By Alex Wilkerson for City of Orange Beach
Orange Beach, Alabama — Mayor Tony Kennon, local writer and historian Margaret Childress-Long, city staff, residents and members of the Orange Beach City Council gathered in front of Orange Beach City Hall on Tuesday, June 19 to unveil the community’s newest historical marker.
The Orange Beach Municipal Complex marker highlights the history of the incorporation of the city in 1984 and the community-changing land donation made by John M. Snook and his wife Marjorie. It also details the growth that followed.
City Administrator Ken Grimes Jr. welcomed everyone to the ceremony and introduced Mayor Kennon, who stood beside Childress-Long and City Council members Annette Mitchell and Joni Blalock
“There’s no reason for me to waste any more time,” Kennon said, referring to the hot weather, “I’d like for [Margaret] to tell us those stories that very few people know about.”
Childress-Long said the new marker is part of the Alabama Bicentennial, which will be officially celebrated on December 14, 2019. She thanked the Mayor and City Council for funding four historical markers, which are being placed throughout the city.
“This is our third one,” Childress-Long said. "The first was at Perdido Pass and the second was at Romar Beach. I can’t speak enough about how excited it makes me.”
Childress-Long invited John M. Snook’s great-niece Janie Joiner to help unveil the marker. Joiner is a permit technician with Orange Beach Community Development. Together Joiner, Childress-Long, Mitchell and Blalock revealed the marker for the first time.
“It’s going to be here for a long time,” Childress-Long said after the unveiling.
Grimes noted the history surrounding the site, including the original wireless communications tower, which was located across the street.
“It’s just a unique thing,” he said. “As we talk about this, we are across the road from the original tower and these pieces of asphalt right in front of the marker were the original highway.”
The marker features writing on both sides. The side which faces Highway 161 details the incorporation of Orange Beach.
The community of Orange Beach goes back to at least 1838, as evidenced by property deeds. As an incorporated city, it is quite young. Following Hurricane Frederic on September 12, 1979, with all its publicity, Orange Beach was ‘discovered’! The building boom was on - houses, marinas, and restaurants sprang up. The first condominiums were built in 1984. With this sudden expansion, it was evident that local control and guidelines were needed. By August 1984, citizens voted to incorporate. An election for a Mayor and City Council was held and officials were sworn in October 15, 1984. Orange Beach became a city with 1,010 official residents and operated out of a room in the Community Center.
John and Marjorie Snook, owners of Gulf Telephone Company and landowners here since the 1950s, donated five acres for a municipal complex on Highway 161. The City of Orange Beach moved into the complex in September of 1988.
The side of the marker that faces Orange Beach City Hall details the introduction of utilities in Orange Beach as well as the accomplishments of the Gulf Telephone Company.
Electric Service was brought to Orange Beach in 1948. In 1956, John M. Snook developed the first wireless telephone system in the United States utilizing in-home, hand-held phones that were transmitted to Gulf Telephones’ switching system in Foley from a 113-foot tower in Orange Beach. The old bricks of the tower can still be seen across Hwy 161 from the City Complex.
The Orange Beach Volunteer Fire Department was established in 1961. January 1974 brought a Public Water service to the area. Sewer Service began in 1982 and local police protection began in May 1985. The U.S. Post Office moved into its new building in 1987. Marjorie Snook Park was dedicated in October 1999 and the 1910 School House was moved there to become “the Indian and Sea Museum.’ The main access road into the complex was named John M. Snook Drive. Today, the complex consists of City Hall, most city offices, and the U.S. Post Office.
The unveiling of the historical marker is part of the City of Orange Beach’s participation in ALABAMA 200. According to the official website, ALABAMA 200 is “the state’s official bicentennial commemoration and will consider a rich and complex history made every day by people like us. Whether they lived here for centuries or came from far away, Alabamians made this land of natural beauty and diversity, innovation and change, challenge and resilience, their home. Their stories embrace some of the most significant moments in national and world history. Between January 2017 and December 2019, Alabamians all over the state and beyond will create and take part in educational and enriching opportunities to discover, explore, preserve, and share those stories.”
The next marker to be unveiled by the city will be at Bay Circle in the historic Caswell area near Bear Point.