abraham Lincoln—collapse in the street, badly wounded.

Immediately after Judge Busteed fell, they saw U. S. District Attorney L. V. B. Martin advance from a point near the steps of the Customs Building (now headquarters of the Mobile Chamber of Commerce) and fire two more shots into Busteed’s crumpled form.

Thus violently did personal differences between Judge Busteed and Attorney Martin flare into the open, drawing an expression of fear from ’The Register & Advertiser’ that the episode would result in reprisal action from the Northerners then ruling the city.

Although the people of Mobile well knew that Judge Busteed was incompetent and probably guilty of corrupt practices which had caused bad blood between him and Attorney Martin, the entire city at that time was so intimidated by the abusive powers of carpetbag domination, that the blame was placed on Martin, while Busteed’s virtues were extolled.

In its story of the shooting, published on December 28, 1867, ’The Register & Advertiser’ said:

“The moral character of the Mobile public is not so bad that a murderous deed like this—shooting an unarmed and defenseless man down in the street in cold blood, without a word of warning—is looked upon with indifference; and we doubt whether the dastardly assassin could have safely passed through the excited crowds that thronged Royal Street for several hours after the affair. . . ."

" . . . The cause of this murderous assault naturally attracts inquiry, and will be fully investigated and made public. Judge Busteed is a sworn enemy to the monstrous corruptions in office with which this country is cursed. He has proved it, and was proceeding to prove it in the most emphatic manner; whatever may have been said or printed about his public history, nobody can deny that . . . "

" . . . We charge our friends in the North to see to it that the odium of this wretched and cowardly deed is not cast upon the people of Mobile, nor attributed to any malevolent spirit prevailing among the Southern people. Its perpetration is not of us. Mr. Martin may be a Southern-born man, but he belongs to the class known here as ’Southern renegades’. He is a radical."

Judge Busteed recovered rapidly from his wounds, and subsequently—as carpetbag rule weakened—a movement was launched to have him impeached. Serious charges were brought against him, but he remained in office until his resignation from the bench in 1874, after which time he returned to the North.

Attorney Martin, meanwhile, resigned his post as District Attorney and moved to Texas; prosecution of charges against him in connection with the shooting were never pressed.

By the time Judge Busteed resigned in 1874, the people of Mobile had regained their rights.

’The Register,’ which had praised Judge Busteed in 1867, now pictured him in the true light. It was shown that on visits to the North prior to his resignation, he attempted to flank impeachment proceedings against him by “suddenly turning radical and heaping the vilest abuse upon the Southern people”.

That change in the character of the newspaper’s remarks about Judge Busteed indicates the end of carpetbag rule in Mobile.

Artist’s conception of the shooting of Judge Richard Busteed, as it appeared in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, January 18, 1868.


MOBILE’S first sewer was laid down Conti Street in 1868, at the time the famous old Gulf City Hotel, later known as the Southern Hotel, was erected at the southeast corner of Conti and Water Streets.

The ’Mobile Weekly Register’ of November 21, 1868, told of the construction of the sewer and hotel as follows: “The hotel being constructed by Mr. D. O. Grady, at the southeast corner of Conti and Water Streets, is rapidly approaching completion, and when finished, will present a very creditable appearance.

"The workmen were busily engaged yesterday in building a large sewer from the hotel to the river, and the Board of County Commissioners, by continuing it to the courthouse just a short distance above, would abate the nuisance in that building, which has been the subject of frequent complaint by persons living in the vicinity and especially by those whose business brings them hither."

The next major development of sewer facilities on Conti Street came in 1889, when the City granted a franchise for construction of a line by the Conti Street Sewer Company, a private company. This line, with laterals into several side streets, extended as far west as the Lavretta home on Government Street and served the Jacob Pollock home, opposite Barton Academy, the E. L. Russell place, and the Minge and Goldsby homes.

It served homes and business places in the Cathedral Conti St. block, the Bishop’s residence on Government, the ,section occupied by the Lyric Theatre; stores on Dauphin between Joachim and Jackson; Conception Street from Conti St. to Grant’s, then east on Dauphin to where Gayfer now has a store; on St. Emanuel Street, Conti to Gov’t St. and numerous other places on Royal, Water, Commerce and lower Conti Street.

In May 1899, almost 10 years after the sewer was installed, the city council voted to acquire it and make it a part of its general sewer system.

Fortunately for persons owning property which was served by the old Conti Street Sewer Companv, they were exempt from sewerage taxes levied by the city. The Conti Street Sewer Company’s contract provided that:

“It is also further mutually agreed that the City of Mobile, acting through its proper authorities, shall have the privilege of substituting for connections now existing, a connection with any other line or branch of the general sewerage system of Mobile; provided, however, that when such substitution is required or made, the property and person thus required to make a connection with any other portion of the city’s general sewerage shall be exempt from the payment of any charge, tax or fee as fully and to all intents and purposes as if his original connection remained intact."

For years each user of Mobile’s sanitary sewer system was required by law to pay a fixed charge of 30 cents a month where the amount of water used did not exceed 3,750 galIons a month , plus a monthly charge of 10 cents for every 1,000 gallons used in excess of 1,750 gallons and not exceeding 3,750 gallon a month, a schedule of fixed monthly charges ranging from 30 cents up to $7.50 applied, and in addition the user paid a charge based on the quantity of water used. Considerable savings therefore resulted to owners of properties which were exempt from charges due to a former connection to the old Conti Street Sewer Company lines.

Validity of the old agreement was tested in the Alabama Supreme Court in 1937, in a case which attacked the legality of sewer taxes in general. The court upheld the legality of the sewer tax in general, and likewise held that the old agreement was still in force, although opposing counsel pointed out that the effect of the decision was to declare the agreement operative in perpetuity.

The old Southern Market, constructed in the early 1850’s. Originally this building was used as a market place and militia armory. After The War Between The States, several of Mobile’s municipal offices were removed to the upper floors of this building. Today only a few shops remain on the ground floor, and the building is generally known as the City Hall.
Old Custom House and Post Office, built in 1856. On this corner the new 33 floor building of the First National Bank is being erected at this time.

