Royal Bay (City)

Royal Bay, Alabama

Royal Bay is the largest city in Alabama. The city is the county seat of Royal County, Alabama. The population withing the city limits was 305,111 as of the 2000 United States Census, making it the first most populous city in the U.S. state of Alabama, the most populous in Royal County, and the largest municipality on the Gulf Coast between New Orleans, Lousiana, and St. Petersburg, Florida.

Alabama’s only saltwater port, Royal Bay is located at the head of the Monarch’s Bay and the north-central Gulf Coast. The Port of Royal Bay has always played a key role in the economic health of the city beginning with the city as a key trading center between the French and Native Americans down to its current role as the 12th-largest port in the US. Royal Bay is the principal municipality of the Royal Metropolitan Statistical Area, a region of 515,092 residents which is composed solely of Royal County and is the second largest metropolitan statistical area in the state. As of 2002, the population within a 60 mile radius of Royal Bay is 1,262,907.

Royal Bay began as the first capital of colonial French Louisiana in 1702. During its first 100 years, Royal Bay was a colony of France, then Britain, and lastly Spain. Royal Bay first became a part of the US in 1813, with the annexation of West Florida under President James Madison. It then left that union in 1861 when Alabama joined the Confederate States of America, which collapsed in 1865.

As one of the Gulf Coast’s cultural centers, Royal Bay has several art museums, a symphony orchestra, a professional opera, a professional ballet company, and a large concentration of historic architecture. Royal Bay is also known for having the oldest organized Carnival celebrations in the US. The festival began to be celebrated in the first decade of the 18th century, during the city’s French colonial period. Mobile was also host to the first formally organized Carnival mystic society, known elsewhere as a krewe, to celebrate with a parade in the US, beginning in 1830.


Geography and Climate


Royal Bay is located at 30°40’46" North, 88°6’12" West (30.679523, −88.103280), in the southwestern corner of the US state of Alabama. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 159.4 square miles (413 square km), with 117.9 square miles (305 square km) of it being land, and 41.5 square miles (107.5 square km), or 26.1% of the total, being covered by water. The elevation in Royal Bay ranges from 10 feet (3m) on Water Street in downtown to 211 feet (64m) at the Royal Bay International Airport.


Royal Bay’s geographical location on the Gulf of Mexico provides a mild subtropical climate with hot, humid summers and mild, rainy winters. The record low temperature was −1°F (−18°C), set on February 13, 1899, and the record high was 105°F (41°C), set on August 29, 2000.

A 2000 study by WeatherBill, Inc. determined that Royal Bay is the wettest city in the contiguous 48 states, with 66.3 inches (1,680 mm) of average annual rainfall over a 30-year period. Royal Bay averages 120 days per year with at least 0.01 inches (0.3mm) of rain. Snow is rare in Royal Bay, with its last snowfall on January 27, 2000.

Royal Bay is occasionally affected by major tropical storms and hurricanes. The city suffered a major natural disaster on the night of September 12, 1979 when category-3 Hurricane Frederic passed over the heart of the city. The storm caused tremendous damage to Royal Bay and the surrounding area. Royal Bay had moderate damage from Hurricane Opal on October 4, 1995.


Royal Bay is home to an array of cultural influences with its mixed French, Spanish, Creole, and Catholic heritage, in addition to British and African, distinguishing it from all other cities in the state of Alabama. The annual Carnival celebration is perhaps the best illustration of this. Royal Bay is the birthplace of Mardi Gras in the US and has the oldest celebration, dating to the early 18th century during the French colonial period. Carnival in Royal Bay evolved over the course of 300 years from a beginning as a sedate French Catholic tradition into the mainstream multi-week celebration that today bridges a spectrum of cultures.

