Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa, a member of Historic Hotels of America since 2011, dates back to 1847.

A member of Historic Hotels of America since 2011, the Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa is among the most luxurious places to visit along the Gulf Coast. Its history harkens back decades, as it was founded by F.H. Chamberlin in 1847. The original hotel structure that Chamberlin built was a disjointed two-story hotel that extended for some 100-feet along the coastline of Point Clear, Alabama. Both floors only featured 40 guestrooms and a shaded gallery that offered brilliant views of the ocean nearby. Two additional structures sat next to the main building, as well. The first building housed a rustic dining space, while the second—called the “Texas”—served as the home to a bar. The construction project was one of the largest in the area to date, with dozens of boats from Mobile transporting wood from places further north in large quantities. In some respects, the convoy looked to be endless as it continuously dropped off men and material. By all accounts, the Texas was among the most exclusive venues in the greater Mobile area. Contemporary news articles stated that high-stakes poker games occurred frequently inside the bar among the area’s wealthy merchants and planters, who traded tales of gossip and intrigue regularly. The business was so successful that Chamberlin acquired a fourth building to act as overflow housing. That structure was called the “Gunnison House,” which had previously functioned as a summer retreat for a local affluent family.


Chamberlin’s nascent resort abruptly experienced a sharp decline in business when Alabama seceded from the Union in early 1861. The state had become one of the founding members of the Southern Confederacy, with Mobile emerging as one of its most important commercial centers. When the two sides formally began fighting one another later that summer, the city quickly found itself the target of a massive blockade by the United States Navy. Over time, local sailors began running blockade runners past the northern ships in an attempt to ferry goods to foreign markets across the Gulf to Havana, Cuba. The continuous economic threat that the blockade runners posed eventually inspired the great Admiral David Farragut to directly target Mobile for an attack in August of 1864. While combat actions around the city lasted for nearly a month, the main fighting transpired on August 5. A small flotilla of rebel warships and coastal artillery batteries viciously dueled with Farragut’s much larger invasion force, which attempted to sail straight up Mobile Bay in the direction of the heavily fortified Fort Morgan. As the fighting raged all along the coastline, a few cannon shells landed in the vicinity of Chamberlin’s nascent resort. One piece of ordnance actually crashed through the Gunnison House, although the building was largely left intact. After the battle, local Confederate officers used the destination as a hospital for soldiers wounded during the recent campaign. In fact, some 300 rebel soldiers died while receiving care onsite. A grave for those men is still located on the grounds, called the “Confederate Rest Cemetery.” (In 2008, the staff at the Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa started commemorating the battle by firing a cannon as a military salute to those who died during the battle.)


Chamberlin resumed operating the destination as the private resort as soon as the fighting had stopped. His business grew in popularity yet again, transforming the community of Point Clear into one of Alabama’s most prestigious vacation hotspots. Streamliners began providing direct service to the hamlet, dropping off countless people on Chamberlin’s docks seemingly every day. Soon enough, interested guests from New Orleans and other cities throughout the Gulf region were making the trek to Chamberlin’s resort. But tragedy struck in 1871, when a steamship known as the Ocean Wave exploded just beyond the resort’s pier. Several passengers perished as a result of the catastrophe with many more injured. Most of those who were hurt received care inside the Texas Bar, which Chamberlin had turned into a makeshift medical facility. Shortly thereafter, Captain H.C. Baldwin purchased the location and immediately went about revitalizing the entire site. He quickly determined that the resort’s main building had become too dated and ultimately built a much larger hotel facility. While it resembled the earlier structure, the Baldwin’s new construct was three times its size! Debuting as the “Grand Hotel” in 1875, it contained sixty suites that offered the best amenities of the age. Winter rates were set at two dollars a day, rising to a total of 40 dollars for a whole month. As such, the resort flourished. And when Baldwin died a few years later, his son-in-law, George Johnson, continued to ensure that his successful policies remained in place. By the 1890s, guests from throughout the Deep South knew of the Grand Hotel. Many in the region even took to calling the destination as “The Queen of Southern Resorts.”


In 1901, George Johnson decided to sell the Grand Hotel—including the 250 acres—to James Ketchum Glennon. But Glennon’s acquisition of the resort marked the beginning of a prolonged period of decline that lasted well into the mid-20th century. It started with two hurricanes that greatly damaged the resort in 1906 and 1916, respectively. Despite being discouraged about the two incidents, Glennon renovated the Grand Hotel both times. It managed to briefly resumed its status as Alabama’s premier beachside retreat during the Roaring Twenties, until the Great Depression sapped whatever economic momentum it had managed to create. Frustrated, Glennon sold the Grand Hotel to Edward A. Roberts, who was the chairman of the Waterman Steamship Corporation. The resort had become so badly rundown that Roberts instructed his employees to demolish most of the structures. What remained he had thoroughly restored. Roberts also constructed a new magnificent structure that served as the main building of the resort straight through to the present. It originally debuted with 90 amazing guest accommodations and modern air-conditioning. He also commissioned the creation of several cottages a few months later, as well, which functioned as exclusive bungalows for the resort’s upscale clientele. Yet, the country’s entrance into World War II largely put a stop to Roberts’ renovations, as the War Department petitioned the hotelier to lease the facility for use by the U.S. Army Air Corps. Roberts agreed, leasing the entire resort with the sole stipulation that the soldiers garrisoned onsite would not walk through the facility while wearing their combat boots. The Grand Hotel subsequently helped the military train servicemen to operate mobile air depots throughout the Pacific Theater, as it inched closer to the Home Islands of Japan. Much of the training was done under a top secret program that the War Department referred to as “Operation Ivory Soap.” See the section “Famous Historical Events” below for more information.


The Grand Hotel reopened, becoming once more “The Queen of Southern Resorts.” Roberts continued improving the new iteration of the Grand Hotel, installing the resort’s famed Azalea and Dogwood golf courses toward the end of the 1940s. But in 1955, a massive corporate conglomerate purchased the location, eventually turning it over to a North Carolina businessman named Malcom McLean a decade later. He, in turn, sold it to his brother, James K. McLean. Recognizing that Roberts’ golf courses were now drawing ever increasing numbers of guests to the Grand Hotel, McLean subsequently developed a 50-guestroom extension onto the main building. McLean also created additional accommodations in the form of 10 luxurious cottages, as well as the spectacular Bay House. He even created a brilliant 9-hole golf course to deal with overcrowding on the other two 18-hole facilities. When Hurricane Frederick wrought some serious damage to the grounds in 1979, the owners of the Grand Hotel decided to seek Marriott International for help. Marriott eventually purchased the resort and spent the remainder of the 1980s thoroughly repairing and renovating the resort. It added nearly 200 more accommodations, as well as the North Bay House and the Mariana Building. The company also made the difficult decision to demolish the devastated Gunnison House, constructing a new Grand Ballroom in its place. In all, Marriott International spent nearly $50 million restoring the Grand Hotel back to its former glory. Now this spectacular seaside destination is truly the “Queen of Southern Resorts.”

Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa, a member of Historic Hotels of America since 2011, dates back to 1847.