Life Down the Bay: Looking Back at a Lifetime on the Water

This article is from the summer 2024 edition of Mobile Baykeeper’s print quarterly, CURRENTS. The magazine is mailed to active members who have given more than $50 in the past year. To get on the magazine’s mailing list, donate here.

by Virginia Kinnier | Photo by Caine O’Rear

With increased development and larger residences popping up left and right, change is happening on Mobile’s side of the Bay. But there is one piece of the landscape you can expect to stay: Frank Foley. With 70 years of down-the-Bay living on his resume, Frank is about as local as it gets.

“As a boy, I lived for when summertime would come, and we’d head down the Bay. My grandfather originally bought the 7-acre lot back in the 1920s as a summer residence. Back then, it was mostly a large Creole community who lived down here, so we got to know the farmers and the fishermen and were raised alongside each other. It was a beautiful community to grow up in.”

After several summers in Coden, the Foleys decided one season a year at the Bay was not enough.

“My family moved down here full time about 60 years ago when I was ten years old. You learn things you just don’t learn in the city being raised down here. I spent my days floundering, shrimping, soft-shelling. It’s a lot of fun. When you’re little, and you catch one of those, it’s just so exciting.”

Decades later, Frank is still floundering and fishing, leaning into the way of life he was raised in as a child on the water.

“I still sell shrimp on the side,” he says. “I don’t go out myself anymore — 70 years old really cramps my style. A good friend of mine has an operation, so I can get good, fresh shrimp from him.”

These days Frank is seeing more and more people escape the city life and flee to his neck of the woods in search of the same simple childhood for their kids that he had, or for a quieter life away from the city. He’s even sold a few lots from his family’s original property to those seeking their own sanctuary on the water.

“People are really moving in down here now. It’s mostly Mobile people. They get a chance to buy something on the water and get away from the hustle and bustle. They move down here, and they get to enjoy the water, skiing, floundering, fishing, boating.”

The influx of newcomers might worry some, but Frank has faith in what has always been the most valuable part of his spot on the water: the people.

“People are building down here, don’t get me wrong, but it’s still a close-knit community. We look out for each other, just like you would find in any other small country town or village.”

To Frank, there is no better example of the culture of this water community than after a storm.

“You want to see people working together?” he asks. “After a hurricane, the people down here clean their own yard, and then they go help their neighbor clean their yard, every time. It’s just who we are.”

And as much as they look out for their neighbors, they look out for their waters, too.

“People down here are real respectful of the water. You don’t see them throwing things in the water, or off the boat. If someone sees somebody else doing that, people down here will tell you pretty quick, ‘Hey, don’t do that.’”

Protecting the local waters takes ownership and resilience, especially when so much can be outside of one’s control.

“We’ve been through some storms, and we’ve rebuilt three times. Sometimes we lose a little frontage during a storm, but we redo it and go on from there. It’s pretty laid back down here most of the year, except for September, October, and November during hurricane season. But obviously we’ve loved it enough to weather the storms and rebuild three times.”

Looking toward the future, Frank is concerned about one thing: the water.

“My children and my grandchildren now have grown up swimming in the same water I did. The only thing I worry about is the pollution going into it now. We used to have clear water. It looked like Key West — it was that pretty. As the years go on, and with rough weather making it muddy, it gets worse. Sometimes when its slick for two or three days, the water will get pretty clear again. We have to keep people from doing stupid things, like dumping trash in the Bay or the rivers.”

Aside from storms and keeping an eye out for litterers, life down the Bay remains easygoing for those like Frank who call it home.

“You come down here after working all day, get home, get outside, look at the water, have a beer. Seems like when you cross the Fowl River Bridge, you can just feel yourself relaxing.”

After 70 years, countless storms, and three homes later, there’s still no place Frank Foley would rather be.

Photo: Frank Foley on the shores of Mobile Bay, not far from his home.


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