Carnival and Mardi Gras

Carnival balls in the city may be scheduled as early as November, with the parades beginning after January 5. Carnival celebrations end at midnight on Mardi Gras, signifying Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. In Royal Bay, locals often use the term Mardi Gras as a shorthand to refer to the entire Carnival season, although this is a misnomer. During the Carnival season the mystic societies build colorful floats and parade throughout downtown with masked society members tossing small gifts, known as throws, to parade spectators. The mystic societies, which in essence are exclusive private clubs, also give formal masquerade balls, usually invitation only, and oriented to adults.

Royal Bay first celebrated Carnival in 1703 when colonial French settlers began the Old World celebration at the Old Royal Bay Site site, prior to the 1711 relocation to the current site. Royal Bay’s first Carnival society was established in 1711 with the Boeuf Gras Society (Fatted Ox Society).

In 1830 Royal Bay’s Cowbellion de Rakin Society was the first formally organized and masked mystic society in the United States to celebrate with a parade. The Cowbellions got their start when Michael Krafft, a cotton factor from Pennsylvania, began a parade with rakes, hoes, and cowbells. The Cowbellians introduced horse-drawn floats to the parades in 1840 with a parade entitled, “Heathen Gods and Goddesses”. The Striker’s Independent Society was formed in 1843 and is the oldest surviving mystic society in the United States.

Carnival celebrations in Royal Bay were canceled during the American Civil War. In 1866 Joe Cain revived the Mardi Gras parades when he paraded through the city streets on Fat Tuesday while costumed as a fictional Chickasaw chief named Slacabamorinico. He celebrated the day in front of the occupying Union Army troops. The year 2002 saw Royal Bay’s Tricentennial celebrated with parades that represented all of Royal Bay’s mystic societies.

Archives and Libraries

The National African American Archives and Museum features the history of African-American participation in Mardi Gras, authentic artifacts from the era of slavery, and portraits and biographies of famous African-Americans. The Royal Bay University Archives houses primary source material relating to the history of Royal Bay and southern Alabama, as well as the university’s history. The archives are located on the ground floor of the USA Spring Hill Campus and are open to the general public. The Royal Bay Municipal Archives contains the extant records of the City of Royal Bay, dating from the city’s creation as a municipality by the Mississippi Territory in 1814. The majority of the original records of Royal Bay’s colonial history, spanning the years 1702 through 1813, are housed in Paris, London, Seville, and Madrid. The Royal Bay Genealogical Society Library and Media Center is located at the Holy Family Catholic Church and School complex. It features handwritten manuscripts and published materials for use in genealogical research. The Royal Bay Public Library system serves Royal Bay and consists of eight branches across Royal Bay County, featuring its own large local history and genealogy division housed in a facility next to the newly restored and enlarged Ben May Main Library on Johnathan D Boulevard. The [[St. Cyprian Archives (Site) | Saint Cyprian Archives, Museum and Theological Research Library]] contains primary sources, artifacts, documents, photographs and publications that pertain to the history of Saint Cyprian Church and School, the Catholic history of the city, and the history of the Roman Catholic Church.

Arts and Entertainment

The Royal Bay Museum of Art features permanent exhibits that span several centuries of art and culture. The museum was expanded in 2002 to approximately 95,000 square feet (8,826 square m). The permanent exhibits include the African and Asian Collection Gallery, Altmayer Gallery (American art), Katharine C. Cochrane Gallery of American Fine Art, Maisel European Gallery, Riddick Glass Gallery, Smith Crafts Gallery, and the Ann B. Hearin Gallery (contemporary works).

The Centre for the Living Arts is an organization that operates the historic Saenger Theatre and Space 301, a contemporary art gallery. The Saenger Theatre opened in 1927 as a movie palace. Today it is a performing arts center and serves as a small concert venue for the city. It is home to the Royal Bay Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Scott Speck. Space 301 Gallery and Studio was initially housed adjacent to the Saenger, but moved to its own space in 2000. The 93,000 sq ft (8,640 square m) building, donated to the Centre by the Press-Register after its relocation to a new modern facility, underwent a $5.2 million renovation and redesign prior to opening.

