Historic markers placed at boat launch, church in Lillian

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LILLIAN, Alabama -- Local and county officials, along with some special guests were on hand for the unveiling of two historic markers in the Lillian community on Saturday, May 4.

The Lillian Bicentennial Committee had been working on the project for 18 months and everything came together in three locations in May.

The first marker is located at the Lillian Boat launch and gives information about the history of Perdido Bay and the Lillian Bridge.

Perdido Bay was popular with Spanish Explorers in the late 1500s. Because of the changing landmarks and difficulty for ship captains to find the opening to the bay, it was called “Perdido”, the Spanish word for “lost.” In 1780 the King of Spain gave land grants, the oldest land titles in Baldwin County, to the Suarez family. Descendants of the early settlers are still living in Lillian.

Prior to the construction of first Lillian bridge in 1916, only a ferry was available to cross the bay from Alabama to Florida. This bridge was replaced in 1943 and the current bridge was dedicated in 1980.

On hand for the unveiling was former U.S. Congressman Jack Edwards, who was instrumental in gaining funding for the bridge project, which connects Alabama and Florida, along with current U.S. Congressman Bradley Byrne, who spoke during a small reception at the Lillian Community Center following the unveilings.

Edwards and Lillian Bicentennial Member Harry Suarez, a descendant of one of the original families in Lillian, performed the unveiling.

“Basically in the beginning we had enough funding to build the bridge halfway and stop,” Edwards said. “The hardest part was convincing our colleagues in Florida that this was something that would be beneficial for both Alabama and Florida. I’m glad to be back in this area and to get a chance to see that the bridge is still looking good.”

The second marker gives information about the community of Lillian and St. Joseph Catholic Church. This marker is located on Santa Piedro Street and US Highway 98, in from of the early church.

The community on the west coast of Perdido Bay was named Lillian when the first post office was opened. It was named in honor of the daughter of the first postmaster, William Thomas Kee.

In 1923 the Baldwin Colonization Company purchased 55,000 acres, including Lillian, to promote as a resort location. The popularity of the area spread throughout the country and Europe, bringing many nationalities to the area.

The heart of historic Lillian was on Barclay Avenue, including a one-room schoolhouse, the post office, hotel and several homes. The post office was later moved to 6th Street where it now serves as a bakery.

Helping with the unveiling at the church marker were Jerry Kee, a descendant of William Thomas Kee; and Betty Schnatz Morris, a descendant of the family who donated the land for the church, along with Mike Bunn, chairman of the Baldwin County Historic Development Commission.

The Bicentennial program was completed at the Lillian Community Club where Price Legg, chairman of the Lillian Bicentennial Committee spoke of the history of Lillian and introduced several members of families who can trace their heritage to the early days of the community.

“It took a lot of people coming together working over a long period of time to make this happen,” Legg said. “I can’t begin to name everyone who worked on this project and can’t thank them enough for the hard work they put in.”

County Commission Chairman Skip Gruber and Commissioner Billy Jo Underwood were also present for the ceremonies, along with members of the Historic Development Commission.

Members of the Lillian Bicentennial Committee were also recognized during the ceremony. They include Chairman Price Legg, Frank Broz, Betty Erwin, Dick Erwin, Frances Garner, Robert F. Henson III, Jeff Keener, Tammy Kinney, Monica Leonard, Janet Lewis, Sandra Madison, Mary Bath Majesty, Sally McKinney, Vicki Shankwitz, Lucy Smith, Jim Staton, Harry Suarez and Joseph Taylor.

Lillian organizations are planning special events throughout the year to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Alabama statehood. The year’s celebrations will culminate on Saturday, Dec. 14, the actual date of statehood, when the Optimist Club of Perdido Bay hosts the annual Christmas Parade. Many of the entrants in the parade will have a Bicentennial theme.

Press release provided by the Lillian Bicentennial Committee with additional reporting by Onlooker co-editor John Underwood.