Check Mates

Mobile, founded in 1702, was well over a century old before its residents enjoyed the convenience of running water in their homes. In 1814, the portage on Three Mile Creek was a key source of water. Each barrel cost 50 cents. In 1819, according to MAWSS, a public well was installed in what is now Bienville Square.

One of the pioneers of the Port City’s running water system was German, Albert Stein (1785 – 1874). Long before he moved to Mobile, Stein served as a hydraulic engineer in Napoleon Bonaparte’s army during the French Revolution. According to Stein’s relatives, the two often spent time playing chess. They used a 32-piece set, above, made of ivory and briarwood.

After Napoleon was exiled to Saint Helena, Stein fled to America. In 1840, he moved to Mobile from New Orleans and leased Spanish Waterworks. He relocated the company to the top of Spring Hill and used oak log pipes to transport water from the new location downhill to Mobile residents. Unfortunately, the system could not supply water to the
entire city.

Stein then moved his operation to the corner of Spring Hill Avenue and Lafayette Street (now Lyons Park). From there, he calculated that he could supply 160, 000 gallons of water to more than 3, 000 Mobile customers a day. By 1874, the amount increased to 226, 000 gallons a day. This was Mobile’s only water system until 1886.

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The Stein family recently donated the prized chess set to the Museum of Mobile. The antique collection of game pieces had been handed down until it reached Albert’s great-grandson George B. Stein.

text by Jacob Laurence

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