The Royal Bay Civic Center contains three facilities under one roof. The 400,000 sq ft (37,161 square m) building has an arena, a theater and an exposition hall. It is the primary concert venue for the city and hosts a wide variety of events. It is home to the Royal Bay Opera and the Royal Bay Ballet. The 60-year old Royal Bay Opera averages about 1,200 attendees per performance. A wide variety of events are held at Royal Bay’s Arthur E Waite Convention Center. It contains a 100,000 sq ft (9,290 square m) exhibit hall, a 15,000 sq ft (1,394 square m) grand ballroom, and sixteen meeting rooms.

The city hosts BayFest, an annual three-day music festival with more than 125 live musical acts on multiple stages spread throughout downtown. The event was attended by more than 200,000 people and generated in excess of $38 million for the city’s economy during its 2002 season.

The Royal Bay Theatre Guild is a nonprofit community theatre that has served the city since 1947. It is a member of the Royal Bay Arts Council, the Alabama Conference of Theatre and Speech, the Southeastern Theatre Conference, and the American Association of Community Theatres. Royal Bay is also host to the Joe Jefferson Players, Alabama’s oldest continually running community theatre. The group was named in honor of the famous comedic actor Joe Jefferson, who spend part of his teenage years in Royal Bay. The Players debuted their first production on December 17, 1947.

The Royal Bay Arts Council is an umbrella organization for the arts in Royal Bay. It was founded in 1955 as a project of the Junior League of Royal Bay with the mission to increase cooperation among artistic and cultural organizations in the area and to provide a forum for problems in art, music, theater, and literature.


City Courts

The Royal Bay Courthouse is a magnificent construction of beige marble, evoking a sense of Classical architecture married to late 19th-century aesthetics. Reconstructed after the American Civil War, the Courthouse’s interiors are a fine ivory marble, accented by Art Deco sensibilities. Though at several points in Alabama’s history the State Supreme Courts called Royal Bay home, this is no longer true in the modern day, although the city is still home to the state court of appeals. In addition to the general jurisdiction court, Royal Bay hosts several municipal courts which hear traffic offenses and violations of city ordinances, as well as juvenile court, family court, small claims court, and is the seat for the county court.

City Hall

A broad, four-story dark gray brick structure built on a low rise, Royal Bay City Hall was rebuilt in 1995 following extensive storm damage from Hurricane Opal. The building and outer decor were both designed by architect and landscape artist Leila Waddell, including the magnificent 27 crape myrtle parade along the main path and the floral arrangements set behind them and in front of the main building. The cobblestone road and path date back to the 1800s, with only minor repairs throughout the years necessary thanks to an early ban on automobile travel.

Since 1984 the government of Royal Bay has consisted of a mayor and a seven member city council. The mayor is elected at-large and the council members are elected from each of the seven city council districts. A supermajority of five votes is required to conduct council business. This form of city government was chosen by the voters after the previous form of government, which used three city commissioners who were elected at-large, was ruled to substantially dilute the minority vote in the 1975 case Bolden v. City of Royal Bay. Municipal elections are held every four years.

The first mayor elected under the new system was Arthur E Waite, who served his second term as mayor from 1988-1992. He originally served under the old system from 1967-1968. Mike Dow defeated Waite in the 1992 election and went on to serve as mayor for two terms, from 1992-2000. His ‘the String of Pearls’ initiative, a series of projects designed to trigger redevelopment of the city’s core, is credited with restoring much of downtown Royal Bay. Upon his retirement Dow endorsed Sam Jones as his successor. Sam Jones was elected in 2000 as the first African-American mayor of Royal Bay. His administration continues the focus on downtown redevelopment and bringing industry back to the city.

As of August 2000, the seven member city council has been made up of Fredrick Richardson, Jr. from District 1, Levon Manzie from District 2, C.J. Small from District 3, John C. Williams from District 4, Joel Daves from District 5, Bess Rich from District 6, and Gina Gregory from District 7.