Mr. Origen Sibley who owned the Sawmill that cut the timbers used in the foundation of the Old Custom House has a grandson, G. Eager Barnes and a great granddaughter, Mrs. Barton Greer, Sr., living in Mobile.

¶ During the First National’s early years, the South was flooded with counterfeit money, some of which was exceptionally well done. It therefore became important for a bank to have personnel who easily and quickly recognized counterfeit money. The First National sent to Charleston, S. C., and obtained the services of a Mr. Horace E. Walpole as bank teller. Mr. Walpole had a reputation for counting money quickly and detecting counterfeit very readily.

¶I n the early days of the bank, the propriety of smoking in the banking rooms was seriously questioned. When the bank’s board of directors met on March 1, 1868, they adopted the following resolution: “During business hours, no smoking will be allowed in the public banking room, and no visitors can be permitted to come behind the counter.”

¶ “In 1868, The First National Bank, then only three years old, had deposits totaling $447,872.72.

View on Front Street, In the 1870’s.


IN A LETTER from the United States Chief of Engineers, dated July 20, 1870, Major C. B. Reese, Corps of Engineers, in charge of the Mobile district, office, was directed to submit a project for improvement of Mobile’s harbor and the ship channel through the bay.

The order came on the heels of appropriation by Congress of $50,000 for the work. This project was the first since 1857, when work on the harbor was stopped owing to the threat of civil war.

Prior to 1857, the government had undertaken several Mobile harbor projects at various times since 1826, and in those days the depth of the channel at Dog River bar was about 7 1/2 feet. Moving swiftly, Major Reese, in a letter dated August 5, 1870, outlined the following proposals on the project:

“1. To dredge out Choctaw Pass, Dog River bar, and the channel above and below Dog River bar so as to give a channel which shall be 300 feet wide and 13 feet deep at mean low tide; the location of said channel through the bay.

"2. To remove the upper and lower lines of obstructions consisting of rows of piles, driven close to each other, and of sunken hulks, filled with bricks or rather heavy material, so as to make the openings where the channel will pass through the obstructions 600 feet at the upper and 1,200 feet at the lower line.

"3. To prosecute the survey of the harbor, especially in reference to determining more definitely what are the obstructions which will require removal, and their exact positions; and also to determine, by soundings, the present depth of water down the proposed channel, until 13 feet of water at mean tide is reached.

"4. Leave in abeyance and for future study, the question of the propriety of closing any of the outlets of Mobile River, above Choctaw Pass, or of confining the current of the river in any way, with a view of producing a useful effect from scouring."

Major Reese’s project was given formal approval of the Chief of Engineers in a letter dated August 18, 1870. Bids were invited for dredging the proposed channel, and the contract was awarded to John Grant, who bid 50 cents a cubic yard for dredging—although original estimates had been based on anticipated price of 40 cents a cubic yard.

Grant started work on September 20, 1870, but progress on the undertaking was impeded by yellow fever which during those days took many lives in Mobile, including that of Major Reese.

Before the project was completed, it became necessary for Col. J. H. Simpson, who then was in charge of the engineers here, to obtain an additional appropriation of $200,000.

Following is an outline of the amount of dredging required under the project:

“For dredging Choctaw Pass, to give a channel 300 feet wide and 11 feet of water at low tide—110,000 cubic yards.
"For dredging Dog River bar, to give 11 feet of water, and a channel 300 feet wide—129,000 cubic yards.
"For dredging below Dog River to give 13 feet of water through the lower bay, 300 feet wide—887,000 cubic yards."

¶The year 1870 was characterized by severe business depression, which culminated in the financial panic of 1873. The First National Bank’s deposits were $289,721.58. Despite the depressed conditions and shrinkage in deposits, however, the bank continued to be a tower of strength during those hard times in Mobile.

View of the City and Harbor of Mobile about 1870. (From an old print.)
St. Francis Street Slip, in the 1880’s.
Facsimile of a check drawn In 1867 on the private banking house of James H. Masson, who later became president of The First National Bank. Note the expression “Second of Exchange (first unpaid)” on the check.

In those days people buying goods out of Mobile paid for them with checks like the above, and every check was drawn in duplicate. The original check would first be mailed, and then the duplicate would be sent by a later mall. The reason for this practice of mailing duplicate checks was that the mail service was irregular and undependable.


WHILE HUNDREDS of excursionists clambered aboard the 27-ton ferry boat ’Ocean Wave,’ as she prepared to sail from the Point Clear pier on the afternoon of August 27, 1871, a terrific explosion wrecked the boat, killed more than a score of her passengers and injured many others.

The following is part of an eye-witness account of the tragedy as given ’The Mobile Register’ by Ben Lane, who happened to be sitting on the porch of the Point Clear Hotel at the time of the explosion.

“It was my ill fortune yesterday to witness the saddest scenes I ever beheld. I have seen many battle fields strewn with hecatombs of gory dead and wounded, but there the victims were strong men, and such scenes were normal, usual and anticipated.

"But yesterday I witnessed a catastrophe in which helpless women and children were the chief victims. I saw bodies frightfully mutilated, torn, scalded; some struggling in a last vain effort to escape from the overwhelming waters; some rescued only to prolong their sufferings for a few hours.

"The boat gave out a queer hissing sound before the explosion. Then came the report, followed by a rumbling, hissing sound. Fragments of timber and metals flew in all directions. The fore part of the boat and cabin was completely carried away. . . .

"The guests of the hotel and the residents turned out in a body and rendered every possible assistance. Large numbers of boats were hurried to the scene, but they arrived too late to save the drowning. All was over with them in less than five minutes. But many of these were so badly wounded that they would have died, if rescued.

The number of passengers on the ’Wave’ is only conjectural, and so is the number of the lost. But the boat was certainly crowded, and it is safe to estimate the number aboard at over two hundred. Very many of these were children, and many little hats and bonnets came ashore to tell the tale of the little victims beneath the waves.

How many were lost, it is impossible to know. The number will probably never be accurately known. . . . The boiler was torn open, with a long seam. It was so rotten as literally to tear open. If it had been stronger, so as to explode with greater violence, the destruction would probably have been greater.”

