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A hurricane to remember: The tragic 1906 storm that struck Mobile

By Tom McGehee, Museum Director of the Bellingrath Home

On September 27, 1906, a hurricane struck Mobile, causing more than $15 million in damage and drowning an estimated 150 people in the southern part of the county.

The steamship Fort Morgan sits high and dry amid debris at the foot of St. Francis Street.
The steamship Fort Morgan sits high and dry amid debris at the foot of St. Francis Street. (Courtesy of McCall Library/USA Archives)

The storm moved in on the evening of the 26th, and by the next morning, Mobilians awoke to find the air filled with flying objects – shutters, signs, roof shingles, tree branches, and even bricks from falling walls and chimneys.

View of the Southern Hotel on Water Street.
The Southern Hotel is shown on flooded Water Street. The hotel was the source of ironworks in the Bellingrath Home. (Courtesy of McCall Library/USA Archives)
Mobile's waterfront lay in shambles after the storm surge. (Courtesy of McColl Library/USA Archives)
Mobile’s waterfront lay in shambles after the storm surge. (Courtesy of McCall Library/USA Archives)

Walter Bellingrath had arrived in Mobile only two years earlier to start the Mobile Coca-Cola Bottling Company, and unfortunately his business at that time was on the aptly named Water Street. Water from Mobile Bay backed up into the river, overflowing the wharves and flooding city streets. Water Street was described as a “surging maelstrom.”

There was no radar to warn of the impending hurricane and the local weather bureau had simply raised a storm flag as their instruments reflected bad weather was ahead.  This pattern would not change until 1912 and the Titanic tragedy, after which all ships were required to be fitted with wireless sets, which allowed them to alert coastal towns about bad weather at sea.

The roof of Mr. Bellingrath’s plant was partially destroyed and the rising flood waters carried off dozens of his wooden shipping cases. Many businesses fared worse, and the plant was back to bottling in a matter of days. Walter Bellingrath later wrote to a brother, “the next time they hang out that weather flag, I’m going to leave town!”

For the young bottler, the fall of 1906, which had begun with a disaster, concluded with the happy date of November 14, 1906, when Walter Bellingrath married Bessie Mae Morse.

Driftwood covers the western shore of Mobile Bay after the 1906 hurricane. (Courtesy of McColl Library/USA Archives)
Driftwood covers the western shore of Mobile Bay after the 1906 hurricane. (Courtesy of McCall Library/USA Archives)