On the Beach
The sign outside said that the fort was established in 1821 for the defense of Mobile and that it was named for General Gaines who, as commandant of Ft. Stoddard, captured Aaron Burr fourteen years previously. (It wasn't actually completed and named until 1853 after the death of General Gaines.)
While we had a good view from in front of the fort (photos 2 to 5), we had a better one from the fort walls. We could see Fort Morgan, and also the lighthouses and the ships in the harbor. Bob and I had an argument about which of the boats was the ferry, but he was correct. The ferry seemed to be almost stationary at the point we saw it, and I thought it was anchored. We could also see what looked like it had been a fairly new fishing pier which was just a bunch of pilings now.
After we finished the tour, I asked the entrance attendant whether this was a federal or state site. He said neither, which was why this fort was in so much better shape than Fort Morgan. Because everything here was ship-shape. Apparently the US sold the fort to Mobile in 1926, and Mobile then gave it to the Alabama Department of Conservation which then deeded it to the Dauphin Island Park and Beach Board.
The guy there told us that the oversight of Fort Morgan was under a guy who was a friend of someone in power and was paid an enormous salary and given a house in Gulf Shores. So now there was no money left in the budget to maintain the fort. He said that the state board in charge was considering selling or giving the fort to Baldwin County or to the city of Mobile or possibly to the US Park Service. When we went down into the courtyard, a daschund took great exception to our being there and barked and growled from the end of the tunnel to where we came out in the central courtyard. The dog belonged to the blacksmith. He said that they'd gotten the dog as a puppy and Hurricane Ivan had come along when he was only a few weeks old. After the hurricane the fort was closed while the volunteers worked to restore it and he wasn't accustomed to having people he didn't know be on site.
View of Sand Island Lighthouse and Mobile Bay
The current lighthouse on Sand Island is the fourth at this location. It is on a narrow strip of land that was once 400 acres, and now due to erosion and in spite of tons a riprap, the lighthouse is basically falling into the bay.
In 1837, Congress allocated $10,000 and Winslow Lewis began construction on Alabama’s first and only seacoast light- an iron spindle. It rose to a height of fifty-five feet and was fitted with fourteen lamps backed by sixteen-inch reflector. In 1839, for $500 per year, John McCloud was hired as the first keeper. But since it was outshown by the Mobile Point Lighthouse, it was considered a second class lighthouse.
Even in those days, the land was slowly eroding so in 1858, under the direction of Army Engineer Danville Leadbetter, a conical brick tower (the second lighthouse) was constructed. The Confederates removed the nine-foot-tall lens and placed it in storage at the beginning of the war. Two years later the Confederate soldiers discovered Yankees in the tower spying on Ft. Morgan positions, so a Confederate by the name of John W. Glenn placed 70 lbs of gunpowder next to the tower and blew it up.
After the destruction, a wooden tower 48 feet high was built (the third lighthouse) and it marked Sand Island from 1864 to 1873. In September of 1873, a new 125 foot lighthouse was in operation (the fourth lighthouse).
The lighthouse was manned with two keepers and their wives. A few days before the 1906 hurricane struck, one of the keepers went to shore. The hurricane took the light out and the remaining keeper and wives were gone...never to be found.
A second hurricane struck in 1919. A landing party was sent to see why the light was out but they found the station deserted. A log which kept the daily activities of the keepers stated that he had gone to pick up a new employee. They were never found and it was assumed that their boat had overturned in the rough seas returning to the lighthouse. In 1921, the lighthouse was automated and was deactivated 11 years later, but a keeper maintaind it until 1950
In early 2003, the state granted $100,000 for a feasibility study to determine if the lighthouse could be relocated to Dauphin Island. The lighthouse was damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and further damaged by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. Restoration is beginning on the lighthouse which is owned by the residents of Dauphin Island.
We tried to see this lighthouse from Fort Morgan, but it was too foggy. It was much clearer when we visited Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island, but also the lighthouse was farther away. I would have liked to try to see whether I would be closer on the ferry, but we just missed one ferry and didn't want to wait for another one. I understand you can charter a boat to go out closer to see it better.
We did see the second-order Fresnel lens which was removed from the tower in 1971, and then placed on exhibit at the Fort Morgan museum, and I took other pictures of the view from Ft. Gaines.
The Dauphin Island Shell Mounds
The Dauphin Island, Alabama Shell Mound Park is a prehistoric Native American monument of oyster shells, centuries-old live oaks and mystery. During the spring and fall migrations, thousands of birds call Dauphin Island home, many species setting down in the Shell Mound Park for easy observation. Legends say that after dark, ghosts walk in the moonlight along the winding paths beneath a thick canopy of Spanish moss. Creepy!
Basaic Dauphin Island Page
Dauphin Island was mapped by Alonzo Pineda as early as 1519. It was settled by the French around 1699, then control of the island swieched to the British, then the Spanish, then the US then back to the British and finally back to the US.
Today Dauphin Island is home to some pricey real estate and several attractions. Fort Gaines was built here starting in 1819. Fort Gaines is famous for its participation in the Civil War battle where Admiral Farragut uttered the phrase "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!". There is also a nice Estuarium, and a nice beach.
"Shell Mounds Park"
Shell Mounds Park is a small park on the island where evidence of prehistoric human habitation was found. It has a short hiking trail with interpretive signs about the habitation. This park is also listed as a fine destination for birdwatching.
Dauphin Island, Alabama
Before coming to Dauphin Island, I had never seen a real swamp less from a car window. This was maybe more of a small marsh or pond but its close enough to a swamp for me. Dauphin Island is a small, isolated island about 45 minutes south of Mobile and is right where the Bay enters the Caribbean. There is only one bridge connecting it to the mainland while on the eastern end there is a single ferry that goes to the next island. The island has one main road that goes from the eastern tip to the western edge, and this swamp was located along a trail very close to this main road on the eastern end right before you get to the ferry (there is a small parking area accessible from the main road). It has a single deck that goes out about 10 feet in the water and provides a nice view of the entire swamp/pond. What I enjoyed most about coming here was I saw my very first wild alligator (I think it was an alligator but it could've been a croc, in which case it would not have been my first). This alligator is slightly visible in the above photo, which looks like a stick floating in the water.
Dauphin Island was surprisingly underdeveloped and very non-touristy, much unlike the other islands on the other side of the bay near Gulf Shores. The fanciest hotels and restaurants here, all of which are locally owned, no chains, remind me of a Days Inn and a Denny's with fresh seafood. There is a single gas station, grocery store, and a couple of good local pastry/coffee shops I would recommend. There is also plenty of beachspace and miles of walking trails (remember your bugspray) to be enjoyed, but if you are looking for anything that even resembles luxury, then this is not your place.
Here is a close-up of the first and only alligator I've ever seen in the wild. He is just a juvenile, not more than 6 feet long, but that didn't make it any less exciting. He really did come this close to us while we were on the deck above, but he never left the water. I really enjoyed experiencing such a magnificient creature up-close and in his domain. Had he decided to get out of the water, however, I would've been running back to the car.
On the eastern end of the island, past the ferry landing and the estuarium, there is a parking area near an old military fort. Here you can get out and enjoy the bay side of the beach, which is pretty rocky in some parts. Right next to the rocky area we saw dozens of these hermit crabs, and love was in the air for many of them it seems. Here is the best picture I could get of two of them playing with each other. There were a lot of shells and other ocean objects that had washed up in this area and not many people often come all the way down here to comb the beach. You may just get lucky and find some interesting stuff.