The ill-fated bay ferry boat “Ocean Wave”

“The ’Ocean Wave’ has for some time been considered an unsafe boat. A criminal responsibility rests somewhere, and it ought to be visited upon those to whom the recklessness and incapacity are attributable.

"The system of inspections everywhere is loose, careless and reckless, and officers who give an official safety certificate to such old shells of boilers ought to lose their official heads, if not their necks”.


ON DECEMBER 4, 1871, a group of Mobile business men, who thought that the cotton business should be concentrated in the South instead of in New York, met in the offices of Mobile’s Board of Trade to inaugurate a movement which shortly thereafter resulted in the establishment of the "Mobile Cotton Exchange."

Reporting that development, ’The Register’ on the following morning stated:

“According to notice, a meeting was held last night at the rooms of the Board of Trade for the organization of a Cotton Exchange in this city. Col. D. E. Huger was called to the chair and Mr. E. C. Dorgan requested to act as secretary. Col. Huger, on taking the chair, explained the object of the meeting and stated that there were already 50 merchants who had authorized their names to be used as subscribers to the enterprise.”

In a follow-up story on a subsequent meeting, ’The Register’ on December 8, stated:

“A meeting of the Mobile Cotton Exchange took place yesterday evening at 7 o’clock, Col. D. E. Huger, president pro tem, presiding.

"The committee on organization submitted the constitution and by-laws, which were adopted.

"The committee of seven, appointed at the previous meeting, was continued for the purpose of obtaining signatures to the constitution, with instructions to file a copy of the constitution with the Judge of Probate for the purpose of incorporation. The committee was requested to urge the signing of the constitution, and suggest a meeting for final organization and election of officers."

Discussing establishment of the exchange, ’The Register’ said editorially:

“As we understand, this is a part of a general policy to be adopted throughout the cotton states, and has as its object concentration of the cotton business in the South instead of having it controlled almost entirely in New York, as has been the case since the war.

New Orleans inaugurated the move last year, and its exchange has grown to large and important dimensions, and she is now using her influence to build up similar institutions in all southern ports”.

The Exchange first occupied what was known in those days as the "Old Arcade," between St. Michael Street and Planter’s Alley. In 1886 it joined with the Chamber of Commerce and built its own quarters at St. Francis and Commerce Streets. This building subsequently burned, destroying most of the records of the Exchange.

Weighing cotton for shipment from Mobile in the 1870’s.
Old Mobile Cotton Exchange and Chamber of Commerce Building, formerly located at St. Francis and Commerce Streets.


“Mobile will ever be true to her past, and even those who bitterly complain that she is slow, never dared deny she is safe”.

Thus editorialized ’The Mobile Register’ in a time when the city faced one of its greatest economic crises—the panic of 1873. This proud boast, representing a spirit which has brought Mobile to its present enviable place under the industrial sun, came just a few days after “Black Friday” (September 19, 1873).

Actually, Mobile’s business on “Black Friday” failed to show any effects of the crash which subsequently was to bring so much woe to her economic life, and which on that very day precipitated pandemonium on Wall Street.

A special article dispatched by reporter DeLeon from New York to ’The Register’ described the economic upheaval as follows:

“Since the shaking of infamous Black Friday (1869), New York finance has never been so racked in the very marrow of its bones as it was yesterday. The ague that set its teeth chattering early in the day, culminated later in a terrible congestive chill, which shook arid shattered it like a feather in the whirlwind.

"And the end is not yet; for today’s symptoms—up to this hour of mailing—have not been hopeful for the ultimate recovery of the shaken patient.

“The Stock Market opened yesterday with a furious hubbub, known only within the mystic confines of the Board. Since the days of Black Friday (1869) no such pandemonium—made up of howls, hat-smashings, ‘yahoos!’ of the stronger, and bitter oaths of the crushed—has been known in New York; and the curious interest of the gallery audience composed of many well-dressed women, culminated in contagious excitement that was almost as fierce, and far more uncontrollable, than that below”.

DeLeon’s story, after listing names of prominent Eastern firms which were swept out of existence on the day of the crash, went on to charge that several New York financiers “entered into a combination to bear the market”.

News from New York shocked Mobile business circles, made its leaders apprehensive, but generally the community assumed a calm attitude and methodically started getting its house in order for the worst.

Editorially, ’The Mobile Register’ issued daily pleas for sane action on the part of the public in the crisis. An example of its admonitions follows:

“It is now for our business community of all classes to act with great caution in making their choice as to the course to be pursued—whether to bring down the crops and slowly move them by degrees, or allow them to accumulate in the hands of the farmer until the imperative demands of trade and manufacturers burst open the barriers retaining them captive.

"The skill, prudence and integrity of our banks and bankers will, doubtless, carry them through the present crisis, and although by wise and proper restraint in their dealings with the North they may lose some of their immediate profits, they will be ultimately amply compensated when these dealings may be resumed with more security”.

Files of ’The Register’ trace the harrowing developments of the remainder of the panic era, reporting that scarcity of currency led to use of deposit certificates. The newspapers called upon the banks to issue daily statements on their condition, a request which was promptly granted by the First National Bank of Mobile.

¶ The First National’s early cashiers lived in rooms over the banking room, and there was a large trap door in the ceiling of the banking room so that the cashier living above could raise it and see the whole bank at one time. There was also a big bell over the bank door outside, which the cashier could ring if he needed help.

The credit of the State of Alabama was not always as good as it is today. Above is facsimile of a note given by the State to the First National Bank of Mobile in 1873. The note, for what would be a negligible amount in State transactions today, was not paid at its maturity, presumably because the State was without funds to meet it. Collateral had been deposited to secure the debt and the note was liquidated from the proceeds of sate of the collateral, and the excess amount received from the state was paid over to the State.


AFTER the close of The War Between the States, the Federal Government took steps to discourage control of military activities by individual States. As a result, Mobile’s several militia organizations of long standing were forced to curtail their training.

