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article number 752
article date 04-04-2019
copyright 2019 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Evolution of a City - Year by Year, Mobile Alabama, Part 3: 1899-1916
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.


MOBILIANS needed sled runners instead of wheels, on which to send their Mardi Gras floats through the city on February 13, 1899. On that day, the mercury dove to “one degree below” and ice covered the streets to such an extent that all carnival festivities were postponed until Tuesday, Mardi Gras Day. So tight was the grip of Jack Frost that telegraphic communications were disrupted and the shores of the bay were bordered by thick ice.

The Carnival Association, realizing that it would be unwise to attempt to carry out the day’s gay program, issued the following statement for publication in ’The Mobile Item’:

“Owing to the extraordinary degree of cold and the ice covering the streets, it is impossible for the reception of Felix III to be held. Therefore, by full vote of the executive committee, the exercises of today have been postponed until tomorrow, when, weather permitting, the reception and parade will take place, with fireworks at night.

"Although the weather the next day was also bitterly cold, Mobilians by the thousands turned out and outdid themselves in the annual celebration.”

In striking contrast to the gaiety in the city, was the experience of the bay steamer ’James A. Carney,’ which lost a grim struggle with ice in the bay. On February 15, 1899, ’The Item’ described the beaching and sinking of the boat after it had ploughed through “a field of ice”.

V. B. Curran, the boat’s purser, told of an unsuccessful attempt to reach the wharf at Daphne, then of a dash for Battles, and finally of the beaching of the vessel near the Fairhope landing. All passengers and crew of the Carney were rescued without injury, and they reported that the bay was frozen over with ice more than an inch thick, for a distance as far as three miles out from the eastern shore.


SELECTION of cemetery sites, so located as not to be overrun by the growing city, has been a problem confronting Mobile city officials since the earliest times.

In 1819, when Mobile’s expansion threatened to obliterate the old Spanish Burial Ground, located in the area of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the city fathers purchased for $140, an area south of Government Street and west of what is now Washington Avenue. At that time, the land was designated the “new burying ground”; it later became known as the “Old Church Street Cemetery”, the name it now bears.

Six years after purchase of the new site—an area covered by pine forest and gallberry bushes—bodies in the old Spanish Burial Ground were disinterred and removed to Church Street Cemetery. Hamilton, in ’Mobile Under Five Flags’, points out that exhumation of the bodies was followed by a visitation of yellow fever. But transfer of the bodies opened the way for the city’s growth, and Conti and Claiborne Streets were allowed to run through the erstwhile burial ground.

At the time of the purchase of new cemetery land, city authorities felt confident that the site was ample for a town of 2,000 population; but they were soon to learn differently. Hamilton states that in the early 1840’s, interments at the Church Street Cemetery became fewer—due chiefly to the fact that the city had subsequently authorized burials in Magnolia Cemetery.

Finally, the Old Church Street Cemetery was completely surrounded by buildings, and the city in 1899 passed an ordinance prohibiting further burials there. Some protests were voiced by families whose members occupied graves in the area, but space was completely taken up and there was definitely no chance to Continue using the cemetery without blocking residential building in that section.

The ordinance (Section 59 of the Municipal Code) reads: “The bodies of deceased persons shall not be buried at another place except Magnolia Cemetery within the limits of the city, under penalty not exceeding $50.”

Today, Old Church Street Cemetery, with its graves and surface tombs of prominent individuals of Mobile’s past, is hardly noticed by visitors to the city because of the fact that it is shut off from view by the imposing Mobile Public Library Building, on Government Street, and by high walls and dwellings along its other boundaries.

Old Church Street Cemetery was divided up for use by Catholics, Protestants and paupers. The larger or east division was set aside for Catholics, while the Protestants occupied the northern section. Paupers were buried in the south end.

The oldest headstone—that of a Judson child—is dated 1813, while an iron cross in the cemetery is dated 1812. Both markers were brought with the bodies from the old Spanish Burial Ground.

Gates of Old Church Street Cemetery.


MOBILE paid tribute to one of her most illustrious sons on January 27, 1900. On that date, thousands of local residents and visitors gathered at the intersection of Government and Royal Streets for ceremonies marking the unveiling of a monument to Admiral Raphael Semmes—the hero whose triumphs as commander of the Confederate warship ’Alabama’ electrified the world during The War Between the States.

The monument—a massive structure of stone and metal executed by the famous sculptor Casper Buberl—was financed with funds raised by members of the Ann T. Hunter Auxiliary of Raphael Semmes Camp No. 11, U. C. V.

On a huge speaker’s stand erected in front of the then veiled statue were ladies of the Auxiliary, Col. William J. Samford, of Opelika, candidate for governor and chief speaker of the day; Mayor J. C. Bush and members of the city council; members of the Semmes family; members of Confederate veterans units and their guests.

With R. H. Clark as master of ceremonies, the program opened with invocation by The Rt. Rev. Edward P. Allen, Catholic bishop of the Mobile diocese.

