Historic Blakeley State Park: Ghost Town and Battlefield

At first Blakeley State Park seems like most other state parks, with a lot of natural features. The 2,000-acre park includes campgrounds, nature trails, and pavilions for group picnics. Its location on the Tensaw River makes it ideal for fishing. But, the park is far more than nature-related. It’s a historic site that will fascinate any history buff. You see, Blakeley at one time was one of the largest cities in Alabama. In fact, it served as the Baldwin county seat until the 1860s. Today, Blakeley is only a ghost town within the park. In addition to the ghost town, the park includes remnants of Fort Blakeley, the site of one of the last battles of the Civil War.

We suggest taking the auto tour of the park. Pick up a brochure at the park’s gate and follow the map. Stop at the numbered signs and call the cell phone number on the map to hear detailed descriptions at each stop.

The Rise and Fall of Blakeley

When Josiah Blakeley founded the town, named for himself, in 1814, he envisioned it as a commercial rival for Mobile. After Alabama’s 1819 admission to statehood, the town grew rapidly. By the early 1820s, the population reached 4,000, larger than Mobile’s 2,800. Blakeley was one of the state’s largest cities.

Then, yellow fever hit. Epidemics struck the region in 1822, 1826, and 1828. The disease decimated Blakeley’s population. Casualties were so high, they buried the dead in mass graves.

But, since Blakeley was the county seat, the city survived into the 1860s. Only about a hundred people lived there by the time of the Civil War. After the war, the county seat was moved to Daphne, and the town was abandoned.

Today’s Ghost Town in Historic Blakeley State Park

When the town ceased to exist, several buildings were dismantled and moved to Mobile. Only the foundation of the courthouse and jail remains of the original buildings. However, today the park’s Washington Square section features “ghost structures.” The structures represent a typical home and business establishments of the 1820s. They are rough frames of the buildings, so you can see the size and shape of what the buildings would have been. Also in the area is a sign pointing out the “hanging tree.” Across from the courthouse and jail, it’s believed to be the tree used to execute criminals sentenced to death.

Blakeley Town Cemetery

When you reach the Blakeley Cemetery on the auto tour, you’ll notice two sections. The main section was the cemetery during the town’s heyday. The earliest burials here were around 1818 and the latest in the mid-1800s. Unfortunately, from the time of the town’s demise until the state park took the land over, the cemetery wasn’t cared for. Between neglect and vandalism, few tombstones remain.

Off to the side is a separate cemetery where people were interred until the mid-1950s. A memorial to fallen Battle of Fort Blakeley soldiers also stands in this cemetery.

The Battle of Fort Blakeley

Rather than the strong brick forts like we saw at Fort Gaines and Fort Morgan, Fort Blakeley was largely constructed of earthen berms. One of the main purposes of the fort was to keep Union troops from advancing to Mobile. The area that still stands is only one-tenth of the original battlefield length. Rows of sharpened stakes, wire strung between tree stumps, and rudimentary land mines made approaching the fort more difficult.

Half of the roughly 3,500 soldiers at Fort Blakeley were mere boys, teenagers who had never been in battle before. Most of the other half were men in their 40s to 60s who had been bypassed for service earlier.

Union troops who attacked Fort Blakeley numbered around 16,000. Despite being outnumbered more than four-to-one, the Confederates put up a good fight at first. They skirmished for over a week, with the Union moving closer and closer to the fort. When the Union troops got to the fort, they did trip some of the land mines. But the sheer number of Union troops overwhelmed the Confederates. The final battle, fought on April 9, 1865, was over within 30 minutes. By April 12, the City of Mobile was also taken.

Remnants of Fort Blakeley
Remnants of Fort Blakeley

If You Visit Historic Blakeley State Park

Historic Blakeley State Park is located at 34745 State Highway 225, near Spanish Fort, Alabama. We spent several hours doing the auto tour, although we got out of the car often to see the sites closer up. Be sure to ask for a map and auto tour guide when you enter the gate. Visit the park’s website for further details.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *