The Swift-Coles Historic Home in Bon Secour, Baldwin County, is a historic house museum and event venue built in 1882. The original structure was later expanded into a 6,000-square-foot home reflective of the Gulf Coast vernacular and Creole Cottage architecture prevalent in the region. The museum is currently owned and operated by the Baldwin County Historic Development Commission, which maintains the property and cares for the home with the help of volunteers. It has been listed on both the National Register of Historic Places and the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage.
Swift-Coles Historic House The Swift-Coles home was constructed in 1882 as a small four-room dog trot cabin by Thomas Gavin on the point of land where Schoolhouse Creek flows into the Bon Secour River. The home was purchased in 1898 by husband and wife Charles and Susan Swift, who owned a successful lumber business. After moving into the home with their eight children, they financed the construction of a sawmill on the east side of the residence in 1900; it later burned. With the birth of three more children, the Swifts used their own lumber to expand the home and its outbuildings, in 1902, adding a west wing, and then a second story in 1908 along with two barns and a five-seat outhouse. With these improvements, the Swift-Coles home expanded to 16 total rooms and 6,000 square feet and 3,000 square feet of porches. In addition to the sawmill and lumber business, the Swift family opened a commissary store for sawmill workers, operated a post office, and financed and built the area’s first one-room schoolhouse.
The home’s expansion represented a shift from its minimalist dogtrot styling into a more Queen Anne-influenced exterior with refined spindles and columns, added doors, and several much larger porches. Creole Cottage and Gulf Coast elements were also added to the exterior that included pitched roof sweeps over a full-length front gallery. The windows were enlarged and the ceilings raised to allow air to circulate openly and freely. Finally, the home was raised off of the ground to protect it from flooding from Schoolhouse Creek and the Bon Secour River. The newly redesigned home became known as “The Big House.”
Outbuilding at Swift-Coles Historic Home The home stayed in the Swift family until Susan Nell Swift Marshall, the last Swift who lived in the area, died in 1976. The home was then purchased by Gulf Shores restauranteur and antique dealer Nicholas Coles. After purchasing the home, Coles lived in the residence and slowly set about restoring it to its former state. On the exterior, he replaced the brick piers holding up the home, replaced rotting wood on its shell, and repainted the structure. He repainted the interior and restored it to its original 1910 appearance before filling it with his own collection of antiques from the 1780s through the 1910s. In 1978, the home was placed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage by the Alabama Historical Commission.
Shortly before his death in 2007, Coles bequeathed the home to the Baldwin County Historic Development Commission. The organization later constructed a storage room and a public bathroom before opening the home and its grounds to the public in 2009 for tours and wedding and event rentals. The property currently has four original out buildings: a corn crib, chicken house, barn, and the aforementioned outhouse. In 2016, the Swift-Coles home was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 2017, the Baldwin County Historic Development Commission erected a historic marker on the site.
The Swift-Coles Historic Home is located at 1 Swift Coles Lane. Each year, the facility hosts a number of seasonal activities, including a haunted story tour in October with guest storytellers and a Christmas Open House in December featuring live music, a full tour of the home, arts and craft vendors, and decorations. The Swift-Coles Historic Home is supported financially by the Friends of Swift-Coles Historic Home organization as well as private donations and rental fees. It offers tours on Tuesdays and Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., admission is $10 per person. Private tours for groups of 20 or more are by appointment only. Bon Secour lies north of Gulf Shores and its many attractions.