The area that now comprises Orange Beach was first settled in the mid-1860s, with the western portion of the present town being known as Orange Beach, the central portion being known as Caswell, and the eastern end being known as Bear Point. This latter section of the present-day island was a Creek settlement until the early nineteenth century. Given the town's proximity to vast forestlands, early businesses included turpentine and naval stores and a shingle mill. As forestlands were depleted in the late nineteenth century, they were replaced with orange groves, from which the town derived its present name. The first groves were planted by Lemuel Walker Sr., in whose home the first post office opened in 1901. The citrus industry remained an important aspect of the local economy until several hard freezes, the last being in 1926, effectively ended the industry.
Settlement in the area was hampered by poor roads, with most travel taking place via water. The Intracoastal Waterway was expanded into the area around 1910, thereby cutting off most of the town of Orange Beach from the mainland but providing more access by water. Tourism gradually brought more development to the area, not just to the beaches but to the new charter fishing industry. One of the first tourist hotels was built in the early 1920s, at about the same time that locals began renting their boats for one-day fishing expeditions. The Intracoastal Waterway was completed in 1932 and improved travel by water, and the first paved road to the town was completed in 1947. Electrical service was established in Orange Beach in 1948 and phone service in 1956. The Orange Beach Volunteer Fire Department was founded in 1961. A public water system came into operation in 1974.
Orange Beach was damaged seriously by Hurricane Frederic in 1979, but the pace of development in the area picked up dramatically afterward, prompting the town to incorporate in 1984. During the summer of 2010, Orange Beach, and many other Gulf Coast communities suffered a severe drop in tourism after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon mobile oil rig off the coast of Louisiana on April 20, 2010. The resulting oil disaster polluted marshes, beaches, and water all along the coast. Although the beaches have recovered for the most part, the fishing industry continues to be affected by the oil disaster. Orange Beach is one of the communities participating in the settlement claims program set up by British Petroleum, which leased the oil rig. Tourism remains one of the major sustaining industries in Orange Beach.
According to the 2010 Census, Orange Beach had a population of 5,441. Of that number, 94.3 percent of respondents identified themselves as white, 2.6 percent as Hispanic, 2.2 percent as two or more races, 0.8 percent as Asian, 0.7 percent as Native American, and 0.6 percent as African American. The town's median household income, according to 2009 Census estimates, was $64,732, and the per capita income was $39,455.
According to 2010 Census estimates, the work force in Orange Beach was divided among the following industrial categories:
· Retail trade (17.6 percent)
· Educational services, and health care and social assistance (15.5 percent)
· Arts, entertainment, recreation, and accommodation and food services (12.4 percent)
· Construction (12.2 percent)
· Professional, scientific, and administrative and waste management services (9.1 percent)
· Finance and insurance, real estate, and rental and leasing (9.0 percent)
· Transportation, warehousing, and utilities (4.7 percent)
· Information (4.3 percent)
· Other services, except public administration (4.2 percent)
· Wholesale trade (3.5 percent)
· Public administration (3.3 percent)
· Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and extractive (2.9 percent)
· Manufacturing (1.2 percent)
Orange Beach's one elementary school is part of the Baldwin County School System. It serves approximately 375 students and employs 21 teachers. Middle and high school students attend schools in nearby Gulf Shores.
Orange Beach is served by State Highways 180 and 182, both of which run east-west, and State Highway 161, which runs north-south. Jack Edwards Airport serves general aviation.
Orange Beach holds an annual art festival in March that features visual artists, musicians, authors, and performing artists. The two-day festival also has food vendors and an "Arts Alley" where children can create their own art.
Orange Beach maintains an aquatics center, a tennis center, a recreation center, a sportsplex, and a waterfront park. The sportsplex has hosted the Southeastern Conference's Women's Soccer Championship since 2005. The town also maintains a backcountry trail and a canoe trail and owns Robinson Island and Bird Island Park, a wildlife sanctuary that the city purchased in 2003.
The Orange Beach Indian Center and Sea Museum exhibits local artifacts and memorabilia that recognize the Native American
history and the influence of the sea on the town's history and cultural life. The Coastal Arts Center has a gallery that exhibits
the work of more than 150 artists and offers art classes to the public.
Baldwin County Heritage Book Committee. The Heritage of Baldwin County. Clanton, Ala.: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 2001.
Long, Margaret Childress and Michael D. Shipler. The Best Place to Be: The Story of Orange Beach, Alabama. Bay Minette, Ala.: Leedon Art, 2002.
James P. Kaetz
Published November 20, 2012
Last updated December 17, 2012