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article number 748
article date 01-31-2019
copyright 2019 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Evolution of a City - Year by Year, Mobile Alabama, Part2: 1892-1898
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 FIRST electrically-powered street car to operate in Mobile rolled through the streets of this city on January 8, 1893, with Charles James, a Milwaukee, Wis., resident, who was visiting here at the time, as its first passenger.

The five-cent coin with which James paid his fare was preserved many years by the late J. Howard Wilson, president of The Mobile Light and Railroad Co. until shortly before his death in 1939. (Mr. Wilson was a director of the First National Bank from 1905 to 1907).

A tiny wooden box, containing the five-cent piece and a newspaper clipping chronicling initial operation of electric street cars here, was found among Mr. Wilson’s effects after his death. Mr. Wilson had written on the outside of the box, the names of W. F. Ross, conductor, and Jack Diamond, motorman, on that first electric car.

The Register of January 9, 1893, described the event as follows:

“The Electric Railway Company started for the carriage of passengers yesterday morning at half past ten o’clock. The car made trips all day from the termini, Dauphin and Jackson, and Virginia and Marine, and was crowded every trip. Mr. Charles James, of Milwaukee, Wis., a visitor in the city, paid the first fare received by the new enterprise.”

On January 11, 1893, The Register quoted ‘The Memphis Commercial’ as stating that Raphael Semmes, Jr., was coming to Mobile to manage the electric railway system:

“The Memphis Commercial of the seventh instant says: ‘Raphael Semmes and his family left yesterday for Mobile, Ala., where they will reside. Mr. Semmes goes to Alabama’s seaport to take charge of the street railway system of that city.

“Semmes, son of the famous Admiral Semmes, went to Memphis at the close of the war and became affiliated with the street railway business there’.”

On returning to Mobile, Mr. Semmes managed the old “White Line” street railway for many years, which was later acquired by the Mobile Light & Railway Company.

With Mobile’s continued growth, the city’s Street railway facilities were extended from time to time and in 1939 the city was being served by 50 route miles of street car lines.

Before his death in 1939, the late J. Howard Wilson had reached an agreement with the City of Mobile whereby motor buses would be gradually substituted for the Street cars, and a few buses were actually being operated in 1939.

After Mr. Wilson’s death, however, the National City Lines acquired a controlling interest in the Mobile Light & Railway Co. Buses were then substituted for street cars throughout the entire system, which now consists of approximately 420 route miles of motor buses.

Mobile’s last horse-drawn street car. Drawing by Acker.


FOR A NUMBER of years, Emperor Felix, ruler of Mobile’s Mardi Gras, failed to appear for his annual carnival reign.

The custom, however, was revived in 1893 by Thomas Cooper DeLeon, with S. T. Prince as Chief Marshal of the Royal Pageant.

Wearing the crown as Empress, according to files of ‘The Mobile Register,’ was pretty Miss Hallie Triplett, whose court name was “Felicia”.

On the afternoon of February 13, 1893, Felix, Emperor of Joy, arrived in his capital city of Mobile and was received by the people with every manifestation of pleasure. Steamboats and railroad trains had brought great crowds of people to the city and the populace turned out en masse, so that when the emperor arrived, the streets were crowded and all the galleries along the line of march were filled.

His Majesty arrived at 4 o’clock from the Ruby Isle. He was brought up Mobile River by the U. S. revenue cutter ‘Walter Foward,’ which was decorated from bow to stern with bunting. Due to her deep draught, the emperor and his staff were transferred in midstream by boat to the cutter Seward and by that vessel was taken to the wharf. The ‘Walter Foward,’ meanwhile, fired an imperial salute of 19 guns, which was echoed by the whistling of all the steam tugs in the vicinity.

The ‘Seward’ was also gaily dressed with flags and Emperor Felix’s orchestra (consisting of five men of the Seward’s crew) played lively music as the vessel approached the wharf. On landing, His Majesty was welcomed by Mayor Joseph C. Rich and members of the General Council and by a host of his loyal subjects.