Mrs. Electra Semmes Colston, daughter of Admiral Semmes, drew the cord which held the canvas about the bronze statue. As the covering fell away, the band struck up ’Dixie’ and a battery of artillery stationed at the foot of Government Street began firing the admiral’s salute of 17 guns.

The monument was presented to Mayor Bush by Mrs. E. B. Vaughan, president of the Ann T. Hunter Auxiliary. In accepting the statue on behalf of the city, Mayor Bush eulogized Admiral Semmes, saying, in part: “Almost alone, upon the seas of the world, the single name of Semmes made our Confederacy respected and feared. Mild of manner, brave of heart, he waged war as effective as it was daring, upon the Union navy and merchant marine."

Colonel Samford, in the principal address of the day, told his hearers that Mobile and Alabama “should be and is” proud of the record established by the famous admiral. The speaker outlined causes and effects of The War Between the States, stressing the fact that the South waged war not over slavery, but over the question of States’ Rights.

In the midst of Colonel Samford’s talk, rain began to fall, forcing the crowd to move into the Y. M. C. A. Building, where Samford continued his address. As the thousands fled indoors to escape the rain, a bugler sounded taps at the monument, the base of which by that time was draped with flags and flowers.

For the past 65 years, the statue has been a landmark of Mobile. During 1939 it was temporarily dismantled to make way for the Bankhead Tunnel.


ON JULY 12, 1901, temperature in Mobile rose to 102.2 degrees, the highest ever recorded in the local U. S. Weather Bureau office up to that time. Although only one case of prostration was reported, Mobilians suffered severely from the blistering heat.

At 7 o’clock in the morning, the thermometer registered 80 degrees. But within three hours the mercury climbed 20 degrees to reach 100.3 degrees at 10 o’clock. By 3 o’clock in the afternoon the official reading was 101.7 degrees, and just before sundown at 5:30 o’clock it stood at 102.2—an all- time record.

Unofficial readings placed the figure even higher. A thermometer on the shady side of Van Antwerp’s store at the corner of Dauphin and Royal Streets, registered 105 degrees during the afternoon, while another thermometer on the sunny side of the same doorway was graded for 115 degrees and the mercury filled the tube to the top.

Lacking modern ventilation and air-conditioning systems, Mobilians of that day could do little about the heat except complain. The air was so dry that breezes from electric fans are said to have been “as hot as air coming out of a stove”.

In those days, whenever the weather was unusually hot, a favorite means of escape from the heat was riding the street cars. But on that record-breaking day of 102.2 degrees, even street car riding gave little relief. The scorching air burned the faces of street car motormen a fiery red.

Although business indoors was carried on as usual, Mobilians working out of doors found it difficult to stay on the job. Several switchmen and flagmen in the L. & N. Railroad yards were forced to quit work at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, and in other instances outdoor work was organized in short shifts for the purpose of avoiding heat prostration.

How effective are modern ventilating and air conditioning systems in relieving the discomfort of extreme temperatures, is illustrated by the comparatively small mention made in the newspapers on two occasions since 1901 when the temperature rose even higher than 102.2 degrees in Mobile. On September 5, 1925, and again on July 11, 1930, the mercury reached the all-time top of 103 degrees in the city . . . and while of course the newspapers and everybody else freely admitted it was “hot enough for them”, the public apparently did not suffer nearly so much as on that blistering day in 1901.


ACTUAL LAYING of the first modern street pavement in Mobile took place shortly before noon on April 18, 1902, when Mayor Walter F. Walsh shoveled the first asphalt into the intersection of Water and Conti Streets and voiced the hope that “the work now begun will continue until Mobile takes her rank among the progressive cities of the United States”.

Launching of the asphalt paving program marked the beginning of Mobile’s modern system of paved streets. Prior to that time, a few streets had been paved with wooden blocks and by other early paving methods, but none of those had proved entirely satisfactory.

After the development of asphalt paving laid on concrete foundation, Mobile’s Board of Public Works unanimously decided to try that new paving method in the city. The Board—consisting of Lawrence Lavretta, president; Mayor T. S. Fry and Stewart Brooks—favorably reported to the City Council on July 30, 1901, a project calling for the pavement and improvement of Water Street from the south line of State Street to the north line of Government; Planter’s Alley and Exchange Alley, from the east line of Water Street to the west line of Commerce; also, St. Michael, St. Francis, Dauphin and Conti Streets from the east line of Royal to the west line of Front Street, excepting the Commerce Street intersection.

Estimates prepared by J. N. Hazlehurst, chief engineer for the Board, placed the cost at approximately $56,000, to be shared among property holders, the city, and railways using the streets to be improved. The report was promptly adopted and Mayor Fry was authorized to sell $65,000 worth of 6% paving bonds to the People’s Bank in $500 units maturing on December 1, 1916.

Begun in April, that initial paving project was delayed by bad weather and other obstacles, and was not completed until the late spring. It. was so successful, however, that the City Council approved a second project on June 24, 1902, and since that time Mobile’s paving program has steadily progressed until today the city has approximately 112 miles of paved streets.

