By T. Jensen Lacey

For generations of anglers, sailors, and shippers, the image of Middle Bay Light, as the locals call it, means you are about halfway across the Bay of Mobile. Built “up north,” the prefabricated house arrived in Mobile in 1885. Mobile Bay itself is quite shallow, and before the arrival of the lighthouse, the channel was marked with wooden stakes and barrels. n In the early 1880s, a 17-foot channel was dredged so large vessels could reach the Port of Mobile, and a lighthouse was deemed necessary to mark the channel.

Middle Bay Light is located at the bend of this dog-leg-shaped channel, and when placed here in 1885, its location (at roughly the middle of the bay) led to its nickname. People who witnessed the lighthouse being erected atop 48 fifty-foot piles must have been amazed.

The wooden hexagonal house with a pyramidal roof, sloping to a lantern room on the top of the structure was built on top of screw-piles, which had been sunk deep into the bottom of the bay. Remember, this was done with late-19th-century technology, and they had one chance to, as they say, “get it right.” Once it was in place, the entire structure settled 7 1⁄2 feet, and the house was set nearly perfectly—it was only about three inches from being totally level.

This feat of engineering still stands proudly in Mobile Bay. The house has been through hurricanes, tornadoes, and electrical storms and once was struck by a shrimp boat. It was also home to a cow, when during World War I, the lighthouse keeper and his wife had a baby, and the cow was needed for its milk.

No keeper was in care of the lighthouse from the mid-1930s until the late 1960s, and the lighthouse fell into disrepair. In 1967, the General Services Administration granted the Coast Guard permission to demolish the lighthouse, but before this could be carried out, several groups protested. When the Mobile Bay Pilots Association pointed out that the lighthouse could be picked up by ships’ radar much more easily than the small, more modern buoys, plans for the lighthouse’s demolition were abandoned.

In 1975, shortly after the lighthouse was put on the National Register of Historic Places the Alabama Historical Commission (AHC) took over care of the lighthouse. With the approach of the lighthouse’s centennial, the Middle Bay Light Centennial Commission, along with the volunteers of the Alabama Lighthouse Association, did fundraising and worked to restore the lighthouse to its former beauty, putting down new decking, replacing doors and windows, and giving the lighthouse a new coat of paint. On December 1, 1985, ships from all over the world and smaller boats of all sizes amassed at the lighthouse to celebrate.

Since then, the lighthouse has undergone further repairs and improvements. In 2002, Thompson Engineering, under contract with the Alabama Historical Commission, gave the lighthouse a new slate roof, repaired damaged wood, and replaced corroded metal tie rods.  The lighthouse also had its flashing red light replaced with a solar-powered one (its original Fresnel lens is currently on display at the nearby Fort Morgan Museum).

In 2009, the Alabama Lighthouse Association (ALA) proposed to move Middle Bay Light on land to nearby Battleship Park (in Mobile). When I asked Alabama Lighthouse Association member Stephen Quinlivan to “shed some light” on why this move had been proposed, he told me this: 

“The proposal in 2009 to move the light was based on a lack of funding to maintain the light in its place. We were worried about the long-term survival of the structure.” He added, “Our biggest struggle is raising funds to keep up with the rapid deterioration associated with a building standing in such an environment.” 

Fortunately, with the combined efforts of the AHC, Seamen’s Foundation, and the ALA, they were able to complete a $50,000 project in the fall of 2017. The roof was repaired, the exterior painted, and all needed carpentry work was done. Quinlivan added, “Many projects are still in need of funding to keep this local treasure in good shape. As you can imagine, the limited access makes repair work extremely costly.”

If you are unable to make it to see Middle Bay Lighthouse for yourself, the GulfQuest Maritime Museum in downtown Mobile has an exhibit called “The Lantern Room,” which is in their parking lot and was donated to them by the Alabama Lighthouse Association.

Jan 24, 2024
Water Side of Scenic 98

Join Our Community

Sign up below to subscribe to our weekly newsletter

* indicates required

More from 

Water Side of Scenic 98


View All