Mayor Rich addressed the Emperor in becoming words, relating the joy the people felt in having him visit his capital, and stating that the city was at his disposal. In token thereof, he presented a massive key which had up to that moment reposed upon a cushion in the hands of City Clerk Summersell—said key being a new one, having just been turned out at the gold foundry of E. J. Pine & Son. This was, the mayor said, the token of the city’s submission to Felix’s imperial power.

The emperor was graciously pleased to accept the key which he turned over to his Imperial Chamberlain, and then signified his intention of viewing his capital and noting the improvements which had taken place since his last visit.

Following the ceremony at the wharf, pandemonium broke loose along the pageant’s route as Felix’s float passed. Later in the day, the Knights of Revelry honored the Emperor and Empress at a reception, where they were seated on their royal thrones and received vows of fealty from their subjects.

¶Elder Mobilians will recall the year 1895 as the year in which there was an acute national financial crisis which emphasized the strength and soundness of the First National Bank. In that year, money was being hoarded and currency was at a premium.

Banks in most of the principal cities of the nation were compelled to curtail cash payments. The First National Bank was one of the very few banks that not only furnished cash for the people and for Mobile business houses, but also provided large sums to the railroads entering Mobile so that they might meet their payrolls and provide for their workmen.

At that lime, the First National was a comparatively young bank—only 28 years old—and its conduct during that period of stress was early evidence of the good management which has always been characteristic of the institution.

View of Mobile, looking northwest from the Courthouse Tower, In the 1890’s. Drawing by Acker.


ON OCTOBER 2, 1893, Mobile was swept by the severest storm ever recorded in her history. A southeast gale, rising at its height to 72 miles an hour, drove the bay waters into the rivers—causing them to overflow into the city—inundated and destroyed the east end of the Old Shell Road, wrecked numerous vessels, leveled innumerable trees and scores of structures.

While only a few lives were lost in Mobile proper, an estimated 25 persons were drowned or killed in outlying areas, and the death toll along the Mississippi coast was staggering.

Preceded by record-breaking rainfall during the daylight hours of October 2nd, the storm rapidly increased in force until at 8 o’clock in the evening the waters in the rivers backed up even with the top stringers of the wharves.

Within a short time thereafter Front Street was under water, and soon the flood covered the wharves and Commerce Street—rising so rapidly that merchants had to abandon efforts to save their goods on lower floors.

At 10 p. m., the high-water line of previous floods was reached, but still the water continued to rise, covering all of Water Street and reaching to Royal Street and beyond at State Street, and to Royal at St. Louis Street. On St. Michael Street the water came up to within 50 feet of Royal, and on Dauphin Street it approached within 100 feet of Royal. In the southern part of town, the low-lying land was deeply flooded and houses badly damaged.

By 11 o’clock the storm was said to have reached its greatest intensity, and trees began falling everywhere in the city. Some of the most magnificent trees in Bienville Square toppled.

Conditions along the river front were chaotic. Ships, barks, schooners, steamers and other craft broke loose from the moorings and were dashed about at the mercy of the angry waves. Mobile River was filled with craft of every description, all the way to the head of Twelve-Mile Island.

The tugboat ‘Louise’ broke loose from her moorings at Elmira Street, ran several miles up the river and knocked a hole in her side.

The schooner ‘Emma B.’ broke loose from her moorings at the foot of Government Street, headed for mid-stream, collided with the schooner ‘Villa y Hermano and was badly damaged.

A flatboat and oyster sloop were left stranded in Commerce Street.

The Eastern Shore boat ‘Crescent City’ was wrecked on the beach between Frascati and Arlington.

The tug ‘Dixie’ was driven into a lumber yard on Palmetto Street.

