THE CENTENNIAL GRAND EXCURSION
Mobile & Fairhope, Alabama July 4, 1914
Having just returned from the Grand Hotel in Point Clear today, passing by all the flags, the Fairhope VFW rib plate specials, the kindness and generosity from all around, lots of sunbathers, kids, pets, pedestrians, and bicyclists I was struck by the curiosity of what it must have been like this day one hundred years ago on Independence Day 1914. This kind of daydreaming drives my wife crazy as I am the guy who always stops at an old picture on the wall to read the caption and particulars. I am also that guy who stops to read the historical markers, and if in a real hurry pull out the trusty iPhone to snap a picture for later reference, tucking it away in my already near capacity limit data folder. Really my mind began to drift off on this earlier this week, prompting a quick jaunt to the local history and genealogy department of our local downtown library. So here is what my research rendered.
It is clear that the bay steamers were the way to go back in the day. They offered an escape from the heat and humidity of Mobile to the sweet sunbathing, dancing, sandwiches, coffee, iced drinks and other hotel amenities beckoning from the Eastern shore. Did I mention dancing, tennis, bowling, a toboggan slide and shower baths were also included amenities?
Two steamers, the Jas. A Carney and the S.S. Pleasure Bay offered to ferry folks from the western shore to the eastern shore and back. The fare you ask? 50 cents round trip, or about $11.90 in today’s money. The S.S. Pleasure Bay left the foot of Dauphin Street at 9:30AM and left Battles at 9:30PM.
A third steamer, the Apollo, also ferried folks. Between the three, they transported approximately 1,250 “on their first two trips.” For perspective the population of Fairhope at the time was approximately 730.
A fourth independent steamer, Beaver, also operated between Daphne, Seacliff, Volanta, and Fairhope.
From the articles it appears that upon departure from Mobile, the first stop was in Daphne, followed by Montrose, Seacliff, Volanta, Fairhope (“the fifth landing”), Battles (described as “the most popular” as “bathing is ideal there” and also home to The Beach Hotel and the Battle Hotel), Point Clear, and Zundels as the final landing
According to contemporary newspaper accounts, Mobile was described akin to a ghost town as it appeared most everyone jettisoned over to the eastern shore.
Not all would partake in the delights of the Eastern shore however, as the Mobile Police Department arrested some 40 people on this day a century ago. According to the Mobile Sunday Register of July 5, 1914, approximately 80% of the charges included “drunkenness or disorderliness or both.”
Fabulous dinners were hosted by downtown Mobile hoteliers who created special menus for the occasion at The Battle House and The Cawthon.
The President of the Bank of Mobile, Mr. M.J. McDermott hosted “one of the biggest events of the day” in Irvington at the farm of Mr. Robert B. Thurston. A hundred folks motored to this fabulous barbecue in south Mobile County. They got drenched in typical Mobile afternoon shower fashion on the return trip.
Bienville square proved to be a “popular” congregation point of those who remained in town.
As for the weather on July 4, 1914 “pleasure seekers were favored with ideal weather, the sun shining brightly from a clear sky with a brisk breeze blowing, keeping down the heat. In the late afternoon, however clouds began to hank [sic] in the skies and rain fell.” This could still describe almost any afternoon today here around town.
Much like today, folks in our area proudly displayed the American flag, just not as many stars. It appears people actually engaged each other, recreated together, and enjoyed the presence of one another. By and large it appears people just enjoyed one another’s companionship and conversation. You remember, like the age before cell phones. America, Mobile and the eastern shore were in many ways very innocent not having experienced any of the great world wars yet, although the storm clouds were gathering. Today, like then, all of us have much to be thankful for.
Wishing you and yours a safe and happy Independence Day.
Quiet Marks Day of Independence, The Mobile Sunday Register, July 5, 1914.