After being thrust into the national spotlight, thanks to Hurricane Frederic’s 1979 torrent, people from all over America discovered what Alabamians had long since known: Gulf Shores’ pristine white beaches are second to none. Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine a time when tourism didn’t reign supreme in the coastal Alabama town.
Decades before souvenir shops and high-rise condos began dotting the coastline, a lack of roads and bridges made reaching the powdery shore difficult. Even so, frolickers found their way to the Gulf’s edge, settling in for a day of waterfront picnicking or sunbathing.
Those too tired to return home had a few lodging options in the 1950s, one of which was Roberts Beach Cottages, as seen above. Named for owner Harry Roberts (pictured above right with wife Bessie), the 12 cottages were open year-round and boasted air-conditioning and gas heat. Roberts, along with Ernest Romeo (left), were just two of many Birmingham-area businessmen who moved to Gulf Shores in the ’40s and ’50s to build vacation rentals.
But it wasn’t just entrepreneurs trekking south from the Iron City. As Birmingham News reporter Jack House wrote in the July 10, 1950, issue of the daily paper, “Birmingham people have made it possible for this long-deserted area of barren beach land to be turned into an attractive tourist center. It’s 300 miles from Birmingham to Gulf Shores. Yet no two places in Alabama are closer together than these.”
“When my family first visited Gulf Shores in the 1950s, it was a rustic, sleepy town that attracted few tourists. A single pay phone stood at the main road intersection, and rental cabins sitting close to the water were cooled with ocean breezes.”Excerpt from Marcus Woolf’s essay, “Going Old School on Alabama’s Gulf Coast“
Gulf Shores Timeline
1920s: The first hotel in Gulf Shores opens
1934: The Civilian Conservation Corps begins construction of buildings and trails in the soon-to-be Gulf State Park
1937: Construction of the Intracoastal Waterway is completed
1939: Gulf State Park opens and includes cabins and a beachfront casino, which features a bathhouse, concessions and bathing suit rentals
1946: Bus service from Mobile to Gulf Shores begins, increasing tourism
1968: An 825-foot fishing pier is complete; it will subsequently be destroyed and thrice-rebuilt, due to hurricanes
1971: The first annual Alabama National Shrimp Festival is held
1979: Hurricane Frederic wreaks destruction exceeding $1.77 billion
- Did you know? In an effort to promote Gulf Shores, specialized vehicle tags were introduced in 1952, reading simply, “Visit Gulf Shores.”
- Hurricane Flossy dumped 16.3 inches of rain on Gulf Shores in September 1956
- 15K – Roughly the number of years ago Paleo-Indians inhabited the Gulf Shores area