However, the early 1870’s brought a demand for state militia, and on September 9, 1875, the "First Regiment, Alabama State Troops," was formed here. The organization meeting was held in the old armory, which was then a part of the City Hall property, the armory being located on the north side of Church Street, between Royal and Water Streets.

Organizations making up the regiment were the:
• Mobile Cadets,
• Mobile Rifles,
• Washington Light Infantry,
• Gulf City Guards,
• Alabama State Artillery,
• Baldwin Rifles,
• Cleburne Guards and the
• Demopolis Rifles.

With its individual members and companies engaging vigorously in all its activities, the "First Alabama" soon earned a fine reputation. During its encampments, held on the Bay just south of the city, governors of Alabama paid official calls, and reviewed its maneuvers and drills.

Many present-day Mobile business men are descendants of the original officers of this regiment. Among them are two members of the present First National Bank organization: James T. Overbey, Senior Vice President, who is the grand-nephew of Maj. W. H. Sheffield; Wythe I,. Whiting, Jr., vice president, who is the grandson of Lt. Col. J. W. Whiting.

Sketch of Alabama State Troops drilling at Mobile during their annual encampment in 1885, as it appeared In Harper’s Weekly.
First National Bank’s second home, as it appeared in 1875. The bank’s third home (now occupied by the Bidgood Stationery Co.), was erected on this site.


ON MAY 2, 1877, death ended the career of one of Mobile’s most famous newspaper editors—John Forsyth.

A Princeton graduate and son of a congressman from his native Georgia, John Forsyth first came to Mobile in 1835 and established a law practice. Two years later, he purchased ’The Mobile Register’—a step which led to such success that he became known as one of the South’s most able journalists.

President Pierce, recognizing Forsyth’s contributions to the prestige of the Democratic party, appointed him Minister to Mexico—a post he held for a brief period.

Coming back to his desk at ’The Register’ office, Forsyth vigorously championed Stephen A. Douglas and his doctrine of local sovereignty.

The following excerpts from The Register’s story on the morning after his death attest to the esteem with which Forsyth was held by his colleagues and his readers:

“Last evening at 10 minutes past 6 o’clock, passed away that spirit which for nearly 40 years has been felt through these columns; which by its straight, unswerving course toward the right, has made Southern journalism a power and a name; that spirit which, in every more intimate relation of life, as husband, as father, friend and associate, blended the tenderness and gentle truth of woman with all the higher attributes of man.

" . . . In 1859, he went to the Legislature. Steadily he labored; ever quick to detect and to resent a wrong to his beloved South; ever a faithful watchman through that long and black political night that followed the bloody course of the Southern sun and settled down upon our land with its Lost Cause.

" . . . And as we write these words, with a sadness deeper than their cold formula can tell, the busy brain is still, the honest hand is cold and the true heart is quiet forevermore. But, even as we realize not wholly the power of the blow that has fallen, so will the public who sorrow with us gauge only gradually the full measure of the loss to them and their best interests in the death of John Forsyth”.


IN 1878, Mobile, along with Memphis, New Orleans and other cities of the South, was visited by a terrible epidemic of yellow fever. Eighty-three persons died of the disease in Mobile and 297 were made III by it. Most of the deaths occurred in the southern part of town.

The infection in Mobile supposedly came from Biloxi, Miss., the first case having been reported here in August of 1878. Invasion of the “yellow scourge” struck terror into the hearts of local residents. In a serious state of panic, hundreds sought to flee the city, but their hopes of escape in most cases were crushed by strict quarantines adopted by other towns and cities against infected areas.

From day to day the number of afflicted increased to alarming proportions. Doctors, nurses and able-bodied individuals worked day and night to alleviate suffering of the unfortunate victims. As evidenced by the toll, their efforts on individual cases were often nullified.

Taking foremost parts in relief activities in the epidemic-gripped city were Father Abram J. Ryan, poet-priest of the Confederacy, and those brave and charitable members of the "Can’t-Get-Away Club."

Many are the stories detailing the charities of Father Ryan and the club members. The priest stood ready at any hour of the day or night to administer to the sick and dying, while throughout the city nurses and doctors toiled with patients who had been found by club members.

The "Can’t-Get-Away" men, aside from raising funds for nurses’ hire, pitched in themselves and nursed the sick.

Out of the tragic period arose bitter disputes between Mobile and other cities—principally New Orleans. Authorities of both cities accused each other of withholding from the public the extent of the disease in their respective communities. Harsh words were exchanged between cities over the question of the quarantine.

Actually, the Mobile Board of Health did clamp down on its bulletins to the press on the disease. ’The Daily Register’ of October 5, 1878, published an apology to the public over its failure to carry details on the number of cases and deaths. The newspaper explained that the Board of Heath had adopted a policy of not giving out such reports.

It was not until October 30 that the disease lifted its hold on Mobile. On that date the last death was reported.

“Barrett Lightning Matinee Train” which ran between Mobile and New Orleans, as it appeared in the 1870’s. Ober Anderson & Co., later became the Alabama Corn Mills Co., whose officers were L. Le Baron Lyons, president, Herbert Lyons, vice-president, and S. O. Starke, Sr., secretary-treasurer.


AN amazed group of Mobilians gathered in the coal yard of A. C. Danner, in 1879 and witnessed for their first time a demonstration of telephonic communication.

They were accorded this privilege because of the interest Mr. Danner took in the invention of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. Mr. Danner, who at that time was engaged in the coal business, bought two phones, connected them with 100 feet of wire, and for some time made use of the hookup in the conduct of his business.

Subsequently, a movement was launched by Mr. Danner and C. G. Merriweather, to establish a telephone exchange in Mobile. Successful in their efforts, the first exchange phone was installed at Danner’s Coal Yard on Friday, November 13, 1879, and the exchange was formally opened November 16.

At the time of its opening, the fledgling exchange had only 32 subscribers.

On the 50th anniversary of the invention of the telephone (November 30, 1926) the Mobile office of the Southern Bell Telephone Co. held an anniversary banquet at the Scottish Rite Cathedral. To this banquet were invited all the surviving subscribers to Mobile’s pioneer telephone exchange.