The largest yacht on the bay—M. J. Marshall’s ‘Annie M.’—sank bottom-up near the mouth of Chickasabogue. Other vessels reported missing were the ‘Olive,’ ‘Siren,’ ‘Carrie G,’ and ‘Seadrift.’

Extensive wreckage was reported at Daphne, Montrose, Battles Wharf, Zundell’s and Point Clear.

The schooner ‘Alice Graham’ was wrecked two miles out from Cedar Point and all aboard her—including Capt. Louis Graham, Miss Susie Herron, and the mate—lost their lives.

Heavy losses of life were likewise reported at Grand Isle, Bayou Andre, Chinese Camp, Grand Lake, Rigolets, Biloxi, Chandeleur Island, in the Grande Bource, Chiniere, and on vessels along the Mississippi and Louisiana coasts.

Street car, telephone and power facilities were disrupted, shutting Mobile off from communication with the outside world.

Railway service was discontinued for a long period because of damage to lines leading into Mobile and elsewhere along the coast.

Several days were required to reckon the full extent of the storm’s havoc. Then it was discovered that the property damage most generally felt throughout Mobile was the destruction of the east end of the Old Shell Road. All that part from Frascati to the highlands below the bend was ruined.

The bluffs were undermined and extensive sections of the roadway were completely washed out.

In those days, the Old Shell Road was a private thoroughfare, owned and operated by the Shell Road Company. It had been constructed by private capital, and although a toll road, it had never been a paying proposition. For years it had been a center of social activities in Mobile, and one of the city’s most prominent tourist attractions. At the time of the storm it was said to have been “in as nearly a perfect condition as can be imagined”.

Within a few days after the storm, The Register expressed the hope that the citizens of Mobile would cooperate with the Shell Road Company in restoring the ruined portions, or constructing a new road.

Boats beached by the storm of 1893. Drawing by Acker.
South End Cottage, Old Shell Road (Frederic’s) in the 1890’s. Drawing by Acker.


TOWARD the close of the 19th century, one of the world’s greatest religious figures was Dr. T. DeWitt Talmadge, a Baptist minister of Brooklyn, N. Y. Possessed of remarkable personal magnetism and stirring eloquence, his weekly sermons made him probably the most famous evangelist of his time. Newspapers throughout the world, including those in Mobile, frequently printed his sermons in full.

On March 11th and 12th, 1894, Dr. Talmadge came to Mobile and delivered two sermons to huge assemblages. On Saturday night, March 11th, a crowd of 1,500 persons gathered to hear his sermon ‘A School For Scandal;’ on the following night his text was ‘Unappreciated Services.’

His audience numbered more than 2,000 persons—the largest crowd ever assembled in Mobile’s old Princess Theater, then located on West Royal Street between St. Louis and St. Michael, just north of Geo. Coumanis’ restaurant on southwest Royal and St. Michael.

Newspaper accounts of Talmadge’s visit indicate the evangelist’s tremendous appeal to the public. Reporting the sermon of Sunday, May 12th, The Register said:

“Before dark the crowd began to rush in and by 7 o’clock people were being turned away by the hundreds. Every seat and all the standing room in the immense building was occupied and not less than 2,000 people were present. The heat was intense, but this did not affect or lessen their determination to hear the great divine”.

Rev. Mr. Shell, of the Palmetto Street Baptist Church, opened the services and Dr. Taylor of the St. Francis Street Baptist Church assisted with the program.

The evangelist, displaying the same eloquence and fervor which brought him fame as a minister of the Gospel at his home town of Brooklyn, N. Y., kept the crowd spell-bound with his lecture.

In its story covering the Saturday night sermon ‘The School for Scandal,’ The Register said:

“Dr. Talmadge treated exhaustively the ways of the scandal monger, the slanderer and the liar, and of the immense and irremediable injury such an evil-hearted person does to his fellow men. He showed that the liar and the slanderer were one and the same person.

