My Southern Adventure and The Historic Fort Conde Inn
To say I was charmed by my trip South would be an understatement. When I first shared my news with you (click here to catch-up) I really didn’t know what to expect, but I was going!! Well, from the beginning of my trip… until I touched down back home here in Oregon, I was enchanted.
Yes… there were a few travel hiccups, but much like childbirth pain, they were quickly forgotten.
Flashback to me sitting at my desk one morning, going through my email… just starting my day, and I come across something interesting. Keep in mind, I get a lot of emails, and some whacky ones to boot! This was different though. The lovely Kristina (later to become my airline booking ninja bff!) was inviting me, on behalf of Phantom Screens, and the CEO Esther De Wolde… to tour a real Southern home being restored. In the SOUTH. Where I had never been. In my life.
I did some quick sleuthing and returned Kristina’s email with a phone call. After a lovely phone conversation, I accepted. Which you know, and obviously I went, as evidenced by my Instagram account, which included the obligatory snapshot out the plane window that I know is so cliche’… but I did anyway.
(and proceeded to take about 25 more somewhere between Texas and Oregon, picturesque beauties with snow and clouds that were enthralling!) I spared you those. You’re welcome.
So, back to the invite. Did I want to tour a historic home, up close, from the inside? Not just stalker like, driving by… or on an evening stroll through the neighborhood, trying to see between a slit in the drapes when the lights are on inside.
My detective-like, sneaky skills are sorely lacking.
Bonus – They would be inviting other bloggers as well. Hard to believe, but I had never met another real-live blogger in person. So that was like the icing on the “inside the home, in the South, cake” invitation.
The girls: Shannon – AKA Designs | Beth – Unskinny Boppy | Me | Kelly – Live Laugh Rowe | Robin – Renovation Bootcamp | Rhoda – Southern Hospitality | Debbie – Refresh Restyle | KariAnne – Thistlewood Farms
(more about the girls later)
When I landed in Alabama I was greeted by Kristina and Paul and big smiles. Paul was holding a sign, just like in the movies. They don’t let Kristina hold the sign anymore… it’s just not a good idea. Paul is questionable as a sign holder as well. In fact, they might need a new sign alotgether… and no, I’m not going to elaborate. I’ll plead “What happens in Mobile, stays in Mobile, on that one.
I was whisked through the airport.
Okay, hang on, let me be honest. (ugh… so less glamorous)
We walked through the black top parking lot, after 10 at night… in what felt like air that was alive. hahaha. But I was prepared for that. It felt more than tropical. But our slick ride had AC, so it was all good!!
We arrived at the Fort Conde Inn, which was statuesque… stately… just stunning.
A little about the inn: Requiring two years of meticulous workmanship, Fort Conde Inn has now been restored to its original Victorian splendor. Built in 1836, Fort Conde Inn is Mobile’s second oldest house. The Inn features original heart pine flooring, custom-milled stairways, moldings, and window and door trim, marble fireplace mantles, plaster walls, 12-foot ceilings and crystal chandeliers. Walking into the Inn today is like taking a step back in time to nineteenth century Mobile.
Tucked away on a quiet street in Fort Conde Village surrounded by other nicely restored Victorian homes, this elegant and intimate Inn is conveniently located within walking distance of historical landmarks, museums, unique dining spots, the local entertainment district, churches, government and financial centers and Mobile’s waterfront.
A gourmet breakfast is prepared by our Chef to your order every morning.
(We were seated in the dining room, center photo above). Your choices on a given day may include a selection of fresh fruits and juices, a variety of omelettes and pancakes, fresh baked breakfast breads and biscuits, Gulf of Mexico fresh blue crabmeat and shrimp, local honey and homemade jams. There is no better way to start your day than with a splendid array of Southern delicacies.
The feel at the inn was one of comfortable, casual elegance. The staff was warm & friendly. The chef made you feel like you were a guest in his home, and he was simply entertaining friends. I recommend the Crème Brûlée French Toast. Even if you can’t finish it!