COMING to the aid of Mobile’s financially distressed municipal government, the Alabama Legislature on February 11, 1879, passed bills placing the city under jurisdiction of a new governmental agency known as The Port of Mobile. The city’s old charter was repealed, and new governing bodies established, including three Port Commissioners, and a Board of Police Commissioners.

Principal reasons for repeal of the city’s charter and adoption of the new form of government were financial. The municipality owed debts totaling approximately $3,000,000—a comparatively large indebtedness, mostly inherited from days of carpetbag misrule. It was openly charged that more than $1,000,000 of the city’s bonds had been given two railroads which had no existence except on paper.

Explaining the necessity for the Port Government legislation, ’The Register’ pointed out that “Mobile simply asked the State to throw around the city the same protection which she assumed herself.

"The State, after repealing the law under which she could have been sued for her debts, offered a compromise with her creditors, whereby she discarded a large amount of interest due on her old debt of $6,000,000, for a new direct and contingent debt.”

Passage of the Port Government legislation was a great relief to the people of Mobile. It substantially reduced the expenses of municipal government, which in turn was accompanied by a reduction of city licenses and the re-establishment of the city’s credit.


ONE of the most significant developments in the history of Mobile’s dairying industry occurred December 8, 1882, when the late George G. Duffee, onetime mayor of the city, brought the first shipment of Jersey cattle into Mobile County. The shipment comprised 20-odd head of cows, all of which had been selected by Mr. Duffee during an extended visit to the Isle of Jersey.

While not the first Jerseys to be brought here, Mr. Duffee’s herd was the first group of mentionable size to be imported. Records of the American Jersey Cattle Club show that the first purebred Jersey cow brought to Mobile county was ’Rose of Isle,’ transferred from J. E. Phillips, of Baltimore, Md., to F. S. Cox, of Mobile on October 15, 1874.

Files of ’The Mobile Weekly Register’ of December 2, 1882, tell of the arrival of Mr. Duffee’s cattle at New Orleans, and of how a quarantine law in force at the time prevented his landing them there.

After an exchange of telegrams with the Secretary of the Treasury at Washington, in which the Mobilian was told the quarantine law could not be modified to allow entrance of his cattle, it was agreed that Mr. Duffee could bring his stock to Mobile by ship provided he isolated them upon arrival. It was explained that the quarantine actually was designed as protection of the country from importation of Mexican cattle.

Following is a story carried in ’The Weekly Register’ of December 9, 1882, describing the arrival of Mr. Duffee’s shipment:

“The twenty-six head of cattle purchased to order in the Isle of Jersey by George G. Duffee, of this city, reached here on Monday at 1 o’clock on the steamer ’Georgia Muncey,’ from New Orleans."

Notice of the arrival of the little butter cows in that port was only made in these columns, as was also the discussion that then arose as to the quarantine. Of the transfer of the cattle from the steamship ’City of Lincoln’ to the ’Muncey,’ ’The Times-Picayune’ gives the following description:

"The transfers were attended with several amusing incidents. Five of the sailors of the ’City of Lincoln’ were engaged to lead the cattle, but more help being necessary, Mr. Duffee employed a boy about 14 years of age to hire the services of seven others, allowing him $4 to pay himself and them.

"When the time came for the transfer of the cattle, the five sailors and eight boys were promptly on hand, but the Jerseys were rather difficult to handle.

"The calves, which were too small to walk, were placed upon the shoulders of the sailors, which treatment of their offspring, the mothers did not think was the proper thing, so they pulled at the ropes by which they were led, and behaved in such an obstreperous manner that persons along the route from the river to Magnolia Bridge were under the impression that another menagerie circus had arrived, the procession of animals and men being such a lengthy and lively one.

“On arrival here, the cattle were taken at once to Mr. Duffee’s farm at the head of Conti Street. A few days rest will greatly freshen the animals, and they will then be exhibited to all who care to inspect them. In the meantime, they are in retirement.”

On his second cow-buying trip to the Isle of Jersey in 1884, Mr. Duffee brought 125 head of stock, described by ’The Register’ as being “the largest shipment that had been sent from the island, and the largest which has been sent for such a distance."

Facsimile of a check drawn on the First National Bank in 1879. The black square in the upper left-hand corner of the check marks the place where the Internal Revenue Stamp was affixed to the check, as was required In those days. The dotted-line cross in the lower right-hand corner shows where the check was “cancelled” with a tin paper-cutter. Even as late as 1879, banks did not furnish checks for their depositors; each depositor had to pay for his own.


BILLED as Dr. Cutter’s “Wildest Westest Show,” the ’Comic Cowboys,’ who annually bring laughter to Mobile’s Mardi Gras throngs, made their first appearance in the annual carnival celebration on February 26, 1884.

The organization, founded by Dave Levi, drew praise from ’The Mobile Register’ following its initial parade.

This is what the newspaper had to say on the following day:

“In all the years of day parades, devoted to absurdity pure and simple, nothing funnier has ever been seen than the burlesque pageant of Dr. Cutler’s Wildest Westest Show, originated and carried out to exemplify the untamable and unquenchable vim of Mobile flat marksmanship.

"First rode forth on a fiery steed, ’Dr. Cutler, The Devil Spirit of the Flats’; prompt to the second, for the doctor’s watch always knocks the block out of standard time. With him rode the famous ’Eagle Eye, White-brown Chief of the Chick-aha-saws,’ a brave famed on many a street corner; and ’Major Lillie’ of the flaxen locks, ’Whiter-browner Chief of the Papoosa Mamas,’ a hero noted in more word-battles than Hector, the Greek of old.

“First following, the crowds read the emblem of—‘The New Society, First Anniversary—We Never Speak as We Pass By!’

“With its guard of 10 Indians in wildest western war paint, each mounted on his model mustang, the procession moved along. Then rolled on the world-renowned ‘overland coach’, mud—splashed from tire to hub, and covered with skins of slaughtered Deer.

"The coach was driven by a bearded border ruffian, who handled six marvelous mules, freshly lassoed on the flats of Whistler; and inside rode eight of the blood-drenched chiefs who had assisted at the massacre of many a free-lunch and danced in the sand, which dance is celebrative of victory.