“He next spoke of the slanderer’s victims, often victims of misfortune who should not be measured by ordinary standards. This led him to treat of the heredity of crime and of virtue.

“His conclusion was that it is one’s duty to be charitable and to show every mercy to the erring; in short, to stop back-slashing, lying and slandering one’s neighbor’s failing strength.

“The lecture as a whole was an amplification of the injunction taught by the Golden Rule.”


IN NOVEMBER, 1894, the U. S. Cruiser Montgomery, then a new craft, visited Mobile, and in formal ceremonies received the handsome gift of a silver service from a large delegation representing the citizens of Montgomery, Ala., the city for which the cruiser was named.

At the same time, Mobile was highly honored by having as its guest, the Hon. H. A. Herbert, then Secretary of the Navy.

The Montgomery delegation, including Gov. and Mrs. Thomas G. Jones, State Auditor Purifoy, Montgomery’s Mayor John G. Crommelin, Representatives Rogers and Robinson and a party of young ladies and prominent citizens, came here aboard a special train on the night before the ceremony. The latter train’s passengers included members of the ‘Montgomery True Blues,’ a military company.

Upon arrival here, Lt. Col. Peyton Bibb, member of the governor’s staff, took a skiff and rowed out to the cruiser, which was anchored in the river at the foot of Conti Street. Boarding the vessel, Col. Bibb presented the governor’s compliments to Commander C. H. Davis and Lieut. Knapp. These officers, in full dress uniform, returned ashore with him and were escorted to the Battle House, where the ladies of the silver service committee and gentlemen of the party were presented.

During the afternoon, the governor’s party, members of the Montgomery delegation, and others, were taken aboard the cruiser for the ceremonies attendant to presentation of the silver. After a brief talk, M. B. Houghton, a Montgomery business man, introduced Governor Jones, who in his talk recalled that 30 years before that time, Secretary Herbert, like himself, was fighting in the Confederate Army.

The state’s chief executive expressed the pride which the City of Montgomery felt in having the cruiser adopt its name, and re-emphasized the loyalty of all Alabama citizens to the U. S. Government. Secretary Herbert and Commander Davis returned the governor’s compliments, and expressed their appreciation for the magnificent gift.

Then the party went ashore to receive an official welcome from Mobile’s Mayor J. L. Lavretta at the City Hall and to enjoy a banquet in honor of Secretary Herbert and the cruiser’s officers.

Though Mobile’s part in that important naval and civic ceremony was secondary, the event gave the Port of Mobile wide-spread publicity, and ‘The Register’ especially commended Mayor Lavretta in an editorial which said, in part: “By the circumstances of the case, Mobile being but the means by which the City of Montgomery accomplished her act of tribute-paying to the cruiser named in her honor, the field of hospitable demonstration was necessarily limited, but within the prescribed limits, the mayor did all in his power to show that Mobile appreciated and was worthy of the honor”.

View on Dauphin Street, looking west from Water Street, in the 1890’s. Drawing by Acker.


ON FEBRUARY 15, 1895, Mobilians were treated to a sight very rare in this latitude—a six-inch snowfall.

Beginning at 1 o’clock in the morning of February 14, a light snow began to fall and by daylight the streets were covered to a depth of half an inch. By 10 o’clock in the morning, however, the half-inch blanket had well-nigh disappeared.

About 2:30 that afternoon light snow flurries again appeared, rapidly increasing until by 6 o’clock the snow was so deep as to impede traffic. The fall continued until almost 9 o’clock that night, when the official Weather Bureau measurement showed that snow had fallen to the record depth of six inches.

The unprecedented snow turned Mobile topsy-turvy. Schools were dismissed, and children joined their elders in the streets to engage in snowball battles.

Many residents took the wheels off their buggies, attached boards for runners, and went sleighing.

Crowds gathered at prominent street corners and every avenue was lined with merrymakers whose gay shouts could be heard above the whistling north wind whirling the flakes over the city.