When Kristina, Paul and I arrived at the inn, Esther and Richard were waiting up. They had a snack for me, which was so sweet, since I had done a lot of running from plane-to-plane, and missed getting a chance to eat. The hospitality exuded by Esther (I’m sorry, I’m a first name kind of girl!) and her team was nothing short of quintessentially “Southern”. Or what I always imagined Southern charm to be. These Canadians… on an adventure, following their fearless, home renovating leader! And we talked. Which if you know me, you know I adore an accent! So fun, just to listen. Richard is from England, Paul if from Ghana and Kristina (A.K.A. Elsa) is from Estonia. I felt so utterly boring. hahaha
As you might guess… it feels like we got to talk, visit and get to know each other for so much more than two and a half days. With some Instagram messaging thrown in for good measure.
Back to the amazing Inn though!!
After a bit of visiting, I was shown to my room. The Margaret Suite.
The walls were 47 feet tall…. and the baseboards at least 5 feet of that! I wanted to put the mouldings in my pocket.
… and the chandelier.
I shared the bathroom with you that very evening.
Yes, it was that good. I can tell you… after touring the Inn online and a bit in person… I hit the BATHROOM lottery. It was hands down, the best room at the inn. In my “claw foot tub, fireplace having, massive shower, double sink, silk draperies, room to do a cartwheel” opinion.
And don’t even get me started on the sheets… blissful buttah.
BUTTER I tell you!! But enough about butter…
The Inn’s History
Because everything in the South has a story.
1165 St. Emanuel Street, known in Mobile as the Hall-Ford House after its prior owners, and operated today as the Fort Conde Inn, is one of the oldest residential properties in Mobile and one of its most significant historically.
The Inn was built in 1836 by Edward Hall of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who came to Mobile in the 1820’s to make his fortune in the cotton trade. He became a Commission Merchant, purchasing “White Gold” from Alabama plantations and shipping to the world market from the Port of Mobile. In 1823 he was an organizer and director of the Bank of Mobile and in 1840-41 served as Mayor of the City while residing in the house. Mr. Hall bought the land for $800 on December 31, 1834 and completed the house in 1836 as confirmed by property records showing that he was taxed on vacant land for 1835 and for a “house, lots and warehouse” with a value of $16,000 in 1836. He sold the house to Isaac Spear for $11,000 in 1853. Mr. Spear built the brick house next door to the north, also recently restored, which dates to 1854. (See, Mobile Historic Development Commission Report, August, 1973.)
In 1897 Mr. Spear’s heirs sold the Inn to Ellen Quinn. Ms. Quinn was a widow when she bought the house and passed it on to her daughter, Mamie Quinn who married Thomas Joseph Ford. They had one child, Thomas Allison Ford, Sr., who had three sons with Mabel Wall Ford; Thomas Allison Ford, Jr., Michael Aloysius Ford, Sr., and Richard Vincent Ford. Thomas Ford Jr. lives in Mobile today and Michael Ford Sr. lives in Fairhope. Thomas Ford Jr. had three children, Florence Ford Hindes, Quinn Ford and Deidre Ford Cenac. Michael Ford had eight, Michael Aloysius Ford, Jr., David Patrick Ford, Daniel Thomas Ford, Mena Ford Sandoz, Patrick Joseph Ford, Amy Ford Molyneux, Mara Ford Hodes, and Megan Ford Sawyer. In July of 1984, the City of Mobile acquired the property from the Fords in order to proceed with plans for redevelopment of Fort Conde Village. Altogether the Ford family’s ownership and stewardship of this property was longer than anyone else’s. It spans most of Mobile’s history in the 20th century.
The City of Mobile’s interest in the Village dates to about 1973 during their preparations for the U.S. Bicentennial. Restoration of Fort Conde next door was completed prior to the celebrations in 1976 and in preparation for the event, streets and sidewalks in the Village were bricked and gas lamps were installed.
