Sunday, December 21, 2014

Casey Jones was here!

Along with the construction of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad came the need for railroad shops. It was this need that led to the birth of the town of Whistler.  In 1851 Jacob Magee donated the land and the new town was named for Washington Jefferson Whistler, a well known engineer and the older brother of James Abbot McNeill Whistler, the artist.  Though a small community just north of the city of Mobile, Whistler has had its share of famous residents and events. It was here in April 1865 at Eight Mile bridge that one of the last squirmishes of the Civil War was fought. Casey Jones was baptized at St. Bridget's Catholic Church and lived for a time on Whatley Avenue. Billy Williams, a hall of fame baseball player, was born here, as well as, Edward Lilley, a well reknowned scientist and professor at Harvard University. Many of the modest old homes still remain and St. Bridgets Catholic Church and the Whistler Methodist Church are two of the most beautiful churches in all of Mobile County.

Whistler has always been a working class town and has really struggled the last half century to survive. Despite the efforts of preservationists such as Johnnie Andrews to bring attention to the town and its history, the town is slowly losing its historic fabric. Jernigan's Hardware, a family owned business that had been a landmark of the community since the 1930's recently closed its doors. It is hoped that a new generation of preservationists will see the value in saving this community before it is too late.

This post is dedicated to my friend Shirley Sharik (May 25, 1934 - October 31, 2012) who passed away in her home on Rebel Road in Whistler. The home, part of which dated to the 1850's, had been in her family for more than a century. Shirley was a preservationist, bon vivant, and story teller that lived her life to the fullest. She is very missed.

 
Whistler Station, c. 1860
 
 
St. Bridget's Catholic Church, 1874


 St. Bridget's Parsonage
 
 Whistler Methodist Church
 
 Whistler Masonic Hall
 

 

 
 Haner House (Home of Shirley Sharik)
 
 
Shirley Sharik, photo c. 1960 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sexton's Mobile

Author/photographer Richard Sexton's influence on my love for architecture cannot be overstated. Publication of his 1993 work, New Orleans: Elegance and Decadence coincided with my burgeoning interest in historic architecture of the gulf south and within a few years I had made my first home purchase. Elegance and Decadence along with Elizabeth Gould's From Fort to Port: An Architectural History of Mobile, Alabama, 1711-1918 served as inspiration and the foundation for my learning of historic architecture of the region. Sexton's volumes that followed, Vestiges of Grandeur: The Plantations of Louisiana's River Road (1999), and Gardens of New Orleans: Exquisite Excess (2000) added fuel to the flame. With those seminal works it was with great excitement that my husband and I were able to meet Richard and to serve as guides for a recent visit to Mobile. Richard was in town for a book signing of his latest work, Creole World: Photographs of New Orleans and the Latin Caribbean Sphere.  You can read about Richard's trip to Mobile and find additional information on the following websites:

creoleworld.tumblr.com

vimeo.com/rsstudio

richardsextonstudio.com

hnoc.org

agallery.com

Following are a few of Richard's photos from that visit...








Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Mother of Mystics

Mobile is ground zero for mystic celebration in the United States. As a city and community, we celebrate Mardi Gras better than we do anything else.  Unspoiled and little changed since its beginnings, the pre-lenten festivities start on New Year's Day and go non-stop through Mardi Gras. Because our home is so close to the parade route, we rarely miss a parade and are often joined by family and friends. It is the event of the year.
 

 
 
 
  

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Famous Corner

That’s the way I’d play it for the girls, who’d do the high kicks. Said, “My, my, play that thing, boy.” And I’d say, “We'll, certainly do it, little old girl.” That’s just the way they used to act down in Mobile in those days, around St. Louis and Warren, part of the Famous Corner.
-Jelly Roll Morton
In 1938 Alan Lomax sat down with Jelly Roll Morton in an interview that is recorded in the Library of Congress.  It is because of this interview that we learn a little about the music scene that was in Mobile during the early part of the last century.  Jelly Roll Morton wrote “Alabama Bound” while in Mobile and met Porter King to whom he dedicated the song “King Porter Stomp.” He also mentions a Charlie King and Baby Grice as other quality musicians who lived in Mobile at the time. 
Peter Hanley’s quest to find the musician Porter King in census and archival records led to a likely candidate, a porter by profession who at one time lived at 604 Saint Anthony Street (see www.doctorjazz.co.uk). In 2009, I spoke to local historian Dora Finley and found further evidence to support Peter Hanley’s contention.  She said that Porter King’s occupation as a porter was likely not an accident and explained the relationship in Mobile between porters and musicians. The story begins in 1875 when Bettie Hunter owned and operated a Cab service.  She died childless at the age of 27 and left her business to her brothers Henry and Robert Hunter. They continued to operate the Hack Service or Cab Co as it was later called.  In census research that Mrs. Finley compiled on Robert, he too was listed on and off as a Porter.   Robert Hunter was the father to Mrs. Jamie Stewart.  Mrs. Jamie Stewart was held in high esteem as the Music Director at Dunbar High School for many years, possibly dating back to the late Thirties. Her daughter, Yolanda Reddick, until recently had been the long time Music Director at Williamson High School.  According to Mrs. Finley, the family has always been associated with music and musicians and this appreciation would have presented a comfortable work environment for Porter King.

The corner of Warren and Saint Louis Street is now an overgrown empty lot but Jazz can still be heard at the Gulf City Lodge located at 601 State Street. It provides an authentic setting and a good dinner for the Monthly Jazz Jamabalaya’s held by the Mystic Order of Jazz Obsessed (see www.mojojazz.org).  
The Famous Corner

Pen and Ink Drawing of Jelly Roll Morton - Mauro Ghersi, 1961

Bettie Hunter House (1875), Saint Frances Street

Gulf City Lodge, 601 State Street
 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Alabama Lighthouses

The Middle Bay and Sand Island lighthouses are decaying vistiges of Alabama's nautical past. They are precariously situated in Mobile Bay and just south of Dauphin Island. The wear of time and neglect have rendered them vulnerable to the next hurricane. I will be surprised if they survive my lifetime.

Sand Island Lighthouse

Middle Bay Lighthouse


Monday, November 21, 2011

DeTonti Square Historic District

DeTonti Square Historic District contains the largest concentration of antebellum homes within the city. Brick townhouses with cast iron galleries predominate though a few fine examples of early "creole" cottages can also be found. Here one can see the homes of successful merchants and statesman, as well as Napoleonic and Saint Dominguan Refugees who re-built their lives in America. The district was named after the early explorer and fellow Italian, Henri Detonti, who, along with Iberville and Bienville helped found Mobile.






 






 

 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Lemon Trees

Price of lemons at Wal-Mart - $0.49 each

Price of lemons at Winn-Dixie - $0.99 each

Growing your own Lemons in your backyard...Priceless



Many things convey the image of life on the gulf coast. Mythical pirates, Jimmy Buffett, and palm trees to name a few.  But there is something special about having your own lemon tree.  It is one of those tangible items that reminds you that you are living in paradise.  Our youthful tree has done well despite the record cold temperatures the past two seasons.  It has actually fared better than some of our more cold hardy citrus.   It produced 26 lemons this year and next year I'm hoping for a bumper crop!