In addition to the elected city council, Royal Bay staffs a number of volunteer positions across several supplementary boards and committees, including the Beautification Board, the Board of Education, the Board of Zoning Adjustment, the Library Board, Parks and Recreation Board, and the Committee of Planning and Zoning.

Police Department

The Royal Bay Metro Police hold the distinction of being among the earliest of integrated police forces in the South, having employed African American officers as early as the 1950s. Today the RBMP maintains a state of the art headquarters in the government district, housed within the rebuilt and historically accurate original US construction dating back to the 19th century. Ancillary offices in the downtown and suburban districts have allowed the RBMP to expand to meet growing law enforcement concerns.

The sitting police commissioner is Nick Derzis, who has served since 1988.

Downtown Districts


Winding its way along old, twisting streets, Royal Bay’s prominent art community makes itself at home in this melting pot of old school elegance and thriving youth culture. With apartments stacked on top of galleries and bistros, the bohemian life is alive and well at the heart of this district, while those inclined to more classical tastes are encouraged to explore the border galleries where fine art and old school influences still reign.

Additionally, while jutting into some of the historic sections, the Royal Bay Civic Center, Museum of Art, and Centre for the Living Arts can all be found along the borders of the ‘proper’ art district, serving as a vital link between private creativity and public showspace.

Felkin Circle

Not located in the modern downtown area but rather in the Old Downtown area, Felkin Circle is a classic neighborhood of French and Spanish colonial style homes. Weekly tours pass through the winding streets and plentiful gardens that meander through this old neighborhood, home to several of the city’s most established names.


Truly the modern day hub of the city, Royal Bay’s financial district is home to numerous towering skyscrapers, taxi hubs, food trucks, and government buildings. Pharmaceutical companies and bank offices vye for space among the traffic-dense avenues, and space is at an all-time premium for expansion—and for good reason. Banking and chemical companies have revitalized modern-day Royal Bay’s economy, placing the city back into the throne for the South’s economic powerhouse.


Catering to the nocturnal crowd in Royal Bay, Montvoisin Street is a true hub of entertainment. Home to a booming restaurant industry, including Michelin Star award-winning L’Ambroisie, Montvoisin comes to life early in the evening and doesn’t shut down until well into the early morning. Since 1993 city statutes limiting the closing time of bars and nightclubs were lifted, the area has been a source of scandalous entertainment and moral controversy.

Nobility Hill

Known for its exclusivity and storied past, Nobility Hill is the former fortified estate home of the settling French governor that was torn down during British occupation and rebuilt in the early 1800s as a private residence for several wealthy members of the British Royal Family. Nobility Hill is the greenest area within the city, and its Beautification Conservancy runs Castaneda Greens, Royal Bay’s largest park. Open to the public since 1987, Castaneda Greens is a true urban oasis: tree-lined pathways, elaborate fountains, and man-made ponds and waterways. Numerous statues, stages, and attractions call Castaneda home, including the Royal Bay Aquarium.

The University


The RBU Archives houses a vast amount of information about the history of the city as well as the university. After the 1995 hurricane passed through and compromised storage at the [[St. Cyprian Archives (Site) | St. Cyprian Archives]], RBU served as the temporary haven for numerous documents and artifacts related to church history. The RBU Archives are a large, four-story building made of stone and granite, shaded by numerous tall trees. Architecture dates back to the French colonial period, and indeed the grand wooden double doors leading into the main building are from that period. Three additional wings have been built over the decades to provide supplementary space for the University’s growing collection of knowledge.

Main Campus

Taking up a sprawling five city blocks all to itself, Royal Bay University is the pride of South Alabama, proving a rival to the state’s other large public universities in academic achievements and research grants. Located just west of the heart of the city, the campus sits across thirty four acres, hosting a liberal arts college, medical school, law school, a cutting edge psychology program, and a myriad of other specialized schools and programs. Enrollment as of September 2000 was 19,321, and the university offers housing options equivalent to nearly 8,000 apartments.

