This week a work event took me to Mobile, Alabama, and one hot, humid morning, I took a an early walk through some of the historic streets. Bienville Square caught my eye, and I decided to investigate. Turns out the public park has quite a history, with a few Civil War ties!
Mobile’s history goes back to 1702 with French settlers. Over the centuries, the community grew and lived under six different national flags! In 1824, a congressional act created a public park by transferring land to the city of Mobile with the stipulation that it would always be used as a city park. The community added more land to the holding and by 1849, the park covered an entire square block — as it still does today. The park was named in honor of the city’s founder: Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville. Starting in the 1850’s, the park became a major gathering place for the city’s residents.
As I wandered around the perimeter of the park, I thought about the discussions that must have happened here on the road to Civil War. Perhaps political speeches. Perhaps neighbors’ discussions debating secession. Perhaps whispered reservations. Perhaps flags waved. The echoes of booted-footsteps, the soft rustle of a light dress, a plaintive coded song longing for freedom. In the morning shade and light, echoes of the secession days and worried war days seemed nearer than one might wish.
The park doesn’t look exactly the way it would’ve in the 1860s. But walkways, benches, fencing, and newly planted oak trees would’ve been there. Now the trees are tall and the paths lead toward a fountain and a bandstand which came post-war. The park appears nicely kept today, but four years after the Civil War ended, one of the local papers reported that the place had become rundown and dangerous until a citizen made efforts to restore it with “energy, good taste, and liberal judgement.”
Here are a few photos:
The cross monument memorializes Bienville and the early French settlers.
A monument erected during the Civil War centennial commemorating the battle of Mobile Bay. The ship at the top of the monument is labeled as the “Confederate Ram Tennessee.”
I’m learning that Gulf Coast seafood is pretty amazing! This painted art at one of the park entrance celebrates the local oysters and modern Mobile’s culture and flair.