Bon Secour History - Swift-Coles House


Swift-Coles House

Picture of Swift-Coles House
The Swift-Coles House.

     A Baldwin County beauty has shaken the years from her shoulders and stand basking in the sun on the banks of the Bon Secour River.

     The lovely Swift-Coles House was restored to its original grandeur by the careful efforts of Nik Coles.

     In 1978 the Alabama Historical Society rewarded these efforts and placed it on the Registry of Alabama Historical Landmarks.

     The photograph was presented by Mr. Nik Coles, the present owner of the Swift-Coles house (in 1983). A debt of gratitude is owed to Mr. Nik Coles for his contributions in saving one of the most colorful and outstanding examples of the turn of the century Gulf Coast architecture in our community.

     The Swift mansion was the seat and center of the Swift family and empire coming to flower around the turn of this century. The house was built in its present form at this time. Although historically the holding is much older than that. It has most of the charm and attributes of a tidewater Gulf Coast plantation. It is surrounded by the traditional drainage ditch or canal which is found generally around all tide water plantation homes, thus making the area and ground upon which it is built rather of an island in a swampy area when the ditches or canals are open and can drain. The spacious galleries and open breezy rooms lend to cool, delightful summer days. The numerous rooms, in which there are fireplaces, gave warmth and could be closed off in cooler weather. The house with its picket fence, shell walks, and beautiful planting is nostalgic and brings many recollections of days long passed and gone.

     The Swift family entertained many happy guests, among whom were numerous leaders of note. Unquestionably, ghosts of the colorful times still inhabit the parlors, halls, and grounds.

     There is a legend that a group of cavalry, calling themselves the "Baldwin Grays", riding hurriedly and belatedly to intercept the Union forces which occupied and pillaged the stores at Bon Secour (principally, salt and lumber), in their endless and ghostly quest, have found the mansion after it was built and on foggy nights using it as a rallying point, can be seen tied up under the giant, spreading oaks their mounts scattered out along the fence, their riders having dismounted to go into the house and grounds and joining the ghostly dancers in some long-past ball.

     Written 1983 for the Gulf Telephone Company 100th Anniversary publication of “Baldwin Vignettes”.

History of
The Swift-Coles Home

Written 2009 by
Harriet Outlaw

The Swift family home in Bon Secour, Alabama

     The home was built first as a four room house circa 1882 on the point of land where Schoolhouse Creek flows into the Bon Secour River. Charles and Susan Swift moved into the home about the turn of the century, near one of the early Swift Lumber Company mills located on the property. A downstairs wing was added, and in 1908 the upstairs was added, completing the 16 room house as it stands today.

     The couple raised their 11 children here and children of the original Swifts lived here until 1976. Amelia Swift and her husband Charlie Wakeford lived in the home until moving nearer the river and opening the world famous “Meme’s” Restaurant. The last Swift to live in the home was Mrs. Susan Nell Swift Marshall, upon whose death in 1976, the home was purchased by Mr. Nick Coles of Gulf Shores.

     Nick Coles owned and operated the Friendship House Restaurant and Antique Center in Gulf Shores and had long admired the Swift Home in Bon Secour. After the purchase, Mr. Coles preserved the home he loved and appreciated. His fine collection of antiques is displayed in the home today and people well remember his gracious hospitality. Nick Coles left the house to the Baldwin County Historic Development Commission, and it is now (2009) operated by the Commission and the Department of History and Archives, John Jackson, Director.

Swift-Coles Historic Home in 2009

Tour of the Home and Grounds
in 2009

     Guests to the home (in 2009) are invited to walk around the gardens and see the lovely heritage plants on display here. The walkways were once “swept walks” and the flower beds and walkways are being restored with the help of the Master Gardeners of Baldwin County.

     The picket fence has been a part of the homeplace for as many years as can be remembered. Old photographs show that the fence was there in the earliest days. The fence, in the old days, was around the house in order to keep out the cattle, which were free range until mid-twentieth century.

     A tour of the home is led by knowledgeable volunteer docents who relish sharing this lovely home with visitors. Entrance is the south side, entering the entrance hall.

     The entrance hall was the one used by the Swift Family as it faced the dock of the Bon Secour River, where the steamboats delivered passengers and goods. Mrs. Swift often invited people to stay the night!

     The tour begins in the foyer where a rare 1790 Religious Cabinet is displayed. The Italian cabinet is inlayed with ivory and tortoise shell and a family chalice is housed behind the door.

     One of the downstairs bedrooms is designated as the Brides’ Room, as at least nine Swift family brides dressed for their weddings here in this room, and returned to the house after the ceremony for a reception at the house.

     The rear wing of the house includes the dining room and the informal family parlor. Nick Coles used this Welsh Dresser to display part of his vast collection of blue and white china, most in the Blue Willow pattern.

     The upstairs hall was used as a sewing room during a part of the year. A fabulous view of Schoolhouse Creek and the Bon Secour River is afforded at the windows here. The glass in most of the windows is the original glass, as noted by its wavy quality.

     Guests can imagine the luxury of bathing in the antique copper tub in the upstairs master bathroom.

     One of the upstairs bedrooms features part of the collection of children’s toys, furniture, and salesmen samples of fine furniture which Nick Coles had collected.

     A view of the extensive porches, more than 3600 square feet defines the life in the early twentieth century that must have been very different from life today. The tour of the Swift-Coles Historic Home is one that any visitor can never forget. Each guest experiences a feeling of restoration, a much needed respite in today’s world.

Swift-Coles Historic Home in 2009

Written 2009 by
Harriet Outlaw