Mobile-built steamboat in the early 1900’s.


JANUARY 22nd of the year 1902 marked the 200th anniversary of the establishment of Fort Louis de Ia Mobile at 27-Mile Bluff, and the founding of the City of Mobile. To celebrate those important anniversaries, the people of Mobile held a double celebration—the one marked by a parade through the city streets, ending with ceremonies at the courthouse, and the other consisting of a trip to the site of old Fort Louis de Ia Mobile at 27-Mile Bluff, where a permanent granite marker was erected.

Both celebrations were well attended and highly successful. The weather was fine and mild, and thousands of Mobilians lined the principal streets of the city for several hours, awaiting the parade which began to move at 1:30 o’clock under direction of Col. James W. Cox, assisted by George A. Robinson.

Behind the grand marshal came a detachment of mounted police, who were followed by Martin Drey’s Band. Next marched cadets from Wright’s Military Academy, under command of Commandant Caseman. And bringing up the rear was a body of United Confederate Veterans commanded by Col. Irwin. The colorful column proceeded to the court house, where commemorative exercises took place.

The trip to 27-Mile Bluff was made in a revenue cutter, gaily decorated for the occasion. The group on the cutter consisted largely of members of the Iberville Historical Society, who were credited with being the guiding spirit behind the celebrations. Along with them they took some friends, a brass band and luncheon, and proceeded up the river to the monument site, which had previously been selected by a committee from the Society consisting of Messrs. C. W. Butt, Erwin Craighead, Peter J. Hamilton and Paul deV. Chaudron.

Arriving at the location of the old Fort, the party climbed the bluff to conduct ceremonies consisting of an oration and the unveiling of the marker. Grace King, writing in ’The Outlook’, described the occasion as follows:

"The orator of the day was the young Mobile historian, Peter J. Hamilton. He narrated the story of Fort Louis to a group perhaps as picturesque as any ever gathered on the spot—ladies and gentlemen in the costume of the day, cadets in grey with buff leggings and Rough-Rider hats, officers from the revenue cutter in their brilliant blue and gold, sailors in uniform, a Catholic priest, an Episcopal rector, a Jewish rabbi, and others . . . As the orator brought his address to a close, the cannon of the cutter fired a salute; all stood, and the white cloth was withdrawn from the granite block which bears the inscription:

‘Erected by the People of Mobile, January 23, A.D., 1902, to commemorate the founding here of Fort Louis de la Mobile, by Pierre Lemoyne, Sieur d’Iberville, and Jean Baptiste Lemoyne, Sieur de Bienville’."

Kiosky’s famous restaurant as It appeared In the early 1900’s.


ON THE NIGHT of February 12, 1905, fire destroyed Mobile’s famous old ’Battle House’ and severely damaged adjacent buildings, causing a loss estimated at $450,000.

The fire was discovered about 10:45 in the evening, by one of the hotel cooks. It had originated in several unoccupied rooms used for storage purposes over the kitchen in the north wing of the hotel, and apparently it had been burning for a considerable time, as it had gained much headway before being discovered.

Prompt alarm through the hotel annunciator system brought every one of the 147 guests out of the hotel safely, and a general alarm brought all of Mobile’s firefighting apparatus to the scene. Notwithstanding the Fire Department’s promptness in getting 10 leads of hose into the building, the fire defied all efforts to subdue it.

Shortly after midnight the north portion of the roof fell in, cutting off power and communications in the city’s downtown section. Within another hour it was apparent that the entire building was doomed; interior floors began falling in, one after another, sending up mountainous showers of sparks and embers.

Accordingly, the Fire Department turned its efforts toward protecting adjacent property. Fortunately, a heavy rain helped extinguish sparks falling on nearby rooftops.

At 2 o’clock in the morning, a crowd estimated at 10,000 persons was watching the spectacular blaze, and Mobile’s police force had its hands full in managing the surging throng. Their work, under active direction of Chief E. T. Rondeau and Lieut. Davis, was highly praised. Hundreds of volunteer firefighters were stationed in nearby, buildings to help prevent spread of the fire.

Although Mobile’s firemen stood at their posts in a biting north wind and poured water steadily into the burning building for approximately 20 hours, it was not until the close of the following day that the fire was finally pronounced fully extinguished. Then all that remained of the renowned old hostelry was “a mass of bricks and mortar and twisted iron rods, with the front wall still standing, outlined against the sky like a sentinel, as though keeping ward and watch over the ruins of a stately old pile about which clustered recollections of half a century”.

Checkup of the fire toll revealed a loss of approxiiriately $250,000 in the hotel proper and $200,000 in other business firms, some of which were located on the lower floor of the hotel and others in adjacent buildings. The following businesses and offices on the lower floor of the hotel were destroyed:

Sutton Bros., druggists; Arthur C. Hall, news dealer and tobacconist; Battle House Bar; Mobile Transfer Co.; John W. Scheible, insurance agent; W. E. Gordon, real estate broker; J. C. Hensch, merchant tailor; J. W. Dolle, shoemaker; E. C. Cahall, fraternal insurance agent; Johnston-Gaillard Coal Co.; V. M. Provost, coal and wood dealer; Fitzhugh & William, grain brokers.

