Open main menu

MOBILE, mṓ-bēl′. A port of entry and the county-seat of Mobile County, Ala., 140 miles east by north of New Orleans; on Mobile Bay, at the mouth of Mobile River, 30 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, and on the Louisville and Nashville, the Southern, the Mobile, Jackson and Kansas City, and the Mobile and Ohio railroads (Map: Alabama, A 5). It has a total area of about eight square miles and is situated on a plain which rises gradually from the river into low hills. The streets are broad and generally regular, and are well shaded with live oaks and magnolias. The finest structure in Mobile is the United States Government building, which cost $250,000. Other notable buildings are the court house, Cotton Exchange, Chamber of Commerce, Commercial Club, United States Marine Hospital, City Hospital, Providence Infirmary, Odd Fellows' and Temperance halls, Masonic Temple, and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The old Guard House Tower is an interesting structure of Spanish architecture. Besides the charitable institutions mentioned, there are several orphan asylums. The educational institutions include Barton Academy, Convent and Academy of the Visitation, Saint Mary's School, and the Medical College of Alabama, opened in 1859. Spring Hill College (Roman Catholic), opened in 1830, is a few miles west of the city. Mobile has three libraries: the Public, the Mobile (subscription) of 8000 volumes, and the Y. M. C. A. Public, with 3000. Among the local attractions are the shell road, a fine drive along the bay, and Monroe, Frascati, and Bienville parks.

Mobile, as the only port in the State, has extensive commercial interests, particularly in its export trade. The exports in 1901, principally lumber, cotton and cotton products, live stock and meat products, breadstuffs and naval stores, were valued at nearly $12,000,000, while imports amounted to about $3,000,000. The commerce of the city has been promoted by extensive improvements in the harbor and in the channel through the bay, both of which are now accessible for large vessels. According to the census of 1900, Mobile was the third manufacturing city in Alabama. Capital to the amount of $3,294,238 was invested in the city's various industrial enterprises, their products aggregating $4,451,062. The leading manufactures are lumber and lumber products, flour and grist mill products, foundry and machine shop products, ships and boats, tobacco, cigars, and cigarettes. There are also cotton mills, red cedar pencil and basket factories, and a distillery of whisky. The cultivation of vegetables, which are shipped in considerable quantities to Central and South America, is a lucrative industry in the vicinity.

Mobile spends annually in maintenance and operation about $230,000, the principal items being $35,000 for interest on debt, $35,000 for the police department, $31,000 for the water-works, $25,000 for street expenditures, and $21,000 for the fire department. The schools are supported by the State and county. The city owns and operates the water-works, which were built in 1899 at an approximate cost of $615,000. The system comprises 94 miles of mains. Population, in 1860, 29,258; in 1870, 32,034; in 1890, 31,076; in 1900, 38,469, including 17,045 (44 per cent.) persons of negro descent.

In 1702 Iberville, the French explorer, established a settlement twenty miles north of Mobile and called it Fort Louis de la Mobile, from the Maubila Indians. In 1710, on account of a destructive hurricane, the settlement was moved to the present site. For eighteen years it was the capital of French territory in this part of America, but on account of the shoaling of a part of Dauphin Island, it was forced to surrender this distinction to Biloxi in 1720. In 1763 Mobile, with the rest of ‘West Florida,’ was ceded to England and became a starting point for English expeditions up the Mississippi and into the ‘Illinois country.’ On March 14, 1780, Galvez, the Spanish commandant at New Orleans, captured the city, and by the treaty of 1783 Spain was left in possession. After 1803 the United States claimed the city as a part of Louisiana, and on April 13, 1813, General James Wilkinson captured it, but was dispossessed by the English later in the year. Restored to the United States by the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, Mobile was incorporated as a city five years later. In 1870, during the ‘reconstruction period,’ its area was curtailed and its name changed to the ‘Port of Mobile,’ but in 1887 it was reincorporated with full city rights. On August 5, 1864, it was the scene of Farragut's famous naval victory. Forcing his way into the harbor in spite of numerous torpedoes and mines, he destroyed the Confederate fleet. This victory was followed by the capture of Forts Gaines and Morgan. (See Mobile Bay, Battle of.) Early in the spring of 1865 the other fortifications surrendered and the city passed into Union hands. Consult: Hamilton, Colonial Mobile (Boston, 1897); and Powell, Historic Towns of the Southern States (New York, 1900).