City officials and the Orange Beach community gathered on February 5th to unveil the city’s newest historical marker at Bay Circle and Canal Road, adjacent to Waterfront Park.
As the Bay Circle marker states, “This area, located along the southern shore of Wolf Bay, was the original ‘DOWNTOWN’ of Orange Beach.” Before automobile industry took hold, the bayfront was the city’s main thoroughfare.
The ceremony was part of ALABAMA 200, a three-year celebration that culminates later this year, marking Alabama’s 200th anniversary of statehood. The Bay Circle plaque is the city’s sixth marker, joining others at Perdido Pass, Romar Beach, the Orange Beach Municipal Complex, Bear Point Cemetery and the Coastal Arts Center, which is the site of the original Orange Beach Hotel. Four more historical markers are planned, according to local author and historian Margaret Childress-Long, who spearheaded the effort as a member of the Baldwin County Historic Development Commission and received the support of the Orange Beach City Council.
During the ceremony, Mayor Tony Kennon said memorializing the city’s history is important.
“It’s a big deal to me, as I’m sure it is to y’all, recounting the history of our town,” Mayor Kennon said. “It goes way back and it is a special history. It’s really amazing as I’m now starting to make my little get-to-know-your-beach tour around the state, how little a lot of folks know about Orange Beach and what we do every year and we’re we came from.”
Childress-Long led the ceremony, inviting Merle Harms and Sally DeJarnette to unveil the plaque. Harms’ grandfather, Dan Callaway, and DeJarnette’s father, David DeJarnette, are mentioned in the Bay Circle marker, as part of Orange Beach’s history.
The bronze marker was written by Childress-Long and read as follows:
BAY CIRCLE (front - facing west on Canal Road)
This area, located along the southern shore of Wolf Bay, was the original ‘DOWNTOWN’ of Orange Beach. Beginning in the 1870’s, the two schooners of James C. Callaway were anchored near here in the deep-water Boat Basin. The schooners were used for importing supplies or exporting products like oranges, shingles, or turpentine sap. They later service the lighthouse beacons in the Gulf of Mexico.
In 1909, D.R. Peteet bought 3,254 acres here that he called Gulf Bay Tract. He built a shingle mill near the community’s vital wharf. The 1920 Schoolhouse was also located here and was used on alternating Sunday’s by the Baptist and Presbyterians. In 1953 both built their own churches nearby. The Schoolhouse also served as a community meeting place and a place for the annual Community Picnic put on by the Home Demonstration club. The Club raised enough money to buy the land for a Community Center now located one mile east of here.
BAY CIRCLE (back side - facing east)
Elsie E. Diehl was the Postmaster of the first Orange Beach Post Office in 1901, and at a second location in 1921. Just to the west, the Orange Beach Hotel was built in 1923 by Hilda Callaway Dietz. She operated the hotel until the war began in 1941 when the coast was essentially closed to tourists and fishing.
Just east of here, Captain Dan Callaway’s c. 1907 home and summer kitchen are still in use. The kitchen was a store in the 1930s, operated by Emmons Brown. It had gas pumps serving boats and the few cars in the area. In 1937, this became the third post office with Minnie Lee Callaway Brown as Postmaster.
In 1971, Capt. Dan’s home became the retirement home of David DeJarnette, Father of Alabama Archaeology. The Orange Beach Hotel was demolished in 2015 with a new building of similar design built in its place to operate as the Coastal Arts Center of Orange Beach.
“I don’t need to tell you how much I love history and I look forward to our next four markers,” Childress-Long said. “Bay Circle, this is the fourth one on the Alabama 200. But I’m also wanting one on the Backcountry Trail, Caswell, Bear Point and then one for the Intracoastal Canal. And that will give Orange Beach 10 markers. We also hope to be able to have a little brochure with the markers on it and all of these people who are biking and walking around they can [stop] at City Hall or over at the museum and we can tell them, ‘Hey if you want to know something about Orange Beach, go look for these markers.’”
DeJarnette thanked everyone who was involved with getting the marker put in place. “It’s wonderful,” she said. “I also want to thank my parents for having the good judgement to retire here and finding us a wonderful place to come. When they passed away Jim and I said well, maybe we better just go on down and take care of the home place. So we did. I brought with me copies of my father’s book. It’s his World War II journal and photography. He was an archaeologist but he was also a terrific photographer.”
Harms shared a story about her family history and her ties to Orange Beach. “My father came with one of the dredges that dredged the canal,” she said. “And my great aunt who owned the hotel at that time had a party. And he and some of the other workers were staying at the hotel and my mother who lived over here [on Bay Circle] went over there and they ended up getting married. So if it hadn’t been for that hotel, I don’t know who my father would’ve been.”
Those in attendance enjoyed the story, and the public is invited to enjoy all of the stories and history depicted on the six markers around the city.