Businesses and offices in adjacent buildings which were destroyed or badly damaged included: L. S. Graham Printing Co., Commercial Hotel, Rosenfield Tailoring Co., Commercial Shaving Saloon, Mobile Coal Co., Central Trades Council Hall (including all the Council’s records), Bid- good Stationery Co., Charles Hess, and George Winters.

Three years later the present ’Battle House’ was erected on the site of the old building.

View of Royal Street in the early 1900’s, showing the old ’Battle House’ as it appeared before the fire.
The First National Bank’s third home, located at No. 68 St. Francis Street, as It appeared In 1906. These premises are now occupied by the Bidgood Stationery Co.


IN SOFT, clear tones, an army bugler sounded taps over Bienville Square, packed to capacity on the afternoon of February 25, 1906, by a large throng gathered to witness the unveiling of the ’Wayside Cross’ erected in memory of Mobile’s founder—Jean Baptiste LeMoyne, Sieur de Bienville.

As the bugle’s last note faded away, the assemblage appeared to have been deeply affected by the touching tribute to the great French-Canadian whose name is inseparably identified with Mobile.

Erection of the Wayside Cross, and the commemorative exercises incident thereto, were sponsored by the Colonial Dames of Alabama. Following an invocation by The Rt. Rev. Edward P. Allen, then Catholic Bishop of Mobile, the late Joel W. Goldsby, then a member of the Alabama Senate, presented the Cross to Mayor Pat Lyons, who expressed the gratitude of municipal authorities and the people of Mobile for the monument.

Then followed a brief talk by Prof. Alcree Fortier, of Louisiana, who pointed out the fact that Bienville’s first colony was established at Mobile, antedating the founding of New Orleans, Principal speaker of the afternoon was Fr. E. D. de le Moriniere, Spring Hill College priest, who painted a vivid word picture of Bienville’s career—sketching his life during the time he was a midshipman during the terrific struggle between the French and British in Hudson Bay, and later when he and his brother, Iberville, removed to France where they were commissioned by Louis XIV to discover and take possession of the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Fr. Moriniere described in detail the arrival of the LeMoyne brothers in Mobile Bay in January, 1699, their subsequent founding of the colony at Fort Louis de Ia Mobile, and Bienville’s administration as governor of Louisiana. Turning to the Wayside Cross he said: “In this cross Bienville has a monument which will do him as much honor as the colony he planted . . . Let me close with the hope that the Cross erected here today to the honor of their father and founder by a loyal and grateful people, may carry to all generations of future Mobilians the name and fame of Jean Baptiste LeMoyne, Sieur de Bienville."

The Cross was hewn from granite and rests upon a gigantic base of the same material, each corner of which is capped with a polished ball. Located in the southwest corner of Bienville Square, it is one of Mobile’s most familiar landmarks and daily attracts attention of tourists.

Scene at the dedication of the Wayside Cross, Bienville Square.

1906—HURRICANE DOES $15,000,000 DAMAGE

STRIKING FURIOUSLY, a West India hurricane roared into the Gulf Coast area on September 27, 1906, and destroyed millions of dollars worth of property in Mobile County. Although only two or three deaths occurred in the city itself, the storm sent more than 150 persons to a watery grave in the nearby vicinity, principally at Sans Souci Beach, Coden, Herron Bay and Navy Cove.

The storm began on Wednesday, September 25th with a driving rain borne on a strong northeast wind. By the evening of the 26th it was impossible to walk on the streets with umbrellas. The barometer continued to drop until it reached a record low of 28.84, fulfilling the Weather Bureau’s prediction that the storm would be centered at Mobile.

All during Wednesday the force of the wind increased. By midnight Wednesday it was a northeast gale, and just before dawn Thursday morning it reached hurricane proportions. Daylight found the air filled with flying objects—shutters, signs, awnings, roofs, trees, timbers. and finally bricks from walls and chimneys. Communication and electrical transmission wires were leveled throughout the city.

During the early morning hours on Thursday, the wind veered to the east, and finally to the southeast, backing up water from the bay into the river until it overflowed the wharves and flooded city streets. By 8 o’clock Thursday morning, the yellow flood had reached Royal Street on St. Michael and was running into Royal Street gutters. It came within 25 feet of Royal on St. Francis—or approximately 30 feet farther up the street than the great flood of 1893.

Upper Royal Street, from St. Louis to Beauregard, was also flooded, the water backing on St. Anthony nearly to Conception, and almost as far on State and Congress streets.

Water Street at that point was a surging maelstrom, with the wind driving up St. Francis Street and rousing the water in great waves at the street intersection.

From 7:30 Thursday morning until about 10 o’clock Thursday the storm was at its height. Then the wind abated and the waters receded, allowing many persons to descend from trees which they had climbed to save their lives. By Friday morning, the storm was over and reckoning of lives lost and property damage began.

It was found that all the lower coast had been badly washed, with fully 150 lives lost, including many fishermen of the Herron Bay oyster and fishing fleet, where only three men and one vessel of the fleet were saved.

Eleven steamboats and 22 sailing vessels were wrecked, and many others damaged, in the river.

The quarantine station at Fort Morgan was washed away when the waves cut a great channel entirely across the land from the bay to the gulf.

Scores of vessels were wrecked in the lower bay and just outside.

In Mobile itself, the destruction was not nearly so severe. Chief damage was caused by the flood waters, although the wind tore away parts of many buildings. Nearly every church edifice in the city was damaged to some extent: the steeple of Christ Church was blown away and the interior wrecked by falling debris; the Methodist and Baptist Churches on St. Francis Street lost their spires.

The courthouse clock and tower were badly damaged, as were the Cawthon, Bienville, St. Andrew, Windsor and Southern hotels.

The Old Shell Road and Garrow’s Bend were washed worse than in the storm of 1893, and great sections of other roads and streets throughout the city were scoured away. Gross damage in Mobile County was estimated at more than $15,000,000.

The Mobile area was not the only one to be ravaged by the storm. The entire Mississippi-Louisiana coast suffered severely. Many persons lost their lives at Biloxi, and some 20 schooners and hundreds of small craft were lost at Pascagoula.

The death toll at Pensacola was estimated at 50 persons, with 5,000,000 in property damage.

At least 100 Malayans in a settlement on Lake Bourgne, La., were said to have been killed.

After normal conditions had been restored, the populace within the city counted itself fortunate in having withstood the hurricane so well. It was pointed out that in both the storm of 1893 and the most recent one, the city proper had proved to be relatively secure against such hurricane disaster—a fact which was later re-emphasized when an 85-mile-an-hour wind swept the city in 1916.

Mobile County Courthouse as it appeared in 1906, before the clock and steeple were damaged by the hurricane of that year. This building was razed and a modern county courthouse erected on this site In 1959.


MOBILE’S last private water company passed under municipal ownership when, on January 8, 1907, the City of Mobile purchased the Bienville water works. For the sum of $350,000, the city gained possession of the private company’s pump house and other buildings, its supply source on Clear Creek, its reservoir and the entire distribution system.

Only nine years earlier, the city had purchased the Stein Water Works, and by 1900 had completed its own water works at a cost of $750,000. Purchase of the Bienville system completed municipal ownership of local water facilities.

The Bienville Water Supply Company had been operating in Mobile since 1886, and at the time of the sale of the property to the city, its officers were D. P. Bestor, Jr., president, A. W. McCallum, secretary, and H. S. Hopper, treasurer. Those three men met with the city’s representatives in the office of Mayor Pat J. Lyons on the afternoon of January 8th.

In the presence of the mayor, city councilmen H. T. Inge, Dennis Cashin and John A. Hughes, and C. W. Soost, the mayor’s secretary, and J. J. McMahon, the company’s entire property was transferred to the city.

In return, the Bienville company received the city’s bonds to the value of $350,000, at 3 per cent interest, to be redeemed within 20 years by annual reductions. The deed to the city of the property was signed by Messrs. Bestor and McCalIum and was witnessed by Ernest F. Ladd, notary public. The mortgage supporting the bond issue was signed by Mayor Lyons, city clerk Adolph C. Danner, and the representatives of the Fidelity Trust Co., of Philadelphia.

After details of the transfer had been completed, the Fidelity Trust Co. representatives congratulated the Mobile officials on the excellent bargain they had obtained for the city—pointing out that the price paid for the System and the bond interest rate were exceptionally low.

For several months the then existing municipal system and the newly acquired Bienville system were operated as separate units while the necessary connecting work was being completed. By 1908 all systems were being operated as a single unit, and today Mobile is served by approximately 350 miles of mains and has a water plant of 15,000,000 gallons daily capacity.


EARLY on Sunday morning, May 9, 1909, there died in Mobile a woman whose charm, influence and attainments made her name widely known throughout the literary world and a household word in Mobile—Augusta Evans Wilson. Her almost instant death following a heart attack shocked the entire city, for although 74 years old, she had been very active and apparently was in good health.

Mrs. Wilson was one of the most famous personages ever to be identified with Mobile. She was born in Columbus, Ga., but came with her family to Mobile in 1849 and lived here until her death. In 1868, she married Col. L. M. Wilson, prominent Mobile business man, and their typical southern mansion on Springhill Avenue was for many years one of the city’s show-places. After Col. Wilson’s death in 1891, she disposed of her Springhill Avenue home, and went to live with her brother, Howard Evans, on Government Street. It was there that she died.

Her literary career began early in life with the publication of her first book ’Inez, a Tale of the Alamo’ in 1856. Then followed such notable works as ’Beulah’, ’Macaria’, ’Vashti’, ’Infici’, ’At the Mercy of Tiberius’, and ’The Speckled Bird’.

