Dauphin Island, named after Louis XIV's great-grandson,
is a barrier island located three miles south
mouth of Mobile Bay in the Gulf of Mexico.
Entry to the island is made by crossing the Gordon Persons Bridge, three mile long high rise bridge, which opened a in July, 1982 after the original draw bridge was destroyed by Hurricane Frederic in 1979. An automobile ferry from the eastern shore also offers an entry point on the eastern end of the island.
The island is approximately 14 miles long and 1 3/4 miles wide at the widest point. The eastern six miles are inhabited while the western 8 miles are undeveloped and privately owned. It is estimated that 1300 permanent residents call Dauphin Island home. The number of residents soars during vacation and holiday times. The entire island has been designated as a bird sanctuary and thousands of visitors come to experience the annual migrations.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 166.1 square miles, of which, 6.2 square miles of it is land and 159.9 square miles of it (96.27%) is water.
Many attractions are located on the east end of the island including Fort Gaines, the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Dauphin Island Campground, Audubon Bird Sanctuary and numerous boat launch sites. Beautiful beaches of sugar white sand, public golf course and parks are added attractions located on the west end of the island. Together they make Dauphin Island a wonderful laid-back resort destination.
Serpentine shell middens, found in Shell Mound Park along the island's northern shore, attest to at least seasonal occupation by the Native American Mound Builder culture some 1,500 years ago.
In 1519, the Spanish explorer Alonzo Pineda was the first documented European to visit, staying long enough to map the island with remarkable accuracy.
The island's French history began on January 31, 1699, when the explorer Pierre Le Moyne, sieur d'Iberville, one of the founders of French Louisiana, arrived at Mobile Bay, and anchored near the island on his way to explore the mouth of the Mississippi River. D'Iberville named it "Isle Du Massacre" (Massacre Island) because of a large pile of human skeletons discovered there. The gruesome site turned out to be a simple burial mound that had been broken open by a hurricane, not a massacre site, but the name stuck.
D'Iberville later decided to locate a port for Fort Louis de La Louisiane on the island due to abundant timber, reliable supply of fresh water, and a deep-water harbor. The settlement consisted of a fort, a chapel, government owned warehouses, and residences. The island served as a major trading depot, unloading goods from Saint-Domingue (Haiti), Mexico, Cuba and France, and collecting furs in a short-lived fur trade.
Mobile Bay itself, before it was dredged, was too shallow, and its sand bars too shifting and treacherous, for ocean- going vessels to travel up the bay and Mobile River to Fort Louis de La Louisiane.
Fort Gaines on the eastern tip of the island was built between 1821 and 1848. It was occupied by Confederate forces in 1861, and captured by Federal troops during the Battle of Mobile Bay. The phrase, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead," was spoken by U. S. Admiral David Farragut just a few hundred yards from Dauphin Island's shore.
The first Sand Island Light, authorized in 1834, was replaced by a structure 150 feet high at a cost of $35,000 that was dynamited by Confederate forces. The present lighthouse (1873; in use until 1970), has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.