We headed for Mobile one sunny day with some RV park friends to visit the old part of town and some of the antebellum homes there. Mobile is about an hour and 20 minute drive from the RV park. First we went to Old Fort Condé where the visitor center is located on an old street made of bricks – not quite as quaint as a cobblestoned street but still very pretty. Fort Condé was originally founded in 1702 “up river” from the current city of Mobile, but the original fort and village were relocated in 1711 to the current site. A temporary wooden stockade fort was constructed to protect the town and named Fort Louis after the old fort up river. In 1723, construction of a new brick fort with a stone foundation began; this fort was renamed Fort Condé in honor of King Louis XIV’s brother. Fort Condé protected Mobile for nearly 100 years from 1723-early 1820s. It was built by the French as a defense against British and Spanish attacks on Mobile and its bay, which was the eastern most part of the Louisiana colony. Originally Fort Condé and its surrounding features covered about eleven acres of land. Built of local brick, stone, earthen dirt walls, and cedar wood by both slaves and free workmen, it was much larger than the reconstructed fort visitors see now. From 1763 to 1780, England was in possession of Mobile and the fort was renamed Fort Charlotte in honor of King George III’s wife. From 1780 to1813, Spain ruled Mobile and the fort was renamed Fort Carlota. In 1813, Mobile was occupied by United States troops and the fort again was named Fort Charlotte. Most of the fort was removed by 1823. The current Fort Condé, about 1/3 of the original fort recreated in 4/5-scale, opened on July 4, 1976 as part of Mobile’s United States bicentennial celebration.
The visitor center docents were very helpful and told us about a free bus that would take us to the restaurant area, so off we went to find a good place to eat lunch. We rode the bus past some historic homes, and got off where we saw a lot of eateries. We ate lunch outside at bar and grill and enjoyed the clean air and warm sunshine.
After that it was time to find an antebellum home to tour. We chose Oakleigh since the tour also included a middle class bricklayer’s home in addition to the Oakleigh mansion. The Internet has informed us that we could also see a slave kitchen but when we arrived we found out that building had too much asbestos and was no longer open to the public. Oakleigh’s history was very interesting and the docent who gave us our tour was excellent. She told us that when Virginia cotton factor James W. Roper made his fortune in Mobile, his goal was to build a small Greek temple in an oak grove. That dream was realized with Oakleigh, which is now Mobile’s Official Period House Museum.
Roper loved the majestic oak trees he found in the countryside outside early 19th century Mobile. He also loved the rolling meadow that stretched from the peak of a small hill where he planned to build his house. The name “Oakleigh” is derived from the combination of “oak” and “lea.” Lea is another name for meadow. Oakleigh is a T-shaped Greek revival mansion featuring unique architectural features including a distinct cantilevered front staircase, grand double parlors and classic six-over-six windows and galleries accessed through jib windows. Roper was his own architect and builder. Using slave and free labor, the house is composed of bricks made from clay dug on the grounds and timber harvested from the property. We could see tool marks can be seen on the siding, doors and window frames. The original home did not have a first floor – this was because it was more comfortable to have the living quarters on the second floor and just have open storage below. Roper placed his front doorway off-center for a reason. He and his wife planned to entertain lavishly at Oakleigh so he created a north hallway to accommodate large double parlors to the south. Unfortunately, due to an economic downturn in the cotton trade, Roper lost his house in the Bank Panic of 1837. The second family to live in the mansion maintained it for three generations. They added a wing and closed in the first floor to make the home larger. An interesting story about the second owners is that the mistress of the mansion saved the house from occupation or damage during the Civil War by hanging a British flag on the front gallery and convincing the Yankee soldiers that they were British citizens! The mansion is now operated by the city as a museum and its collection includes period silver, porcelain, furniture, paintings, and personal items. The Cox-Deasy Cottage, an 1850s raised plantation house that interprets the middle-class lifestyle in 19th century Mobile, is near the larger mansion. Although built by a brick mason, the owner could not afford to build his own home of bricks! The house has four large rooms and looked pretty comfortable to me, although it housed a very large family with many children.
Although there are several more mansions worth visiting in Mobile, we decided that would have to happen on another trip, since we had to get home for Happy Hour at the RV Park clubhouse!