In 1998, the entire Village consisting of 13 buildings was leased to Fort Conde Restoration Venture, LLC, whose owner, Lawrence Posner, a developer from New York , initially came to Mobile in 1990 to invest in apartment properties. Mr. Posner and his partner David Bradley of Mobile immediately commenced restoration of the buildings, starting first with 162 and 164 Saint Emanuel Street. Eleven buildings including the Inn have now been completed. Just opened on June 29, 2011, the Inn has been restored to many of Edward Hall’s original specifications. Missing parts of the main stair railing and the newel post were remilled and stained to match the black walnut originally imported from the Northeast. Balusters, doors, door trim, and window sashes were also repaired and the parlors, some of which had been partitioned, were returned to their original dimensions. Decorative items, including crystal chandeliers and fireplace mantels are akin to what might have been present during Mr. Hall’s tenure in the 1840’s and 50’s.
Prior History (the pre-inn days)
The Inn is situated on the outer grounds of Fort Conde, a French fort built in 1720 to protect the City in its earliest days from incursions by the British and Spanish who were vying for territories in the New World.
The Fort was named after the Prince of Conde, Louis Henri, Duke of Bourbon, a grandson of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan. As a direct descendant of the reigning monarch, he bore the title “Prince du Sang”. In 1723 he became Premier Ministre to Louis XV upon the death of the king’s former Regent, Cardinal Dubois.
Louis Henri de Bourbon died in 1740 and was succeeded as Prince of Conde by his four-year-old son, Louis Joseph who, unlike his father, used the title Prince of Conde during his life. He was a Governor of Burgundy and a general in the French Army. In 1789 at the onset of the French Revolution, he escaped from France with his son and grandson, thereby avoiding arrest and likely execution. In 1791, he helped to organize a large counterrevolutionary army of emigres called the Army of Conde. For ten years, it fought successively on behalf of the Austrians, English, and Russians. Upon the Bourbon restoration after the defeat of Napoleon, he returned to Paris and resumed his duties as Grand Maitre to Louis XVIII. He died in 1818. (See Louis Henri, Duke of Bourbon and Louis Joseph Prince of Conde, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)
While the Inn itself, having been built in 1836 after Alabama became part of the United States of America, was never under French sovereignty, the land on which it was built was part of the earliest settlements of the City of Mobile. In recognition of Mobile’s French roots, the rooms at the Inn have been named in French and the fleur de lis motif has been placed atop the wrought iron railings installed at the south and east elevations of the property.
I simply had to include all the history. It’s so rich and so very interesting! The inn was only fully restored thanks to a massive effort. We very much enjoyed the court yard, the setting for our reception the first night all the girls were together. (I flew in early in order to make the reception) The other gals started arriving the next afternoon and into the early evening.
The group, with Esther front & center! There were several cameras on us, so getting a great shot with us all looking in the same place was sort of laughable.
There was a lot of rain on & off, but Esther had her heart set on an outdoor reception. Despite rain showers, she moved forward as if outdoors was going to happen. I swear, by sheer force of will, she stopped the rain!
We were greeted by ourselves! hahaha
I was in print. How odd? But an experience to be sure!
Burlap wrapped roses were dappled about the patio.
It was perfectly vintage & delightful!
With a wonderful glow…
and great company!
Everyone was buzzing about so it was difficult to get a picture! We all brought dresses and more formal attire for the evening… but everyone decided to keep it casual and we all wore comfy stuff instead.
Richard & Paul
Kristina & Esther
Lovely bags were given to all, with goodies and a customized lanyard that was actually a mini booklet-itinerary for the next day! The signature color choice is a beauty, don’t you think?
Complete with Mason Jar goodness.
Handcrafted by the resident, fancy vest lover.
As I was writing, I realized that my trip was going to take more that one post to tell the story properly. Shocker from “the talker” I know… but, I’m well over 2,000 words, it’s late, and I’m dinner-less.
So… I will leave you here and we shall tour the Morgan Ford house next! Just too much good stuff, and I dare not leave out a pretty pictures or a juicy detail.
Till next time… take care!
My travel and hotel accommodations were graciously provided by Phantom Screens.