Rural Life in Southern Alabama

Rural Southern Alabama: this series shares the best sections of North America in which to pursue rural life, including population, jobs and crime, real estate and taxes, and education and health.

| January/February 1988

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    Joy Lowery from Loxley in agriculturally rich Central Baldwin sells her neighbor's homegrown produce out of the back of her truck.

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Cream of the country: Rural Southern Alabama. The continuing series of the best sections of America to live a rural lifestyle. 

Rural Life in Southern Alabama

In recent years, the thought of short, mild winters—even if they're followed by long, hot summers—has enticed thousands to the nation's Sun Belt and driven up prices in Florida, Arizona and Southern California. But there's one spot in the sunny South that's not only still affordable, but also offers sparkling white-sand beaches lapped by the clear, warm waters of the Gulf; some of the best hunting and fishing in the nation; and a gracious, rural lifestyle set in a landscape right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. It's that small segment of the state of Southern Alabama just east of Mobile that reaches down to touch the Gulf of Mexico—a gently rolling, productive land of huge rivers and lakes, thick forests of pine, oak and wild magnolia, and an active business community with international connections.

Though nearby counties in both Florida and Alabama can offer many of the same attractions, we decided to focus on Baldwin County (which actually borders the Gulf and was chosen by Outside magazine as one of the 100 best counties in the United States for outdoor recreation) and Escambia County just to the northeast (which—with its friendly and forward-looking people, its easy access to outdoor pleasures and urban attractions, and its bargain prices for houses and land—is one of the best-kept secrets in the nation).

Baldwin County Southern Alabama

Baldwin is Alabama's largest county. It's bordered on the west by Mobile Bay and the River Delta System, on the north by the Little River, on the east by the Perdido River and on the south by the Gulf of Mexico. The northern section contains vast tracts of timberland where deer, squirrels, raccoons and wild turkeys are favorite game. Freshwater fishermen can also find dozens of lakes and hundreds of miles of rivers rich in catfish, bass and bream.

Though the northern section isn't heavily populated, the county seat, Bay Minette, is located here. From this area, near the winding Tensaw lake and river, Hernando deSoto began his expedition through the Americas.

Central Baldwin is devoted to agriculture. While tourism is playing an increasingly larger role in South Baldwin, fishing and agriculture are still of prime importance. Foley, an old farming and railroad town, has soybeans growing right up to the rear of the town's major shopping center. There is, however, a cultural awareness among its 4,500 citizens that a city many times its size could envy. The town's very active Performing Arts Association also brings a variety of high-quality music, dance, theater and visual arts programs to both the community and the schools. The Foley Art Center, housed in a former hotel, has rotating exhibits, lectures, public classes and some irresistible merchandise. (I purchased two lovely batiks.) A citizen described Foley as "a brash little place," but I found the atmosphere comfortable and open-minded.

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