Downtown Mobile is so rich in history that it’s impossible to know where exactly to start. My personal suggestion is to go with the trifecta of historic attractions. Fort Condé, Mobile History Museum, and the Condé -Charlotte House.
To understand the extensive history of the home, one has to look even further back than when it was constructed. Fort Condé, built in 1723 by the French, was named in honor of Louis Henri de Bourbon, Duke of Bourbon, Prince of Condé. At that time, Mobile was ruled by the French empire and Louis Henri de Bourbon was named prime minister by the French king, Louis XV the year it was built. Until its demolition in 1823, it was occupied by the French, the British, the Spanish, and then the United States. It changed names from Fort Condé to Fort Carlota under the Spanish, then to Fort Charlotte under the British. It was a central part of the colonial community in Mobile, but by the nineteenth century, Congress decided that there was no need for a fort within the city boundaries while Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines were guarding the bay.
The Condé-Charlotte House was first built in 1850 by Jonathan Kirkbride and his family. Through archeological excavations, it’s believed that the two-story brick home was built from materials scavenged from the demolished Fort Condé. Artifacts included things like brass knuckles and other building materials that suggest the home might have been the site of a former jail or courthouse. But for the Kirkbrides, it was home for a family of six children. Jonathan came to Mobile from New
Jersey and established himself as a wine merchant, the owner of a watch shop, and a master builder. With this foundation in Mobile society, the Kirkbrides and their descendants maintained hold on the home until 1926 as the Great Depression loomed over the economy.
George Flinn purchased the Kirkbride House in 1926 and by the 1930s, made it into a boarding house. Former residents have since visited the house and served as docents for the museum. The home’s backside was extended to include a kitchen and more rooms for boarders. In 1933, Historic American Buildings Survey photographed the home – just as they had done with the other historic homes in the area like the Bragg-Mitchell house. In 1936, however, under pressure from the failing economy and limited funds, the home fell into disrepair and was foreclosed.
It was in the bank’s possession until 1940 when the Historic Mobile Preservation Society claimed it. They conveyed an interest in it to the city, which provided upkeep for the property, so long as it was used as a “historic site and museum.” Up to this time, it had been known as the Kirkbride House in honor of its first inhabitants and portraits of them were donated by descendants to hang in the upstairs bedroom. The HMPS did a huge overhaul on the home to make it safe for visitors, replacing and repairing just about everything in the home to restore it to its former charm. Though the home was used as a headquarters and archives home for HMPS – before it was moved to the Oakleigh Mansion in 1955 – it was once utilized as an officers’ club for the navy during World War II. After the war, the home was open for tours, but was transferred to the City of Mobile in 1957.
Finally, the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Alabama (NSCDA in AL) bought the home from the City of Mobile and renamed the home to reflect the site’s historic location, adjacent to the present-day Fort Condé (rebuilt in the 1970s) which also serves as Mobile’s welcome center. Meticulous efforts were made to design and decorate the home to showcase the eras and cultural evolution the home witnessed over the last two hundred years. The first level featured four rooms, each with a unique display representing a distinct portion of Mobile history: an English parlor reflecting Mobile under British rule (the early 1760s through the early 1780s); another parlor representing the early 1800s; a room depicting the Confederate period; and the “museum room,” which held a variety of artifacts, including a replica of the 1711 French Fort Condé. The NSCDA in AL have preserved an opening in the room’s wooden floor, offering visitors a glimpse of a two-foot-thick brick floor dating from at least the 1820s, when a jail was built at the site.
The home has suffered temporary closures from hurricane damage, but the Condé-Charlotte House always has its doors open to eager history buffs who want a special tour that encompasses not just the legacy of the home, but of Mobile itself. Artifacts like an original 18th century chair, a bridal dress that dates back to our nation’s founding, and countless other relics are all there for viewing. The four flags hanging from the second story balcony help to represent the four nations that occupied the house since its foundation. Today, it shares a block with Fort Condé, which also strides the ground above the I-10 tunnel.
Parking is available to the left of the house on Theatre Street, but if it’s a little cramped, you can park along the street for 2 hour stints for free during the day. Parking is also open across the street for a small fee (if you pay for over 4 hours, you’re still within walking distance of the museum, the fort, and the house museum and you can do it all). I personally loved my tour. The ladies who guided me through the home were so knowledgeable about every piece of authentic furniture and the history of Mobile. For them, it’s not a job, it’s a passion. They were lovely hostesses and if I wasn’t pressed for time, I would have loved to stay and gab more. I highly recommend making time for the fort and the museum while you’re in the vicinity, and maybe take a stroll through Mardi Gras Park. There’s so much history to discover within just a few blocks of the Condé-Charlotte House that you can easily make a full day of it.
Tue – Sat: 11:00 am – 3:30 pm
104 Theatre Street, Mobile, Alabama
More about the NSCDA: