Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Summer Escapes #7 - Dauphin Island, Alabama

One of the true crown jewels of the Gulf Coast, Dauphin Island, Alabama, is one of the most beautiful spots in the Deep South for a summer escape. It also offers a fascinating history and some of the nation's most significant historic sites.

A charming barrier island bordering the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of Mobile Bay, Dauphin Island was visited by Native Americans for hundreds if not thousands of years before Spanish and French explorers first set foot on its white sand beaches. Massive shell mounds left behind by Indians of the Mississippian era once stood as tall as 50 feet high on the island, reminders of thousands of meals of raw oysters and other shell fish. One of the few surviving mounds can be seen today at Shell Mound Park on the north shore of the island.

Dauphin Island received its name from the French, who arrived there in 1699. They found piles of human bones (probably washed from an ancient burial mound) on the island and believed that a massacre had taken place there, prompting them to call it Massacre Island. They soon renamed it after a member of French royalty. Hurricanes and other disasters drove the main French settlement from Dauphin Island in just a couple of decades, but for a brief time it was the home of the Governor General of Louisiana.

The island was also held by the British and Spanish over time, before passing into the hands of the United States when American troops took Mobile during the early 19th century. By 1819, construction was underway on Fort Gaines at the eastern tip of the island. With Fort Morgan across the channel on Mobile Point, the massive brick fortress was designed to protect Mobile Bay from enemy invasion.

Southern troops seized both of the forts in 1861 at the beginning of the Civil War. Fort Gaines played a critical role in the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864, one of the key actions of the war. It was within site of its walls that Union Admiral David G. Farragut uttered his famous orders, "Damn the torpedoes! Full Speed Ahead!" The anchor of his flagship, the U.S.S. Hartford, is on display today at Fort Gaines, which is now a beautifully preserved historic site.

Dauphin Island is also known for its outstanding beaches, slow-paced coastal life and outstanding fishing. To learn more, please visit

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