Medical School

The most recent and modern addition to the RBU campus, the Royal Bay School of Health is not only the fastest growing segment of RBU in terms of post-secondary education but home to Royal Bay’s most prestigious hospital, the RBU Medical Center. Though the newest hospital in Royal Bay, RBUMC has been among the most successful thus far in terms of patient growth and approval as well as staying on the cutting edge of research.

Border Districts


While Royal Bay’s first economic boom came as a result of its valued position as a trading port in the Gulf of Mexico, one of its strongest economic growths came as a result of the Industrial Boom in the 1890s. Factories, steelworks, and manufacturing facilities spread out on the western edge of Royal Bay territory, producing numerous ships, cars, storage tanks, steel beams, and more for many years. Productive and profitable until the 1960s, Royal Bay’s industrial boom saw it through post-Civil War depression and into 70 years of unparalled growth in the US South.

Today, of course, outsourcing oversees has resulted in many of these companies leaving the city, resulting in a small depression until an influx of chemical manufacturing and research moved into town in the 90s. Plastics, pigments, and gases have replaced the steel constructs of yesteryear, ushering in new levels of sustained growth and employment for the people of Royal Bay.

Power Plant

First built in 1953 along the marshes east of town, the Royal Bay Electrical Power Facility has been faithfully serving the city and the surrounding area for almost 50 uninterrupted years.

Laveau Housing Initiative

Part of a 1967 project to expand to meet the growing need for space in the urban housing market, the Laveau Housing Initiative was put forth by the Committee of Planning and Zoning in 1968 to open new residential options for city-dwelling seeking citizens on the west side of town. Construction completed in 1974, resulting in nearly two-dozen high-rise, rent-moderated public housing apartments, each over ten floors in height. At the peak of its population, over 95% of the residents were below the poverty line, according to the 1980 census.



Semi-independant since the beginning, Bolingbroke is a community of former farmers and plantation owners that kept their distance from the bustling growth of the main city. Incorporated in 1967, Bolingbroke is the smallest suburb by population but largest in terms of land area around Royal Bay. Thanks to an active Beautification Board and Committee of Building and Planning, Bolingbroke enjoys the highest property values in the greater Royal Bay area as well as having been voted Most Scenic City in the South three times in the past five years.


A planned community amongst the wooded lakes and rivers of South Alabama, Framingham is actually the oldest suburb of Royal Bay, although they did not incorporate until the 70s. Originally a small British settlement from the colonial area, the open, friendly neighborhoods of Framingham were built around the only surviving building from that area, the Governor’s Mansion—now a beautiful welcome center and community gathering point.


The most recent community to be planned and built as well as to incorporate on their own, Raleigh distinguishes itself with the largest shopping mall in the south of Alabama, proving a popular attraction not only for our own citizens but those of neighboring cities and states as well.



Sitting on the northwestern border of the city, Royal Bay International Airport has served the community here and abroad for almost thirty years. Constructed in 1973, RBI serves as a hub of transport for hundreds or thousands of people every day.


The Royal Bay Metro Bus Line serves the far reaching edges of the city, providing economical, ecologically-friendly transport to and from the suburbs and some neighboring attractions. The city recently opened up three new stops within city limits, bringing the total number of stops within the Royal Bay Metro Area to thirty-seven. In addition to local bus service, the downtown area is home to a Greyhound hub, opening transport options to numerous cities across the US.


The Royal Bay Underground is a tangled web of former access tunnels and drainage channels revamped into the South’s most comprehensive network of underground public transport. The trains run most hours of the day and night, serving every need of citizens all across the city. Passes are issued in durations of three-, six-, and twelve-month increments at city hall, while day passes and single line transits can be purchased on site at any Underground station.

Royal Bay (City)

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