“This weekend we are celebrating the 150th birthday of our house on Washington Square. When it was built in 1870, the area was laid out, but there were few houses. Washington Square was dedicated in 1850, but development began after the Civil War.
The house was built during the Reconstruction period. It was a bad time for Mobile, one of the last Confederate ports of any consequence to be taken by the Union. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. William Seward and the hard-liners took over. They were brutal. In 1876, Rutherford B Hayes was elected. He removed federal troops from the Confederacy but didn’t give Mobile, or much of the South, anything to recover.
The federal government placed confiscated Confederate ammunition in a warehouse in downtown Mobile. It blew up on May 5, 1865, killing hundreds of people and leveling many blocks of the city. My great-grandfather had businesses in that area and lost everything. He was the chairman of a delegation that went to Washington to ask for help after the disaster. They wouldn’t even meet them. There was no Marshall Plan for rebuilding. We were the tail end of the dog and got nothing. A bad time got worse in Mobile.
The man who built this house was a lumber dealer. The lumber business was strong because there were plenty of pine trees, but no brick or wrought iron after the war. This exact house plan was built several places in this area, including down the block. The houses were built to last because the wood was so good. The original cypress siding is on the front of this house. They carved spindles out of wood, giving it the appearance of wrought iron on the porch.
My father’s family came to Alabama from Europe in the early 1830s. They built a cabin in the ‘Vine and Olive Colony’ in Demopolis. The area was created as a place for Napoleon refugees to live and grow grapes and olives. Napoleon sympathizers were thrown out of Europe or killed because Napoleon escaped from exile. My great-great-great-grandfather was German but conscripted into Napoleon’s army to invade Russia. He never came back. None of them did. His son escaped to Demopolis with the refugees and worked for a Frenchman. The colony failed and they moved Mobile, a French city that was easy to reach by river. They settled in Napoleonville, which is now Crichton.
My great-great-grandfather dismantled his cabin in the Vine and Olive Colony and used it for a raft. His family floated with their belongings down the river to Mobile and settled in Napoleonville. His name was Harse but the probate in Mobile changed it to Haas. He didn’t want to argue and risk getting thrown out.
He was a butcher and went into the meat business in Mobile. The Haas cattle farm stretched from Bayshore Avenue to west of the interstate and from Old Shell Road to Spring Hill Avenue. It was a big operation. Hass Avenue was named after him. Ogden Street is from his wife’s maiden name. He died relatively young after he came to Mobile. His son picked up the business and developed it into meatpacking. It was in the family for a long time. My grandfather had a clothing store. He was also chairman of the Mobile County Commission
Like this house, my roots in Mobile are deep. I love them both. I watch the world pass by from this front porch.”
(Bay Haas, Part One)