Swift-Coles Historic Home in Bon Secour, Alabama
Welcome to Swift-Coles Historic Home, now owned and operated by Baldwin County. The lovely circa 1882 Tidewater Mansion, located in Bon Secour, is one of the grandest homes in Baldwin County and is open to the public for tours of the home and grounds. We hope you will come and enjoy the atmosphere of “River Life” in the early twentieth century. Travel back in time to treasure this heritage.
The Swift-Coles Historic Home is open to the public for guided tours on Tuesdays and Fridays at 10:00 AM. The last tour begins at 3:00 in the afternoon. Special arrangements for group tours may be made on additional days. To schedule a group on regular days or other days, please call the Baldwin County Department of Archives and History at 251-580-1897.
Directions to the House
From Foley or Gulf Shores take Hwy. 59 to Co. Rd. 10 west to intersection of Co. Rd. 49. Turn left onto Co. Rd. 49 and travel approx. 500 yards to Swift-Coles Lane on left.
From Interstate 10 take Exit 38 (at Malbis) south on Highway 181 to US Highway 98; turn left (east) to Magnolia Springs; take County Road 49 south; continue to the end of the pavement; left on Swift-Coles Lane.
The Swift-Coles Home
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 operated by the Commission and the Department of History and Archives, John Jackson, Director.
Tour of the Home and Grounds
Guests to the home 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 Bon Secour, Alabama
Contact the Baldwin County Department of Archives and History at 251-580-1897 or email Gloria Bitto at GBITTO@baldwincountyal.gov
Private tour groups of 25 or more (or for the minimum fee of $125.00) may arrange to have the historic home opened on days other than the regular hours.
Photography sessions may be arranged at the historic home by contacting the Archives. A docent will return your call to confirm dates, time and other particulars. An honorarium is requested for photography sessions. (Minimum fee of $75.00 for two hours.)
Groups may be accommodated for small luncheons, showers, receptions, etc. for a maximum of 30 people. A docent will be happy to assist you with any information you may need. Fees are determined by the nature of the event, beginning at $100.00 for use of the home.
Planning a wedding? Call the Baldwin County Archives Department for assistance in planning your wedding or reception at the Swift-Coles Historic Home. Gloria will be able to discuss costs and available features for those special events.
Would you like to help with this memorable project? There are many ways you can be a part of preserving this heritage for the public for many years to come.
Home Guide Docents: The volunteer docents narrate the tours of the home and offer their personal anecdotes to enhance the visit. Docents are provided a training and a handbook with pertinent information. Some docents volunteer weekly, some bi-weekly, and some once a month. Docents may work only half days if that is needed. A schedule is maintained to try to provide at least 4 docents per tour day. Docents usually guide either the upstairs or the downstairs.
Reception Host: A volunteer is needed to greet guests at the entrance hall, collect the fees, and provide information about the next tour. The docent handbook includes the information a reception hostess would need to feel comfortable in the role. Most docent and reception hostesses observe another docent before they actually work a day.
Special Events: Several special events are planned for the coming year. Yard sales, re-enactments, Christmas Open House, and other seasonal events may be of interest to some volunteers. Workers are always needed to assist with these events.
Outdoor Work: The Master Gardeners of Baldwin County are graciously implementing a plan to restore the grounds and gardens inside the picket fence area. Volunteers are always welcome to assist them in their plans. Contact
Currently, the Department of Archives and History in Bay Minette is managing the contacts for the Swift-Coles Historic Home. Please contact the office and leave information concerning your requests and your questions. If the office is not able to answer your questions, one of the docents at the home will contact you and work with you in any way you need. Please call the Baldwin County Department of Archives and History at 251-580-1897.
Written 2009 by
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.
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”.