Mentone Alabama: A History
By Zora Shay Strayhorn
Copyright © 2001 Mentone Area Preservation Association, Inc. All rights reserved.
Mentone, a place where Indians
used to roam and call home
Mentone, a place full of lore,
history, and soul mending.
--C. V. J. BREWER, Menlo, Georgia
Like the stars that come out at night to brighten the night sky and to fade at dawn, so in a way is the town of Mentone, Alabama, ephemeral. At times past it has sparkled brilliantly; at times faded, only to return and radiate its quiet charm.
The name Mentone is from two root words: The Latin “mens” meaning mind; the Latin root word “tonus,” and the Greek root word “tonus”: a stretching, i.e., the name Mentone means “Toning of the Mind” or “Mind Stretching.” Maybe “Mind Boggling” would be a better word to describe this tiny place in the sun.
The French city of Menton has been described as meaning “Musical Mountain Spring.” Mentone, Alabama, was named by Alice Mason, young daughter of John Mason, father/founder of the town, who in 1884 at the request of Dr. Frank CaIdwell, builder of the Mentone Springs Hotel, gave the town its name.
Two of the original mineral springs of clear life-giving mountain water still exist. Another spring was destroyed by blasting of Alabama State Highway 117 when the road was under construction.
The terrain has been shaken by violent upheavals of the earth, according to geologists, in the dim geological past. The effects of erosion by rain, wind, ice, snow, and the wide swings in temperature changes from ice to tropical heat have had their results, too. Because of this, there are huge outcroppings of rocks and within the earth caves and caverns.
Marine water covered large areas here over 600 million years ago. Trees fell in swamplands, forming peat deposits and finally making coal which attracted hoards of people here at one time with great expectations from “get rich quick” promoters.
Mentone is located on Lookout Mountain in the northeastern part of the state of Alabama. Lookout Mountain is eighty-three miles long. It is a part of the Cumberland Plateau of the Appalachian chain which begins in Maine and ends at Gadsden, Alabama.
Mentone is about midway between the northern and southern tip of Lookout Mountain and has a comfortable elevation of between 1,700 and 1,800 feet high. The highest point on Lookout Mountain is High Point, Georgia, at 2,393 feet; Sand Mountain is about 1,700 feet high, and Gadsden, only 1,124 feet.
The section was carved out of lands originally occupied by the Indians, principally Cherokees. In 1819 a portion of western Georgia was laid off into the state of Alabama; on December 14, 1819, Alabama became the 22nd state. DeKaIb County was one of three Alabama counties created from the Cherokee Cession in 1835 when the Indians were forced to leave on their “Trail of Tears.” Dekalb County was formally established January 9, 1836, eleven days after the Treaty of New Echota.
The earth has heard the silent sounds of Indian moccasins, the footsteps of legendary Welshmen, the British, Spanish, French explorers and traders with a big sprinkling of the Scottish and Irish. Mentone was brushed by the Last Battle of the Revolution between the Indians and frontiersmen in 1782. On an early fall night in September, 1863, the thundering sound of horses’ hooves resounded as the cavalry of McCook’s Union Army crashed through the woods on uncertain paths. Archaeologists and geologists have found amazing ancient artifacts.
About 1854 Mentone, Alabama, was known as “Ellison’s Precinct” because a man by the name of Ellison operated a grist mill here. George O’Rear lived at the Ellison place that year.
The first house built here was about 1854 by Robert Vernon and forms the central structure of St. Joseph’s-on-the-Mountain, Episcopal. Gruff Johnson’s great-grandfather, Joseph Johnson, came from England and settled in Savannah, Georgia; he was a cotton buyer. His son, Henry M. C. Johnson, came to Head River, Georgia, near Mentone, and built a house in 1860. Gruff’s father, Henry Reed Johnson, built an early-style Colonial house, painted white with a white picket fence in 1884. Gruff and his wife, Nina Mae, still live in the one-hundred-year-old house on their 800-acre farm. Head River, Georgia, is where Little River begins.
Alabama Highway 117 which runs through Mentone’s shopping area, was first named Lake Street. The streets were laid out and named by Ed Mason, son of John Mason, about one hundred years ago.
Adventurers, poets, craftspeople, musicians, promoters, dreamers, people of religious fervency, farmers, coal miners, sawmillers, educators, and a few bootleggers have found this spot.
Mentone has attracted people seeking physical health because of its pure, clean, cool, unpolluted air, and health-restoring mineral water (because of its iron content). Today the summer camps for boys and girls, hotel, inns, restaurants, and summer homes help restore the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well being of visitors as well as natives and year-round residents.
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