Mobile under its white blanket was a strange and beautiful sight—especially at Bienville Square, where the overhanging boughs of snow-laden trees, and long icicles hanging from the fountain, composed a scene of rare splendor.

The snow-storm had its serious side, however. Lacking the necessary equipment to keep tracks clear, street cars practically suspended operations within four hours after the heavy snowfall began, and not until nearly midnight had all cars been worked into the car-barn.

The only casualty reported was James W. Gray, of the firm of Overall, Bestor & Gray, who fell and sprained his elbow.

Snow-covered Bienville Square as it appeared In January, 1881. Drawing by Acker.


MOBILE’S most important business development of the year 1896 was the building of the city’s grain elevator. It not only exerted considerable influence on business through the Port of Mobile, but also it constituted an early example of aggressive promotion on the part of Mobile citizens to attract new business firms and industries to the city.

The idea of promoting a grain elevator for Mobile is said to have originated with Henry Fonde who, in 1891, advanced his suggestion in the form of an open letter which was printed by the Mobile Commercial Club. It was generally agreed at that time that provision of facilities for handling grain at the Port to serve as stiffening for cotton vessels, was essential to continued success of Mobile as a cotton port.

Minutes of the Commercial Club show that the elevator idea came before the Club several times during the next three years, but not until March 2, 1894, was organized action taken. On that date the Club appointed a special committee composed of Henry Fonde, Murray Wheeler, E. L. Russell, J. W. Black and W. H. Fitzpatrick, to look into the proposed project.

That committee arranged a joint meeting between the Chamber of Commerce and Cotton Exchange, and it was decided to launch an organized effort to interest some private firm or individual in building the elevator, by offering a bonus of $10,000 to $15,000—the bonus to be raised by subscription among Mobile business men. L. C. Dorgan and John E. Mitchell were likewise added to the special committee at that meeting.

During the following year and a half, various outside firms and individuals considered taking advantage of Mobile’s bonus offer, but it was not until October, 1895, that arrangements were finally completed.

Then it was C. W. Stanton, a Mobile business man, who became interested in the project after a talk with Capt. J. G. Mann, general manager of the M. & O. Railroad (Mobile and Ohio Railroad). Mr. Stanton posted a check for $5,000 and within a short time the Commercial Club’s committee had raised the $15,000 bonus which assured the building of the elevator.

Construction began immediately and the new structure was ready within 100 days. Designed by the A. Maritzen Company, of Chicago, and built under the supervision of the Heidenreich Construction Co. of the same city, it was strictly modern in every respect, with a 250,000-bushel capacity and the very latest machinery and equipment.

A conveyor 600 feet long connected the elevator with the then new M. & O. Railroad slip, permitting the delivery of grain into vessels at a rate of 10,000 bushels an hour. Unloading capacity was 150 railroad cars in 24 hours.

Busiest years, so far as the elevator was concerned, were those in which Argentine and other foreign grain crops failed.

Then, in 1937, when our own grain belt suffered from drought conditions, millions of bushels of grain poured through the elevator from foreign countries for shipment to interior United States. In 1937, more than 9 million bushels of grain were handled by the elevator within five months. During that period it was operated by the Continental Grain Co., which had leased it from its owners, the M. & O. Railroad.

The structure was rebuilt in 1918, and operated until 1943 when it was dismantled.

Monroe Park, as it appeared in the old days. Drawing by Acker.


YELLOW FEVER struck its last serious blow to Mobile and vicinity in the fall of 1897.

Fully aware of death-dealing effects of the “yellow scourge’’, as it was called, appearance of the disease here precipitated one of the greatest panics in Mobile’s history.

During the early stages of the epidemic, the City Health Office was besieged by the curious public. Many sought information as to the extent of the disease here, while hundreds of others sought vainly to obtain health certificates which would permit them to flee the city.

Files of ‘The Register’ reveal that the first case in the epidemic (a man by the name of A. Hagan) was reported on September 18th by Dr. Rhett Goode. Immediately upon receipt of Dr. Goode’s report, the Health Board rushed telegrams to other health units throughout the Mobile area, announcing invasion of the disease.

Authorities quarantined City Hospital, where Hagan was treated, burned the bed clothing in his Government Street boarding house, and took other unsuccessful steps to isolate he disease. Investigation showed Hagan had not been out of Mobile since he took up residence here four years prior to the time he became ill, and that it was believed the infection came from Ocean Springs.

Day in and day out, Mobile’s railroad stations were crowded with panic-stricken residents, trying desperately to escape the dreaded fever. Dr. Gardiner C. Tucker, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church, who was a leading member of the “Can’t-Get-Away Club”, says that each train leaving Mobile was forced to stop at intervals of about 10 miles to allow inspection of their passengers. Those who were allowed to pass were required to walk for some distance to board other trains which had not passed through infected areas.

The exodus from Mobile included the entire personnel of the M. & O. Railroad Company’s auditing and passenger agent ‘s
department, which was transferred to St. Louis, Mo.

Streets of Mobile during the epidemic were practically deserted. Dr. Tucker, writing in his diary, says that on several occasions he encountered only five or six persons while walking from Royal to Ann Street, on Government.

Principal news item of each of the dark days of the epidemic were official bulletins issued by the Board of Health showing trend of the disease. A typical bulletin follows:

“November 1:
- Cases previously reported: 255
- New cases: 9
- Total cases to date: 264
- Deaths to date: 35”

Shortly after the epidemic got under way, Mobile newspapers published a list of symptoms, to aid the public in detecting the fever:

“Chilly sensations, pains in the bones, headache, pains in the back and knee joints; sometimes sickness of the stomach . . . When fever shows itself, the skin becomes dry and hot, the pulse quick and full; if not attended to immediately, the fever goes to the brain and the patient becomes delirious.”

Day and night during the three-month epidemic, members of the “Can’t-Get-A way Club”, doctors, nurses and others labored indefatigably to relieve suffering and to care for the dead. Receipts and disbursements of the Can’t-Get-Away-Club (which raised funds with which to furnish medical care for the unfortunates) ran into the thousands of dollars, as the organization pressed intensive campaigns for relief funds.

Water Street, looking north from Dauphin, in the 1890’s. Drawing by Acker.


IF ANY individual could be singled out as having exerted greatest influence on the growth and progress of Mobile during the past 75 years, that individual would be Capt. Pat J. Lyons, who for 21 years served continuously as a city official during the period 1897-1918. During those years of the Lyons administration, more municipal improvements were effected than during any other similar period in Mobile’s history.

Capt. Lyons was the son of Thomas and Johanna Lyons, who emigrated from Waterford County, Ireland, and settled in Mobile in 1849. He was born in Mobile on January 16, 1855, and during his boyhood was a deck boy on river steamers. His native abilities and capacity for leadership early earned for him the position of boat captain—hence the title “Captain Pat” by which he was familiarly known even after he had left the river.}

Following his years on the river, Capt. Lyons entered the business world and became a member of the wholesale grocery firm of Michael & Lyons. He was an immediate success as a business man, and soon was a director of many Mobile firms, later becoming vice-president of the City Bank & Trust Co.

His keen interest in civic affairs led him to enter politics, and in 1897 he was elected to the City Council. As a city official, his thoroughness, business capacity and conscientious discharge of duty so distinguished him that in 1904 he was elected Mayor of Mobile.

Seven years later, when the city changed from the aldermanic to the commission form of government in 1911, Capt. Lyons was elected by his fellow commissioners to serve another term as Mayor. He was again elected Mayor in 1915, and served until 1918.

Certain events which occurred during his long career in the public service, illustrate Capt. Lyons’ abilities as a municipal official. In 1904, when he first became Mayor, the city had a floating debt of $150,000; within a few months, Mayor Lyons had paid off the debt and the city had a surplus on hand.