"Standing on top of the coach was the antlered stag, ‘Pet of the Petticoats’ in the wildest westest show. Conspicuous on the front of the coach was read, Dr. Cutler’s copyright sign: ‘We Show, Rain or Shine’.

“Then followed mounted Indians and cowboys by the score, guarding the float on which shone and glittered Dr. Cutter’s prizes, won in many a close contest. It was evident the doctor shot not only for glory, but for tin. Many rich plates proved this; while cups, medals and spoons showed his peerless prowess.

"A huge swinging coffee pot, with cup on spout, was trophy of his 90-hour test match with the famous Capt. Bombardus; while in a glittering sauce pan with cake broiler was told the story wherein he beat Frank Carmelich, who beats the drum.

"There glittered, also, the huge razor to tell how close was the shave by which he ‘shot out’ Laurine Williams, at Coney Island last summer. In that match, Dr. Cutter shot 10,000 pins out of paper without tearing it, driving the pins through a four-inch plank, in the form of his monogram.

“Yesterday, in riding through the streets, Dr. Cutter showed equal proofs of his great skill. A cowboy would throw up a bottle of Mum’s ‘Extra Dry’. Loading his repeating rifle, the doctor would cut the six wires with as many bullets; shoot off the foam as the cork flew, and then right the bottle with another shot. With the last two he would straighten the cork and drive it home in the mouth of the bottle, before a drop spilled.

"Cutter’s reception by the G. C. G. C. which next followed, should not be taken au pied de a lettre, as a bore. A huge and magnificent specimen of the wildest western paternal swine, garnished with carrots and other highly-colored vegetables, surmounted this float. It was a splendid specimen of papier-mache work, and typified the solid side of the feast. An empty bucket, bottom upwards and labeled ’Punch’ and two ditto nursing bottles told of the fluid ‘Joys We Have Tasted.’

"Then came more cowboys, and finally a squaw, hauling, in Indian cradle, ‘Mrs. Eagle-Eye’s Baby’—a red and feathered chief in miniature, strapped in its sling. Between its feet rested ‘the little brown jug’; six feet of rubber hose leading to its painted lips.

"Then came more cradle slings, more infantile charges, and more novel nursing bottles. They included ‘Major Lillie’s Baby,’ ‘Mamma’s Baby,’ and last, a ‘Mobile Baby,’ black as the 10 of spades, which is nine times blacker than the ‘Burro’ ridden by ‘Peanuts,’ a colored boy.

"The clever burlesque wound up with placards repeating the familiar formula— ‘We Show, Rain or Shine.’

"All along the line, laughter greeted Dr. Cutter’s Wildest Westest Show.”

¶ By 1885, Mobile had recovered from the financial troubles of the 1870’s and deposits in The First National Bank had climbed to $726,187.94.

Mobile as it appeared in 1884 (from a drawing In Harper’s Weekly, Feb. 2, 1884).


IN 1886, S. R. Bullock & Co., of New York, organized the Bienville Water Supply Co., a firm which subsequently furnished Mobile the purest water it had used up until that time.

Papers of incorporation. filed with the Judge of Probate, set forth that the firm was organized under authority of a legislative act approved in 1885.

Stock subscription was opened on April 9, 1886, and more than $50,000 was immediately subscribed.

But despite its wonderful source of water—Clear Creek—and its capital resources, the fledgling water supply company ran into many obstacles.

Its first disappointment came when the city, through its Board of Police Commissioners, turned a cold shoulder to its offer to supply the municipality fire protection and water for other public use for $21,000 per year.

Shortly thereafter, the company substantially reduced its offer, which the city accepted. Operating under this agreement, the company installed several hundred fire plugs and furnished water for public and private use during a period of 20 years.

During that time, however, the company confined its service to the more thickly settled sections of the city—a policy which led to public dissatisfaction with the service and which finally resulted in the building of a municipal water works system in 1899.

One year earlier, the city had purchased the privately-owned Stein Water Works. Faced with competition from this city-owned system, the Bienville Company finally sold out to the city in 1907, as described later on in this volume.

Of the company’s early proposals to furnish the city with water, ’The Item’ of May 15, 1886, said:

“A special meeting of the Police Board was held on Tuesday evening to hear the proposal of the Bienville Water Supply Co., in relation to a supply of water for our city. The report was quite lengthy, and it proposed to supply fully the long-needed amount of water necessary in the case of fire.

"The ordinance was received and referred to the board. Quite a number of insurance men and other citizens were present. At the request of the recorder, they took part in the discussion. The following is the account of their remarks:

“Hon. D. P. Bestor was the first to speak, and his remarks were mainly addressed to consideration of the fact that there is no adequate supply of water here for the extinguishment of fires. He said that loss by fire is not always to be measured by money. The dread of fire was something and the loss of a feeling of security is to be added to the money consideration. In addition, there are many things in one’s house which money cannot replace, and there are times when a fire finds one’s family in sickness and trouble.

"Dr. George A. Ketchum, president of the Bienville Co., was called upon for remarks. He addressed himself to a consideration of the hygienic value of a plentiful supply of water. The abolition of wells and pumps would reduce the rate of sickness in this city fully 25 per cent. A scientific fact ascertained by the experts of the national Board of Health, shows that there is but one well in the city free from matter injurious to health. Dr. Ketchum spoke long and interestingly on the subject.

"Mr. A. P. Bush, president of the Planters and Merchants Insurance Co., stated that the plentiful supply of water for the extinguishment of fires would warrant the underwriters in reducing insurance 25 per cent. The rates run all the way from one to three and four per cent, but as for himself, speaking as an insurance man, he would rather have an all-round rate of one per cent than the present rates.”

’The Item’ says that in its offer to the Police Board, the water company offered to place 300 fire hydrants in various points, so as to cover “every part of the city.” It also proposed to supply all public institutions such as jails, public schools, churches and hospitals with free water, and to erect a free drinking fountain for man and beast in each of the eight wards. The company further agreed to furnish water to the citizens for half the price they were paying at that time and to give twice the pressure for half the rate.

View on Dauphin Street, looking east from Royal Street, in the 1880’s.


