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What is the oldest house in Mobile?

What may be the oldest house in Mobile, at 1664 Spring Hill Avenue, was once the home of Mobile’s initiating masked society member, Michael Krafft. This photograph, from the 1936 Historic American Buildings Survey, dates to the Walsh family ownership. Photo Courtesy Library of Congress

Though there are a few contenders, my vote is for the Vincent house, which stands at 1664 Spring Hill Avenue. Much of the home’s original acreage now holds the Geri Moulton Children’s Park, which fronts the USA Children’s and Women’s Hospital.

The age of the house is up for speculation. Many date it to 1827, but others date it around 1830 since its original occupant was definitely living here in 1831.

Captain Benjamin Vincent was a native of Bristol, Pennsylvania, a town north of Philadelphia. He and his wife Ann Krafft Vincent arrived in Mobile in 1827, and the captain made a comfortable fortune operating a steamship between Mobile Bay and New Orleans.

The Vincent home in 1831 would have been far smaller than today’s structure. It would have been a raised cottage consisting of a large parlor and two bedrooms surrounded on all sides by open porches.

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American homes in that period did not have designated dining rooms, so the parlor and porches would have been multipurpose spaces. A kitchen would have occupied a separate structure on the property. In the early 1830s, the house was occupied by the Vincents, their two small children and Ann’s brother, Michael.

Mobile’s First Masker

Michael Krafft was a young cotton broker. On New Year’s Eve 1831, Krafft and his cohorts were out doing some serious celebrating. On their way home, they raided the sidewalk display of a hardware store and picked up an assortment of rakes and cowbells, and one of the group decided they should visit the mayor.

Amid the clanging of cowbells, and no doubt a good bit of singing, the group arrived at the mayor’s home where they awoke the good-natured politician who asked what they were doing. Krafft announced that they were members of the Cowbellion de Rakin Society. History tells us the mayor invited them in for a drink and toasted America’s first masked parading society.

Both Captain Vincent and his brother-in-law died in 1839. Vincent was a victim of yellow fever and the 32-year-old masker undoubtedly succumbed to the disease as well. Both are buried in Magnolia Cemetery where Krafft’s monument, adorned with the Cowbellion de Rakin symbol, is regularly draped with Mardi Gras beads.

The Vincent descendants ultimately sold the house to John T. McNamara in the 1890s.

Cottage to Multi-Bedroom

McNamara owned Mobile’s Hotel Windsor. According to the 1900 federal census, he and his wife were residing at the home with their eight children, two cousins and Mrs. McNamara’s mother. When the McNamaras took over the three-room house, it was enlarged with the ground floor in-filled to provide space for a stair hall, dining room and kitchen. The upstairs porches were enclosed on three sides to provide extra bedrooms and an extra bath.

In the mid-1920s, the home was purchased by Richard Walsh and his wife, Alabama. The couple had previously lived on Church Street where the household consisted of eight Walsh offspring and Mrs. Walsh’s sister and her husband. Further alterations and additions were made to the Spring Hill Avenue property for the Walsh family.

The Vincent house remained residential for well over 150 years and, later on, operated briefly as a bed and breakfast. Since 1990, it has housed the Medical Museum of Mobile, allowing Mobilians to combine a look at the area’s extensive medical history with a tour of a very historic house.

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