Lying west of the city, the Old Dauphin Way District is part of the Price and Espejo tracts, large Spanish land grants of the early 1800s. Very little development occurred in the area until 1830-1840. From then on frequent listings in Mobile city directories show residents on Spring Hill Road, Spring Hill Shell Road (now Old Shell Road) Dauphin, Common, Ann, Julia, and Lafayette Streets.
Most of the older structures in the district are simple frame cottages which originally housed carpenters, florists, bar pilots, steamboat captains, and commission merchants. Grander houses were also built and can still be seen along Dauphin Street and Spring Hill Avenue. Some street names reflect families who settled the area. For example, Espejo Street was name for Antonio Espejo, recipient of the western land grant by the Spanish crown, and Catherine Street was named for his wife Catalina. Reed Avenue was named for W. A. Reed who lived on that street, and he later subdivided Gladys and Kenneth Streets, which were named for two of his children.
This one block of Common Street between Conti and Dauphin, along with six buildings on Dauphin Street adjacent to Common, were all listed on the National Register in 1982 as the Common Street Historic District. In 1984 this area was absorbed into the Old Dauphin Way Historic District. This unique one-block area has a concentration of residential buildings that create a visual record of the major residential architectural styles seen in the city from the 1850s to the 1940s. Many of the buildings are Victorian cottages from the late 19th-century. Other buildings on the street are vernacular working-class cottages such as the house at 17 Common Street. The houses located at 959 through 1002 Dauphin Street principally date from the mid-19th century, although some underwent major alterations in the Victorian era.
At right, five cottages on Common Street featured on ODWA's Candlelight Home Tour in 2002. From top to bottom: numbers 7 (1901, Queen Anne style) and 9 (1910, Classical Revival); 13 (1874) and 15 (1896, Classical Revival); 16 (1907, Queen Anne)
Towle House, built in 1874, faces South Hallett Street but has an address on Montauk Avenue. This Italianate residence with bracketed eaves and lacy porch decoration was constructed for Amos Towle, who both lived and operated the Towle Institute, a boys’ school, from the house. is now operated as a bed and breakfast.
Unique in the district is Caroline Avenue, a three-block span of shot-gun board-and-batten cottages, residences of servants who worked in the big houses on Government Street. While there are many lovely trees lining the streets of Old Dauphin Way, of special interest is the Duffee Oak on Caroline Avenue. It is the first tree to have a protective preservation bill passed in the State Legislature.
Three Gulf Coast cottages typify some of the earliest expressions of this type of residential architecture in the city: Numbers 20, 22 and 23 South Lafayette. They were residences of working-class people, rather than society's elite. The house at 23 South Lafayette was constructed in 1852 for a ship's carpenter and architect. Constructed in 1868, 20 South Lafayette was built for a steamship company clerk, and 22 South Lafayette, also constructed in 1868, was owned by a bookkeeper for a cotton factory.