During the early part of Mayor Lyons’ administration, Mobile’s program of street paving and other expensive municipal improvements got under way. By 1907, the city’s debt was approximately $2,000,000.

Despite many difficulties, Mayor Lyons succeeded in refunding that debt, saving the people of Mobile approximately $125, 000 a year in interest charges and expenses, redeeming the city’s wharf property which had been mortgaged, and reducing the city tax rate from $1.50 to $1.10. (In the tax year 1931-32, the 35-cent tax used to retire the old “carpetbag debt” was removed, reducing the city tax to 75 cents, the present rate).

Capt. Lyons was the central figure in the city’s drive for a municipal water works system. He led the fight to purchase the privately-owned Stein and Bienville Water Works. In a newspaper advertisement published just prior to his re-election as Mayor in September, 1915, Capt. Lyons’ supporters contended that he had induced the Bienville Water Supply Co. to reduce the price of their plant from $600,000 to $350,000—the price which the city finally paid for it.

In addition to his managerial abilities, Capt. Lyons was also alert to the civic benefits of city beautification. He was an ardent advocate of municipal park improvements.

It was he who started the planting of azaleas in Bienville Square, and the purple azalea now growing there was purchased and planted by him. He likewise directed extensive improvements in Washington Square and was responsible for the establishment of a playground in the west end of Old Church Street Cemetery.

During his administration, the city transformed the old Stein Water Works reservoir into a playground with a swimming pool, and employed Miss Margaret Austilt as the city’s first paid playground supervisor. In recognition of his pioneer work in beautifying Mobile, the city named Lyons Park—at Springhill Avenue and Catherine Street—after him.


AT CRICHTON, on the site now occupied by a number of industries, thousands of regular army and volunteer troops were encamped for several months during the Spanish-American War. The camp was called ‘Camp Coppinger,’ after its commanding officer, Brig.-Gen. John J. Coppinger, U. S. Army.

Site for the camp was chosen on April 19, 1898, and consisted of a tract comprising between 400 and 600 acres bounded on the north and east by Three-Mile Creek, on the south by Stein’s Creek, and on the west by Moffatt Road.

Shortly after selection of the site, the camp was prepared for arrival of the troops. From Omaha, Neb., came Brig. Gen. Coppinger and his staff, consisting of Maj. Enoch H. Crowden, Maj. George Andrews, Lieut. G. Hutcheson, Lieut. A.W. Perry and Clerk Frank W. Carpenter. Maj. James K. Glennon, of Mobile, gave up his offices in the ‘Bank of Mobile’ building for use as camp quartermaster’s headquarters.

First units to occupy Camp Coppinger were the Third, Eleventh, Nineteenth and Twentieth U. S. Infantry, and the Second and Fifth U. S. Cavalry; all of those were units of the regular army. Following transfer of the regulars to Tampa, Fla., the First and Second Alabama, First and Second Louisiana, and First and Second Texas volunteer units were stationed at the camp.

Newspaper accounts of those war days indicate that patriotic feeling ran high in Mobile. Crowds of civilians regularly visited the camp to welcome and bid adieu to the various units arriving and departing. Mobile ladies prepared box lunches and other gifts for the troops, many of whom were Mobilians.

After the close of the war, the camp was evacuated and the property returned to civilian control. In 1936, ‘Fitzhugh Lee Camp’, Mobile Department of Alabama, United Spanish War Veterans, erected a marker on the lawn of the Mobile Cotton Mills, designating the old Camp Coppinger site.

View of Mobile, looking northwest from the Courthouse Tower, in the 1890’s. Drawing by Acker.


ONE of the most amusing incidents in the history of Mobile’s municipal affairs occured on May 15, 1898, when the city purchased the privately-owned Stein Water Works. On that day, various city officials indulged in a hot chase through city streets, seeking Walter Wood, a Philadelphia investor who was dodging them in an effort to avoid receiving payment for his interest in the Stein plant.