ON DECEMBER 10, 1886, the General Assembly of Alabama passed a law placing Mobile under a new charter which ended authority of the Port of Mobile government instituted in 1879 and returned the city to the aldermanic form. The change came after much opposition had arisen to the reign of the Police Board, which was the executive body under the Port of Mobile government.

Under the new charter, the municipal legislative body was composed of a mayor, board of aldermen and board of councilmen, which meeting together were styled “The Mayor and General Council”. Councilmen and the mayor were elected for terms of three years, while aldermen, elected at large, were named for terms of one year.

City officials under the new aldermanic form of government, who took office upon its installation, were:

Hon. Richard B. Owen, Mayor.

Councilmen: Thomas T. Dorman, first ward; Winfield S. Lewis, second ward; Robert A. Savage, third ward; Abraham Baerman, fourth ward; John Callaghan, fifth ward; Steven A. Leonard, sixth ward; and Blount Sossaman, eighth ward.

Aldermen: John J. McAfee, John G. Carlen, Garrett B. Shawhan, William Rankin, Frederic Pickhard, Michael Smith and Conrad Fischer.

The city operated under this aldermanic government until adoption of the commission form in 1911.


DURING THE WINTER of 1886-87, members of the Fidelia Society—membership of which at that time was composed chiefly of Jewish people—decided to reorganize the society as a social club and limit the membership exclusively to Jews. Older Jews of Mobile state that this reorganization was due to the desire of Jewish business men of Mobile to have a town club similar to other such clubs in Mobile.

Prior to 1887, the Fidelia Society’s membership included both Gentiles and Jews. When originally organized in 1859, the purpose of the society was stated to be “the mental improvement of its members and friends through the medium of social reunions, soirees, musicals and disantes and dramatic productions in German and English.”

During the early years of the organization, many dramatic productions were staged, including an extensive series of charitable performances for relief of suffering during The War Between The States. Dramatic performances were continued at frequent intervals until February 23, 1887, when the society’s last play was staged.

That last performance was a memorable One. The play selected was an old-time favorite ’All That Glitters Is Not Gold’ and its cast included Charles Brown, Joseph Metzger, Julius Goldstein, Edward Metzger, Henry Frolichstein, Minna Greenhood, Julia Soloman and Fanny Jacobson.

Flowers in profusion were passed to the performers as tokens of admiration from their friends in the audience and after the play a grand ball was given.

For many years after the Fidelia Society’s reorganization as a strictly Jewish society, it retained its club rooms on Dauphin Street, between Jackson and Joachim Streets. Later it built a handsome club and office building on the southeast corner of Government and Conception Streets (see accompanying sketch) and occupied those quarters for many years. From there it moved to newly-built rooms on the northeast corner of Government Street and Washington Avenue, which it occupied until the organization disbanded in 1936.

Old Fidelia Club, formerly located on the southeast corner of Government and Conception Streets.


ON SEPTEMBER 8, 1888, a special committee of the city formally organized a paid Fire Department for Mobile—thus ending the volunteer system that had been in effect since the community’s earliest days.

The change came only after lengthy controversy, during which existing fire companies, through their parent organization—the Fire Department Association—carried out a threat to close their engine houses in protest of what they contended was the city’s failure to make proper payment for their services.

Crowds gathered at the fire stations on the night of the closing, and records reveal violence was narrowly averted when a demonstration was staged at one of the headquarters.

Groundwork for the committee’s action, however, already had been laid by Mayor J. C. Rich, who returned from Bladon Springs just in time to take full charge of the situation before the volunteer companies went on strike.

In face of failure of the city council and the fire companies to compromise their differences, Rich proceeded to assure the public of fire protection by purchase of whatever equipment was available to him at the time.

According to ’The Register’ of September 1, 1888:

“The mayor told the special committee that knowing that the duty of providing a fire service in this emergency devolved upon him, by virtue of a resolution adopted by the General Council July 5, he had set to work early in the day, had seen the citizens’ committee, and received assurances that the committee would supply the city with all needed apparatus for the extinguishment of fires.

"The citizens’ committee agreed with him that it would be better, if practicable, to purchase engines of the home companies than to buy from outside parties. Therefore, he had at once opened negotiations with ’Merchants’ Steam Fire Company, No. 4, and later in the afternoon had purchased all the apparatus of that company, consisting of an engine, a hose truck and three horses, three extra wheels, and tools, etc., the price paid being $3,500. He would proceed today, he said, to purchase other engines, if they could be obtained.

"He would today organize a paid fire company to use the engine already purchased, and would take possession of the hook and ladder truck owned by the city. The citizens’ committee has on hand a hose truck, and the city owns all the hose now used by the department and has, besides, a number of nozzles.

"This apparatus can be brought into service at once, the mayor added, and, with the aid of water pressure in plugs, a shift can be made to take care of the city when the volunteer companies close their doors at 12 o’clock tonight.”

Creole Steam Fire Company No. 1 was enrolled as a paid company, in the service of the city, and to serve according to the rules and regulations governing the paid fire department. For this service, the city was to pay the lump sum of $160 per month, with the company owning and operating its apparatus and providing 20 men on its active rolls.

The company surrendered all association with the volunteer department and became a paid servant of the city.

The payment of this Creole company, the maintenance of the other two steam engine companies organized and the hook and ladder company, together with salaries of those companies, cost the city a total of $9,890 per annum. First Fire Chief was Matthew Sloan, whose salary was fixed by the city at $1,200 a year. C. Walter Soost was Assistant Chief at a salary of $400 a year. The grand total of annual payroll and expense was fixed at $11,990.

Sloan also played a rather important role in actual proceedings of changing over from the volunteer to the municipal basis. It fell his lot to walk into the various volunteer stations and take over in the name of the city.

His presence, with that of Police Chief Slatter, at Fire House No. 3 was credited by ’The Register’ with avoiding violence at that place. The Register said a group of young men had gathered at the station at the closing deadline, for the purpose of taking the engine, owned by the city, from the fire house, which was owned by one of the private companies.

A Mobile fire engine, as it appeared in the old days.


