Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Mobile

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MOBILE, a city and port of entry of the United States, the capital of Mobile county, and, though not the capital, the largest city of Alabama, lies 140 miles east of New Orleans, on a sandy plain on the west bank of Mobile river, one of the arms of the Alabama. The municipal boundary includes an area about 6 miles long by 2 or 3 in breadth; but, excluding the suburban villas scattered about the nearer hills, the portion occupied by the buildings of the city proper is not more than a mile square. In the matter of paving and shade the streets are generally good, and Government Street especially, with its fine oak trees and gardens, forms an attractive promenade. Besides the spacious granite building erected in 1859 to accommodate the Custom-House, the Post Office, and the United States courts, the principal edifices are the Roman Catholic cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (1833), Christ Church (Episcopal) (1837), the City Hospital (1830), the United States Marine Hospital (1836), the Providence Infirmary, the conjoint market-house and municipal buildings, Barton Academy (occupied by the high schools), and the Alabama Medical College (founded in 1859). About 6 miles out, at Spring Hill, is the Jesuit College of St Joseph, established by Bishop Portier in 1832. As a commercial centre Mobile is in some respects very favourably situated. It is the only port of Alabama; the estuary on which it stands is the outlet for several navigable rivers; and it is the seaward terminus of the Mobile and Ohio railroad, the Mobile and Montgomery, and the Grand Trunk. But, on the other hand, it lies 25 miles from the coast; the lagoon-like bay cut off from the Gulf of Mexico by the narrow isthmus of Mobile Point is extremely shallow; and in 1879 no vessel drawing more than 13 feet could load and unload in the harbour with safety. Since 1827, it is true, various works have been undertaken to improve the approaches: the Choctaw Pass and the Dog River Bar, which had formerly a depth of little more than 5 and 8 feet respectively, were deepened to 17 feet by 1882; but Mobile will not take rank as a satisfactory ocean port till the scheme (now in operation) for constructing a wide channel more than 20 feet deep right through the bay has been fully carried out. The cost of the necessary works being beyond the power both of the city and State, Congress has granted $270,000 for the purpose of widening the channel to 200 feet, and deepening it to 23 feet. A private company, established in 1876, has built a breakwater in the bay, and greatly increased the safety of the harbour. For the years between 1855 and 1859 the average value of exports and imports was respectively $23,419,266 and $711,420; the following figures for recent years show a considerable decline on the total:—

 Years ending 
in June
Exports. Imports.

1877  $12,784,171  $648,404 
1878 9,493,306    1,148,442 
1879 6,219,818  544,628 
1880 7,188,740  425,519 
1881 6,595,140  671,252 
1882 3,258,605  396,573 

In cotton, which forms the staple export, the falling off is particularly noticeable, 632,308 bales being the average for 1855 to 1859, and 365,945, 392,319, and 265,040 bales the quantities for 1879, 1880, and 1881. A great deal of what comes to the Mobile market is sent to New Orleans for shipment, partly that it may obtain a higher price as “Orleans” cotton. Lumber shingles, turpentine and rosin, fish and oysters, and coal, are also important items, but do not make in the aggregate so much as half the value of the cotton. Among the local industrial establishments are several spinning-mills, breweries, cooperages, shipbuilding yards, foundries, and sash and door works. The market gardeners of the outskirts produce a large quantity of cabbages, potatoes, water melons, tomatoes, &c., to supply the cities of the western and northern States (value in 1879, 112,520; 1880, $174,483; 1881, $159,706; 1882, $367,194; 1883, estimated $700,000). Though in 1820 it had no more than 2672 inhabitants, Mobile had 31,255 in 1880; the figures for the intermediate decades being 3194 (1830), 12,672 (1840), 20,515 (1850), 29,258 (1860), and 32,034 (1870).

Founded as a fort by Lemoyne d'Iberville (de Bienville) in 1702, Mobile continued to be the capital of the colony of Louisiana till 1723, when this rank was transferred to New Orleans. The site selected by Lemoyne was probably about 20 miles above the present position, which was first occupied after the floods of 1711. By the Treaty of Paris, 1763, Mobile and part of Louisiana were ceded to Britain; but in 1780 the fort (now Fort Charlotte) was captured by the Spanish general Galvez, and in 1783 it was recognized as Spanish along with other British possessions on the Gulf of Mexico. General Wilkinson, ex-governor of Louisiana, recovered the town for Louisiana in 1813, and in 1819, though its population did not exceed 2500, it was incorporated as a city. In 1864-65 Mobile and the neighbourhood was the scene of important military and naval engagements. The Confederates had surrounded the city by three lines of defensive works, but the defeat of their fleet by Admiral Farragut, and the capture of Fort Morgan, Spanish Fort, and Fort Blakelly, led to its immediate evacuation. As a municipal corporation, Mobile had got into such financial difficulties by 1879 that its city charter was repealed, and a board of commissioners established for the liquidation of its debt of $2,497,856.