The charter of the Stein Water Works required that should the city ever reach an agreement with the private owners to purchase the works, the purchase price would have to be paid on that same day, or the agreement would be void.

An agreement had been reached through a Board of Arbiters, who had decided that the city should pay a total of $45,000 for the plant. The heirs of Albert Stein (founder of the water works) readily agreed to the decision of the arbitration board, but Mr. Wood did not wish to sell his interest; hence his game of hide-and-seek.

How Mobile’s city officials finally caught the elusive Mr. Wood and forced him to accept payment—thus carrying out the legal requirements which made Mobile owner of the water works—was graphically described in ‘The Register’ on May 16, 1898, as follows:

“The Stein Water Works passed into the possession of the City of Mobile yesterday afternoon, and Mayor J. C. Bush, City Attorney Boone, and Mr. J. B. Davis of the Water Works & Sewerage Commission, Mr. F. O. Hoffman, clerk to the mayor, Aldermen Delchamps and Hale, and Chief Matthew Sloan of the Fire Department, had a hot chase after Mr. Walter Wood in order to tender him the amount due him under the award as part owner of the Stein Water Works. . . . The first tender was made to Mr. Wood about 1:25 o’clock in the office of his attorneys, Bestor & Gray. When Mayor Bush, Mr. Davis and Mr. Boone, laden with bags of gold coin, tendered to him the sum of $12,298.27, Mr. Wood refused to accept the tender.

“Later, city officials discovered they had made a mistake in their figuring and had made a tender to Mr. Wood which was $5,000 less than it should have been.

“Then began a second hunt for Mr. Wood so that a correct tender might be made to him. About 6 o’clock, he was located at the office of the Bienville Water Supply Co., on St. Joseph Street, but when Attorney Faith, City Attorney Boone and Alderman Hale went there, they found the office closed.

“While Mayor Bush and Mr. Davis were in a Mobile bank, counting out the money, they had dispatched a Mr. Hoffman to locate Mr. Wood, who seemed to be giving them the dodge. Mr. Hoffman went to the office of the president of Bienville Water Supply Co., Dr. George A. Ketchum, where he learned that Mr. Wood had left there some time ago, and that he was possibly at the office of Bestor & Gray.

“Chief Matthew Sloan, of the Fire Department, was also put onto the chase, and he later engaged Mr. Wood in conversation on St. Joseph Street, near the office of the Bienville Water Supply Co. But the oratorical powers of the suave Matthew were not sufficient to hold the attention of Mr. Wood for more than three seconds, for Mr. Wood looked as though he smelled a large-sized mouse.

“So, he left Chief Sloan; but Mr. Hoffman, who was an unknown quantity in Wood’s reckoning, had spied the Philadelphian, and kept his eye on him. Mr. Wood sprinted down St. Joseph Street to St. Michael, turned east on the latter street and headed for the river.

“He passed ‘The Register’ under a full head of steam, but Mr. Hoffman was a close second. When Mr. Wood reached the corner of Water Street, he turned south and hurried along Water; Hoffman got there just in time to see him disappear around the corner, going west on St. Francis.

“By the time Hoffman got to the corner of St. Francis and Water, Mr. Wood had vanished from the face of the earth, so far as Hoffman was concerned, and the latter concluded that he must have disappeared up the stairs of the office of his attorneys, Bestor & Gray.

“This conclusion was telephoned to the bank, where the assembled hosts of the city were waiting with the bags of gold. They promptly proceeded to the offices of Bestor & Gray a second time and tendered him more gold.

“So, likewise, on this occasion Mr. Wood refused again. But the mistake in amount had been rectified and the law had been observed, so as good citizens and officials, the mayor, city attorney and Mr. Davis were satisfied with the conclusion of their day’s work in behalf of the citizens of Mobile”.

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