AFTER much agitation on the part of Mobile civic leaders over a long period of time, a project designed “to afford a channel of entrance from the Gulf of Mexico to the City of Mobile of 280 feet in width on top of the cut, with a central depth of 23 feet at mean low water” was finally passed by Congress in August, 1888.

Originally the depth of the channel (at Choctaw Pass) was approximately 5 1/2 to 7 1/2 feet. Between 1827 and 1885, the Federal Government had expended more than a million dollars in increasing the depth of the channel at various times until in the 1880’s it was 17 feet.

The following extract from records in the U. S. Engineer’s office at Mobile picture conditions at the time the 23-foot channel was being agitated:

“The depth of 17 feet at mean low tide was practically demonstrated on January 21, 1886, by the safe and quiet passage down the dredged channel of the British steamship ’Wandle.’ The draught of the vessel at anchor was 16.3 feet, the reading of the tide gauges called for 15.8 feet in the channel.

"The vessel with a full cargo of 4,137 bales of cotton (the largest cargo of cotton ever loaded at the wharves) passed down without delay of any kind.

"Again on May 29, 1886, the British bark ’Pricilla,’ partially loaded with cotton, drawing full 17 feet at anchor, passed down on an ebb tide, and when about halfway down the tide gauges read 1.1 foot below 17 feet.”

That the 17-foot depth of the channel was inadequate for the rapidly growing Port of Mobile, was indicated in a report from A. N. Damrell, Major of Engineers at Mobile, to the Chief of Engineers, in 1885. Major Damrell strongly urged approval of the 23-foot channel project for the following reasons:

“1. The cost of the improvement probably will not exceed $1,500,000. The present commerce is large, as is shown in statements hereunto appended, which is greatly inconvenienced by the fact that the draught of the vessels seeking the port for cargoes is such that the present depth of water only allows them to take on part of their cargoes at the wharves, and compels them to finish loading in the lower bay, 28 miles distant, by lightering and rafting. The prospects for an extensive increase, in the near future, with improvement effected, are sure.

“2. The harbor is destined to be a very important one to the United States Government, as being the point on the Gulf where the cheapest coal and iron can be obtained, owing to the fact that it is connected by three short water routes—the Cahaba, Black Warrior and the Coosa rivers—with the coal and iron deposits of Alabama.”

Following Congressional approval of the 23-foot channel in 1880, the ’Rivers and Harbors Act’ of September, 1890, extended the work up Mobile River to the mouth of Chickasabogue.

Mobile soon learned that a 23-foot channel was inadequate if she was to become one of the nation’s outstanding ports. Continued efforts on the part of local leaders and their representatives in Congress, brought about an increase in the channel depth to 27 feet.

The channel was next enlarged to a depth of 30 feet in the bay and river, and to 33 feet at the bar, under authority of the Rivers and Harbors Act adopted March 8, 1917.

Under the project completed in 1939, the channel was dredged to depths of 36 feet across the bar and 32 feet in the bay and river. The channel now is 450 feet wide as it crosses the bar, 300 feet wide from deep water in the bay to a point at the north edge of the proposed quarantine anchorage basin, 350 feet wide from the north of the quarantine anchorage basin to the mouth of the river, and 500 feet wide from the mouth of the river to the highway bridge across Mobile river.

Hunter’s Wharf as it appeared in the old days. This location is now the site of the Cold Storage Plant at the Alabama State Docks.


IN THE EVENING of June 28, 1890, Mobile’s Confederate Veterans turned out in full force to attend a meeting in response to a call for organization of a local Camp, under the constitution of the United Confederate Veterans—at that time headed by Gen. John B. Gordon.

It was a gathering which embraced every branch of the Confederate service, including representatives of all the Armies of the Confederacy. Among the assemblage were men who had seen service in the Army of Northern Virginia, the Army of Tennessee in Missouri, and in the Trans-Mississippi Department.

Field officers, staff officers and line officers mingled with enlisted men as the Civil War spirit was revived—not in the sense of vain regrets and bitter memories, but in a feeling of comradeship and honor to the memory of past heroes and events.

The meeting was called to order by Col. Dick Roper, and Col. Joseph Hodgson was unanimously elected temporary chairman. Col. Hodgson explained that the object of the meeting was to organize a Camp of Confederate veterans, which would subsequently affiliate with the United Confederate Veterans’ organization.

Capt. Harvey E. Jones was then elected temporary secretary and the group heard the reading of the U. C. V. constitution. Following the reading of the constitution, Col. Price Williams moved that the assemblage resolve, itself into a Camp organization and the motion was promptly carried.

Many of Mobile’s oldest and most prominent families were represented in the charter membership of the Camp, and a great many direct descendants of those charter members still live in Mobile.

Several names for the new Camp were suggested, but all were withdrawn when the name ’Raphael Semmes’ was proposed.

About a week later, another meeting was held for the purpose of formally approving a constitution and by-laws and electing permanent officers.

At this meeting, Col. Sands was chosen Commander by the casting of one ballot by the Adjutant. Other officers were then unanimously elected as follows:
Dr. W. G. Little, first lieutenant commander;
Col. Dick Roper, second lieutenant commander;
Col. Daniel E. Huger, third lieutenant commander;
Capt. Harvey E. Jones, adjutant;
Wm. E. Mickle, sergeant major;
Capt. E. B. Vaughn, treasurer;
Dr. J. Gray Thomas, surgeon;
Dr. Caleb Toxey, assistant surgeon;
Col. Stark Oliver, quartermaster;
James Pendergast, officer of the day;
Wm. H. Monk, color bearer;
Felix H. Aubert, first color guard;
Hiram L. Griffling, second color guard;
Major Wm. H. Sheffield, vidette.

Following the election, Col. Williams offered the use of the Armory to the Camp, saying that he knew his action would receive the endorsement of every man and officer of his regiment (First Alabama). A resolution of acceptance and thanks was promptly adopted.

Thus did Raphael Semmes Camp, U. C. V.., come into being. It has now passed out of existence—its last surviving member having died in 1937.

“Confederate Rest”, in Magnolia Cemetery.
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