Gulf Shores, AL
Gulf Shores, AL, is located about 45 minutes due south of where we were staying in Summerdale, AL. Toward the end of our stay in Summerdale we took a drive down to Gulf Shores to have a look around.
There is a long finger of land that extends westward from Gulf Shores and runs part way across the mouth of Mobile Bay. Mobile Point is located at the tip of that finger of land and was a strategic location for the protection of the bay. Following the War or 1812, the United States decided it needed to fortify some of its major seaports, so a number of forts were constructed along the Gulf coast including Fort Morgan at Mobile Point. We decided to drive out to see Fort Morgan.
Near the fort there is a ferry that goes over to Dauphin Island which sits on the western side of the entrance to Mobile Bay.
Notice the oil rig in the photo above. Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico are dotted with such rigs.
Dauphin Island is the location of yet another fort named Fort Gaines. We didn't have time to go over to Dauphin Island on this trip, so we'll just have to plan to come back. A third, smaller fort called Fort Powell also guarded the entrance to Mobile Bay. Fort Powell was north of Dauphin Island and no longer exists.
Construction of Fort Morgan was started in 1819 and was completed in 1834. The fort was named in honor of Revolutionary War hero General Daniel Morgan. In 1841, the garrison was withdrawn from the fort, and the fort was put into caretaker status. When the Civil War broke out, the Alabama Militia seized Fort Morgan from the caretakers. In 1864, Rear Admiral David Farragut sailed to Mobile Bay with a fleet of 18 U. S. Navy war ships and attacked the Confederate defenses. Following a 5-day battle, the Confederate forces surrendered Fort Morgan to the Union. It was at the Battle of Mobile Bay that Admiral Farragut supposedly said, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!"
In 1867, the fort was again put into caretaker status, but was reactivated in 1898 because of the Spanish-American War. The fort was used as a training base during WWI, and it was manned again during WWII. In 1946, the fort was deactivated and turned over to the state of Alabama. Today, it is a National Historic Landmark and is administered by the Alabama Historical Commission.
There is a senior discount to enter the fort. When we asked the lady at the gate the age eligibility, she said, 'old.' She was a character and sure beat many of the stone-face attendants we have run across in our travels. When we got to Fort Morgan, we stopped for a photo shortly after getting out of the car.
Fort Morgan has a small museum that has drawings, maps, photos and artifacts from the 100+ year history of the fort. In college, Paul worked for a company that made scale models and so he is always attrected to scale models. The museum has a nice model of the Union ironclad the USS Tecumseh. The Tecumseh was sunk by the guns at Fort Morgan during the Battle of Mobile Bay.
Mobile Point Lighthouse was also located near the fort. The original lighthouse, which was first lit in 1822, was heavily damaged during the Civil War and was replaced by a temporary wooden tower. The wooden tower was eventually replaced by a 30-foot iron tower. The 4th order Fresnel (pronounced fray-NEL) lens used in the iron tower lighthouse is on display in the museum. The order relates to the focal length (power) of the lens with a first order lens being the strongest and largest.
In 1858, a 200-foot tall lighthouse was built 3 miles offshore on Sand Island. When this larger lighthouse was built, the Mobil Point Lighthouse was downgraded to a harbor light. The 2nd order Fresnel lens from the Sand Island Lighthouse is also on display in the museum.
From the museum, we headed across the parking lot to the fort. Fort Morgan has double walls with sloped earthen banks built right up to the top of the outer walls. A tunnel leads through the earthen bank to the fort entrance called the sallyport.
The next photo is taken from the top of the outer wall looking toward the inner wall. The sallyport is toward the left.
The top of the inner walls are lined with gun placements. The iron tracks allowed the guns to be swiveled to different positions.
Thirty-two pound cannons like the one in the photo below were widely used for seacoast defense before the Civil War. There were 78 of these smooth-bore, muzzle-loading guns at Fort Morgan at the start of the Civil War, but they were soon replaced by more-modern, rifled cannons. When the fort was captured, only 14 of these 32-pounders were still in use.
The original part of Fort Morgan was built from brick. However, rifled cannons that came into use during the Civil War had much more power and accuracy, and brick construction become obsolete. Later gun batteries were constructed from reinforced concrete. The gun placement below was built in 1898-1899 and was for one of two disappearing guns at Fort Morgan. The disappearing guns fired 12-inch projectiles up to 8.5 miles. They were raised up to firing position by 30-ton counterweights. The recoil would return the guns to a lower position for loading.
After we finished touring the fort we headed back toward Gulf Shores. Gulf Shores is a typical seaside resort with plenty of beach houses outside town and high-rise hotels and condos in town. There are all the usual beach shops selling beach towels, bathing suits and T-shirts, and there are plenty of restaurants and bars.
We stopped at a public beach access area in town to check out the beach, and to sit and enjoy the ocean while we had a snack of cheese, cold cuts and crackers. The palm trees along the beach were decorated for Christmas, as were the lifeguard chairs. That's a Christmas wreath, not a lifesaver hanging on the back.
The sand had been recently groomed and was soft and clean. We saw absolutely no tar balls or any evidence whatsoever of the BP oil spill. Those are all shells and shell fragments at the edge of the water. It was a nice day, and there were a fair number of people on the beach enjoying the warm sun.
Margery stuck her toe in the water and was surprised at how cold the water was. Nevertheless, there were several crazy kids swimming.
As soon as we unfolded our chairs and pulled out our snacks, we were surrounded by a flock of gulls looking for handouts.
After we enjoyed our snack (we would have enjoyed it a lot more if Paul hadn't gotten sand into our cold cuts - gritty salami doesn't cut it), we headed back to Rainbow Plantation.
From Summerdale, we headed to Florida where we have a couple of stops to make before we settle in at Blueberry Hill for the winter.