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.
Fondest memory: 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.
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.
Fondest memory: 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.