Her most widely read work, on which her fame as authoress largely rests, was ’St. Elmo’, which created a sensation. Her last book was ’Devota’, published when she was 72 years old.

Aside from her artistic achievements, Mrs. Wilson was a leading Mobile citizen and an ardent civic worker. During The War Between the States she turned her energies toward relieving distress among Confederate soldiery, earning the name ’Guardian Angel’ at military establishments in and around Mobile.

After the war, she was identified with many worthy projects, such as the Mobile Infirmary.

One of her chief characteristics was liberality of views; it is said that she was among the first to signify her protests against the Prohibition movement by signing an opposition petition to the Alabama legislature; and when Woman’s Suffrage was being agitated, Mrs. Wilson is said to have exclaimed: “If women attended to their privileges, they would not need to be keen about their rights.”

All Mobile newspapers published lengthy articles and editorials commenting on her career, the keenote of which was expressed by ’The Mobile Item’, which said:

“The life of Augusta Evans Wilson is worthy of emulation by any girl or woman.”

Augusta Evans Wilson’s home, destroyed by fire on March 15, 1926.


LONG-CHERISHED AMBITION of Bishop R. H. Wilmeru, Augusta Evans Wilson, Mrs. C. J. Torrey, and a host of other Mobilians identified with the Mobile Infirmary Association were realized on June 9, 1910, when the cornerstone for the Mobile Infirmary was laid. At 5 o’clock that afternoon a large crowd gathered on the Infirmary site to attend exercises marking that important event.

The program, with Jacob D. Bloch as master of ceremonies, was conducted by high Masonic leaders from a large platform on which were seated the ladies of the Infirmary Association and the officers of the Grand Lodge of A. F. & A. M. of Alabama. After an invocation by Rabbi Alfred G. Moses, the assembly heard Mayor Pat J. Lyons, W. C. Fitts, and Lawrence H. Lee, Worshipful Grand Master of Alabama Masons, praise those responsible for the project and point out that “this building is worth 40 factories.”

Following the speechmaking, numerous items, including lists of officers of the Infirmary Association and of the various Masonic organizations, were placed in a compartment in the cornerstone, which was then set in place.

The list of officers of the Infirmary Association, sealed in the cornerstone, included: Mrs. C. J. Torrey, president; Mrs. Lee H. Marx, vice president; Mrs. F. S. Parker, treasurer; Mrs. J. St. G. Tucker, secretary; Mrs. R. G. Richard, former secretary, and Jacob D. Bloch, J. C. Bush, Godfrey Mertz, Ralph G. Richards, Ashbel Hubbard, William H. Monk, Jr., Henry A. Forcheimer, Murray Wheeler and J. W. Phillips, directors. The following were listed as past presidents: Mrs. L. Hammel, Mrs. H. A. Forcheimer, Mrs. V. D. Stratton. In Memoriam: Bishop R. H. Wilmer, Mrs. Augusta Evans Wilson, originators of the infirmary association, and Mrs. George A. Ketchum, first president.

The former Mobile Infirmary in 1910. (From an architect’s drawing.)

¶ In December, 1909, the First National Bank opened a Savings Department. During the 56 years this department has been in operation, it has enjoyed remarkable growth which has earned for it the descriptive title “Where Most Mobile Savers Bank.” On June 50, 1940, it had Savings deposits of $9,785,488.02, and at the regular semi-annual interest payment period, it credited $89,218.85 in interest to its Savings depositors.


AFTER a long and bitter battle in the state legislature, and a heated campaign for support of local citizens, the old Aldermanic form of municipal government under which Mobile had operated since 1886 was overthrown and the present City Commission form was approved at the polls on June 5, 1911.

The fight in the state legislature centered around a proposed legislative act designed to authorize any Alabama city or town to adopt the commission form of government. It was strenuously opposed by politically powerful representatives of cities and towns both smaller and larger than Mobile, who foresaw that institution of city commission government would weaken the control of “machine politicians” over various Alabama municipalities.

Advocates of the commission form won, however, when the legislature approved on April 8, 1911, an Act entitled: “An Act to provide and create a city commission form of government and to authorize the adoption of the same in all cities and towns in the State of Alabama, etc.”

Immediately following legislative approval of the Act, a local campaign for city commission government began. It was led by Mayor Pat J. Lyons (then Mayor under the old aldermanic form) who had the backing of many prominent Mobile business men and ’The Register’.

In a pre-election statement Mayor Lyons expressed himself:

“I desire to say that I am unreservedly opposed to the present aldermanic form of government. There are too many people running the city’s business. The system is too unwieldy and it is too difficult to get results and get them quickly.”

After a spirited political battle, in which it was charged that the aldermen were “working every dodge known to politics” and that members of the police and fire departments and other office holders were fighting vigorously against the measure, the issue was brought to the polls on June 5, 1911. Mobile voters cast 2,227 votes in favor of the commission form, and 1,041 votes against—a majority of better than two to one.

Mayor Lyons continued as mayor on the new commission, and Lazarus Schwarz and Harry Pillans were elected as the other two commissioners. Reaction of prominent Mobile business men to the change in municipal government was typified by the post-election statement of R. V. Taylor, vice-president and general manager of the M. & O. Railroad, who said in an interview published in ’The Register’:

“I believe that the commission form of government reduces to the simplest possible basis the necessary supervision of the affairs of the city. Any business enterprise with too many managers is bound to suffer some, for the managers will at one time or another work at cross purposes. This is true in all business, whether ordinary or governmental. For these reasons, I believe that the Commission form of government will be better.”


"I want to take this occasion to say that the United States will never again seek one additional foot of territory by conquest. She will devote herself to showing that she knows how to make honorable and fruitful use of the territory she has and she must regard it as one of the duties of friendship to see that from no quarter are material interests made superior to human liberty and national opportunity.

“This is not America because it is rich. This is not America because it has set up for a great population, opportunities of material prosperity. I would rather belong to a poor nation that was free than to a rich nation that had ceased to be one with liberty. But we shall not be poor if we love liberty because the nation that loves liberty truly, lets every man do his best and be his best.”

Author of that significant commitment of the nation to a policy of non-aggression was Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States, and the occasion for the utterance was his visit to Mobile on October 27, 1913, when he addressed representatives from Latin-American countries gathered here to attend the Southern Commercial Congress.

The entire world turned an attentive ear to those words of the President. He spoke from the stage of Mobile’s old Lyric Theater; it was the first time he had addressed a large body of citizens since becoming President.

Mobilians, thrilled at the experience of witnessing the first visit of a U. S. President to the city, cheered him from the time he appeared at the door of his sleeper at the L. & N. railroad station at 7:30 a. m. until he boarded his train at midnight. In that brief period, President Wilson was honored by the Chamber of Commerce at breakfast at the Battle House, moved through packed streets to the Lyric Theater where he delivered his historic address, paraded through the streets, then witnessed a pageant of civic and fraternal organizations from a reviewing stand on the St. Joseph Street side of Bienville Square.

President Wilson was scheduled, and was personally willing, to speak again to the admiring throng in Bienville Square, but his physician refused to let him speak in the open.

On October 27, 1924—the 11th anniversary of President Wilson’s visit to Mobile—the Mobile Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, placed on the Lyric Theater building a memorial tablet bearing the heretofore quoted excerpt from his epochal address.

Lyric Theatre, where President Woodrow Wilson spoke in 1913.


IN RYAN PARK, located at Springhill Avenue and St. Michael Street, stands the bronze figure of a Catholic priest, the one hand extended in a blessing, the other holding a prayer book. It is the monument to Fr. Abram Joseph Ryan, the South’s beloved poet-priest, which was unveiled on Saturday afternoon, July 13, 1913.

Attending the unveiling were hundreds of Mobilians who gathered to take part in elaborate exercises arranged to pay homage to that humble religious man whose life and works touched and inspired thousands of Southerners and who was intimately identified with Mobile during the 13 years he was rector of St. Mary’s church here.

Formal presentation of the monument to the City of Mobile was made by Dr. Erwin Craighead. The monument was financed with funds given by Southern children, ten cents at a time.

Following Dr. Craighead’s remarks, the statue was unveiled, showing the bronze figure wrapped in the Stars and Stripes and the Stars and Bars. Cords holding the two flags around the statue were then released by Carolina Randolph Ruffin, a grandniece of Gen. George W. Randolph (one time Secretary of the Confederacy) and Margaret Calametti, a granddaughter of Sgt. John Calametti, C. S. A.

Commissioner Pat J. Lyons received the monument for the city, saying in part: “In behalf of the City of Mobile, I accept this memorial and pledge the municipality to preserve and care for it, and keep the grass around it green in tender and respectful recollection of one whom this city and nation may well be proud of.”

Following acceptance by Commissioner Lyons, the Rev. Matthew Brewster, D. D., read two of Fr. Ryan’s poems, and Judge Safford Berney delivered an address on Fr. Ryan’s two-fold connection with the Confederacy—both as army chaplain and as a poet who “crowned the Southern arms with the immortal story of his verse.”

Judge Berney was followed by Fr. E. C. de Ia Moriniere, the orator of the day, who traced Fr. Ryan’s career as priest and poet—dealing particularly with his power as an orator and writer, recalling his matchless courage and patriotism as army chaplain and his heroic work during Mobile’s yellow fever epidemic of 1878.

Monument to Father Ryan in Ryan Park.

¶ On December 25, 1915, the Congress of the United States created by one of its most constructive and wise laws, the 12 Federal Reserve Banks of the United States. The First National Bank accepted the Federal Reserve requirements, made application for membership in the Federal Reserve System, and at once qualified. To its individual strength it thereby placed behind it the mighty strength of the strongest banking system in the world. During the 52 years the Federal Reserve System has been in existence, the First National Bank has always maintained its membership.

