Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island

Fort Gaines is a well preserved 1800s fort on Dauphin Island that serves as a popular attraction for historic trips and tours. Located in the eastern region of the island, the fort was first officially established in 1819 as a U.S. Third System defense, with construction taking up to 1861 to fully complete.

It was a key site for the Battle of Mobile Bay during the American Civil War and before that was a strategic naval defense area for the British and French. Today it’s one of the most visited family friendly historic sites in Alabama, full of activities, excursions and events for kids and adults.

How Fort Gaines Came About

Dauphin Island was first named “Massacre Island” when the French arrived in 1699 due to the many Native Americans burial skeletons that were seen upon landing.

Raided by pirates in 1711, the French colony not only survived, but it became the home of the French Governor General of the Louisiana Territory. Already renamed by the French as “Dauphin Island,” the island passed through British and Spanish hands before becoming part of the United States.
With the purpose of defending its new territory and ensuring that other nations wouldn’t be able to control the area, the American government established Fort Gaines between 1819 and 1861.

The fort was named after General Edmund P. Gaines, a major figure of the War of 1812. This fort and Fort Morgan on the opposite side of Mobile Bay were constructed to defend the bay entrance.

fort gaines dauphin island

Visiting the Fort Now

Today, visitors can enjoy a variety of historical activities for kids and adults such as the exhibition of original cannons, five pre-Civil War brick buildings, an operational blacksmith shop, kitchens, a museum, gift shop, and tunnels that were the site of important moments in U.S. history.

Visitors can also find guided tour excursions held throughout the year and presented by experts dressed up with typical costumes from the era. Tours often include cannon and blacksmithing demonstrations.

For one of the best things to do there, see the anchor of the USS Hartford. It was on this ship where Union Admiral David Farragut gave his famous Civil War command: “Damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead!”

The museum helps visitors get acquainted with the historical details of the period during which the fort and area were used, starting with the French colonial presence in the 18th century, then onto the Civil War era up to today.

Restoration and Care

Fort Gaines is widely known known as one of the best preserved Civil War forts. The ramparts of Fort Gaines have watched the entrance to Mobile Bay for well over a century, during which they have remained well maintained. These ramparts now offer incredible panoramic views of Gulf of Mexico.

However, due to storms and continued and inevitable erosion, the fort has suffered damages. These have been carefully repaired over years so that it remains a viable historic activity.

The fort was designated as one of the Eleven Most Endangered Historic Sites in America by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

fort gaines dauphin island

Location and Hours

Fort Gaines is located at 51 Bienville Blvd., Dauphin Island, Alabama; and it is open daily from 9 AM to 5 PM year-round.

Admission rates are $6 for adults over 13 years old, $4 for children between 5 and 12 years old, and free for children under 5.

A Fascinating Thing to Do

Not only is the Fort one of the most fascinating things to do on the island for history enthusiasts, but the entirety of Dauphin Island is a dedicated wildlife preservation and also a vacation area full of attractions.

Dauphin Island is relaxed and quiet, a far cry from the loud hustle of many other beaches along the gulf. It is full of off-the-radar beaches, piers, sand bars and fishing spots, which remain ideal for family day trips and excursions.

Visitors can take in the sprawling beaches, protected natural environments, and enjoy many family friendly amenities in this very historic environment. Please contact us today at (251)-861-3311 for more information about traveling to Dauphin Island, lodging choices, or if you have any questions about things to do here.

ACP Real Estate

900 Bienville Blvd.
P.O. Box 1177
Dauphin Island, Alabama 36528

(251) 861-3311

Sign Up for our Email