OLD DAUPHIN WAY Historic District

The Alabama School of Math & Science, Formerly Dauphin Way Baptist Church, at 1255 Dauphin Street 

Lying west of the city, the Old Dauphin Way District is part of the Price and Espejo tracts, large Spanish land grants of the early 1800s. Very little development occurred in the area until 1830-1840. From then on frequent listings in Mobile city directories show residents on Spring Hill Road, Spring Hill Shell Road (now Old Shell Road), Dauphin, Common, Ann, Julia, and Lafayette Streets.

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Most of the older structures in the district are simple frame cottages which originally housed carpenters, florists, bar pilots, steamboat captains, and commission merchants. Grander houses were also built and can still be seen along Dauphin Street and Spring Hill Avenue. Some street names reflect families who settled the area. For example, Espejo Street was name for Antonio Espejo, recipient of the western land grant by the Spanish crown, and Catherine Street was named for his wife Catalina. Reed Avenue was named for W. A. Reed who lived on that street, and he later subdivided Gladys and Kenneth Streets, which were named for two of his children. 

The street pattern in the Old Dauphin Way illustrates the interplay between the traditional American grid plan, seen in Mobile's De Tonti Square Historic District, and the picturesque model of city planning as it was developed in the latter part of the 19th century, particularly in designs such as that found in Riverside, Illinois, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. The mixture of the two influences became known as garden city planning and developed into the basis for the extensive development of the American suburb during the early 20th century.

The first tentative examples of this type of planning are introduced into Mobile in the Old Dauphin Way. The general grid plan of the major streets had been established during the middle years of the 19th century. The overlaying and integration of more picturesque influences occurs in the Old Dauphin Way with the development of Monterey Place with its broad landscaped central median in 1910 and the Fearnway and Blacklawn Place, 1907-08 and 1914, respectively, that break, if somewhat tentatively, the previously consistent grid pattern of the street plan.


Thus, the street pattern of the Old Dauphin Way represents an acceptance of contemporary planning ideas heralding the development of a new settlement form—the planned suburb. These "modern" ideals about spatial arrangements and lifestyles significantly influenced the later development of the area. What is particularly important about the Old Dauphin Way is that the expression of these ideas, in both planning and architecture, can be seen in the context which fostered their development—the late Victorian, working-class neighborhood.

By the time the development of the Old Dauphin Way District was essentially complete (c. 1930), land use patterns conformed to those typical of contemporary suburban developments. Lots were typically small, allowing for minimal setback and narrow alleys between houses while almost always providing for an ample back yard. In this way, the ideal of the American suburban movement was achieved—that of private open space in an essentially urban neighborhood. The development of this intensive, suburban land use pattern is the story of the development of the Old Dauphin Way neighborhood. The central influences in this development continue to be embodied in the buildings and streetscapes of the neighborhood.

The designs of the district's buildings consistently illustrate local responses to climate as well as social and economic concerns as Mobile developed from a commercial city following the Civil War to a modern metropolitan area in the 20th century. The key feature in the development of the suburb is the result of an increasingly important middle class— white and blue collar, job holders and job seekers—people whose expectations and opportunities changed drastically during the period from 1870 to 1930. These are the people who have left the record of their concerns and achievements embodied in the buildings and streets of the Old Dauphin Way. The development of the area as an early suburb is clearly important, as is the interpretation of contemporary architectural styles developed by the residents who inhabited the Old Dauphin Way. How they adapted their living spaces to the realities of Mobile's semi-tropical climate and what their image of the American dream was can be readily seen in the homes in the Old Dauphin Way.

source: Old Dauphin Way Association; Living Places, The Gomach Group