Royal Street frontage of the present home of the First National Bank as it appeared about 1912.


ALTHOUGH no lives were lost within the city proper, the violent tropical hurricane which swept Mobile on July 5, 1916, caused property damage estimated at approximately S1,500,000. Newspapers in other cities—notably the New Orleans ’Times-Picayune’, the Montgomery ’Advertiser’, and the Birmingham ’Age-Herald’— carried stories placing the loss of life as high as 22 persons and estimated damage at $8,000,000, causing ’The Register’s’ indignant editorial comment:

“Certainly, more was expected of The Times-Picayune than that it should consent to be represented by a correspondent so careless of the fact as to assert that ‘twenty-two lives were lost,’ when, in truth, not a life was lost in Mobile and the loss of life in the waters bordering the Gulf was only nine.”

Within the memory of many present-day Mobilians, however, is the terrifying northeast gale which broke over the city about 5 o’clock in the morning of July 5th. As the day wore on, the wind increased in intensity until it averaged from 80 to 85 miles an hour—sometimes as strong as 105 miles an hour, according to statements by Weatherman Albert Ashenberger.

In the late afternoon, the wind veered to the south, blowing the water out of the bay up into the city. At 7 o’clock the water was running two feet deep across Royal Street. A few minutes later it was a foot deep across St. Joseph Street and business houses on both sides of Royal and in the district between Royal and the river, were flooded.

Meanwhile, a heavy rainfall added to the water damage, as scores of structures were unroofed.

Highlights of the storm, as reported in Mobile newspaper accounts, ran as follows:

“The Municipal Dock was unroofed and Pier No. 1 of the M. & O. Railroad Co. was partially destroyed
. . . The smokestack of the Battle House and its two wireless towers were blown away; some of the roof was torn off and thrown to the Street below
. . . Cotton, sisal, staves and crossties were washed out of the municipal wharf up St. Michael and St. Francis Streets
. . . Street car service stopped about 1:45 o’clock in the afternoon. Hundreds of people were marooned downtown, and had to spend the night at hotels
. . . Scores of persons, including a number of prominent Mobilians, county workers and court attaches fled from the courthouse into-the jail. There, they remained until about midnight, as guests of the sheriff
. . . In the height of the storm, ’The Register’ was informed that Mr. and Mrs. D. P. Bestor and Mr. and Mrs. LeBaron Lyons were missing aboard Mr. Lyons’ yacht ’Princess’. However, it was later reported that the four made it safely to Magnolia Springs, from Dauphin Island where they were cruising at the time the high winds struck
. . . The engineers’ docks at Fort Morgan were destroyed
. . . A big plate glass window was blown out at Hammel’s
. . . Roofs of both wings at City Hospital were removed by the wind, forcing inmates to move to other quarters
. . . The county courthouse was severely damaged, and faces of the clock on all four sides were blown off
. . . The courthouse tower was wrecked and rain poured into the court rooms
. . . The roof of the Cawthon was ripped into shreds, hundreds of windows smashed and the furnishings of many rooms were water-soaked
. . . The Mobile Yacht Club’s building was wrecked
. . . Many buildings at Monroe Park were badly battered
. . . The grandstand and fence at the baseball park were blown down
. . . Train passengers were marooned at the L. & N. Station, but were finally rescued after an appeal for police aid brought a fire wagon to haul them out of the flooded area
. . . Live wires were a constant menace to life, and power company executives issued warnings against coming in contact with them. One such wire killed a horse at Conception and St. Michael Streets
. . . Every house on the bay front from Bay Avenue and Shell Road was demolished. Old St. Matthew’s Church was destroyed. At least a dozen houses were blown down in the Oakdale area
. . . The Bay boat ’Pleasure Bay’ sank at the mouth of One-Mile Creek and the ’Carney’ went to pieces and to the bottom at the foot of Dauphin Street
. . . The river steamer ’City of Mobile’ rested on the wharf in front of the municipal wharves; nearby was the three-masted schooner ’Joseph T. Cooper’, a portion of her stern torn away
. . . The new mail boat. ’Harry Lee’ was damaged, and a sister ship was reported to have sunk in the harbor
. . . The bay steamer ’Beaver’ sank
. . . The mail boat ’Uncle Sam’ went down opposite Monroe Park, her crew saving their lives by swimming ashore.”

Sensational accounts of the storm appearing in other newspapers throughout the nation, aroused a deep feeling of resentment in Mobile, as expressed in an editorial in ’The Register’ on July 10th, five days after the storm:

“People outside are always alarmed when they read that the hurricane has come, that the wires are down and Mobile is shut off from the world. Newspapers have been known to print in red ink and largest letters ‘Mobile Is Wiped off The Map!’ but it has never happened, and if we judge by what has been experienced in the past, it will never happen. Mobile is the most comfortable place we know of in which to have an attack of hurricane.”

That part of the First National Bank’s present quarters, located at No. 15 North Royal Street, into which the bank moved in 1915 when It took over the business of the National City Bank of Mobile.
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