Mentone Alabama: A History
By Zora Shay Strayhorn
Copyright © 2001 Mentone Area Preservation Association, Inc. All rights reserved.
Heyday to the Depression
During the heyday of Mentone after the turn of the century, thousands of tourists visited this area in the summer months. They came to escape the heat and to be rejuvenated in body and spirit. Some of the havens they frequented are still extant.
In 1884 Dr. J. Frank CaIdwell of Pennsylvania was a boarding guest of the John Mason family and built the Mineral Springs Hotel between that year and 1887. On October 15, 1885, Alice Mason and Samuel 0’ Rear were married at the Mason home. A few nights later a magnificent ball was held in their honor by Dr. CaIdwell in the ballroom of the hotel. On the grounds of the hotel was built a two-storied gazebo.
The Mineral Springs Hotel sits majestically on the west brow of Lookout Mountain at Mentone overlooking the vast expanse of valleys and hills to the west with a brilliant view of sunsets. The architectural style is Queen Anne of the Victorian period, of frame construction with seven gables, turrets, dormer windows, and verandahs.
In 1890 the hotel was purchased by Charles Loring and became known as the Loring Springs Hotel. The hotel was a popular resort attracting guests from near and far-away states.
In 1915 the Mentone Springs Hotel and Realty Company renovated the hotel. There were 57 guest rooms with hot and cold running water and carbide lights. The American Plan cost guests from two to three dollars a day, meals included. There was an air of quiet elegance in the dining room; waiters were attired in black bow ties and red vests. They served exquisitely prepared meals from the vegetable gardens of the hotel’s own farm, and the hotel became famous for its food. Live music was provided in the dining area.
In the same year, 1915, an annex was built with 26 rooms, each with a private bath. This building was later known as the Sunset Hotel and is in 1986 the White Elephant Galleries.
Trains of the Southern Railroad stopped in Valley Head, four miles down from Mentone in the valley. The Queen and Crescent Line of that railroad brought guests to Valley Head; a taxi carried them to the hotel. The season was from June to September.
Ladies in flower-printed voile dresses with large picture hats were escorted along the hotel’s paths to visit the springs and to the gazebo on lazy summer afternoons to hear band music or to enjoy the spectacular sunsets.
Sometime in the 1930s Nina and “Hello” F. L. Ferrell managed the hotel. In 1921 the Alabama Baptist Convention began to use the hotel for its summer encampments. Eight Baptist leaders formed the Mentone Springs Company and allowed the Alabama Baptists to use the hotel for several weeks each year over a seven-year period through 1931. The hotel at that time was also used by other guests and not exclusively by the Baptists. The effects of the Depression caused the Baptists to discontinue after 1931.
Also the devastating effect of the Depression was the cause of the hotel’s being sold to Edward H. Moore in 1946 to cover debts. Two years before this, the hotel was leased to Norville Hall, who continued his lease until 1950 when it ceased to be used as a hotel. In 1950 there were four changes of ownership. In 1961 Mr. Hall purchased the hotel and used it as a private residence for himself and his mother and for his organ repair business until his death in 1979.
In September 1980 Ray and Sandra Padgett of Atlanta, Georgia, purchased the hotel and have been actively involved in restoring the building. The Padgetts received a listing on the Alabama Historical Register, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior on October 20, 1983.
Around 1873 a two-storied building was erected near the present site of the Mentone Inn by H. B. (Harry) Gillette (also spelled Gillett). Harry was the son of Caroline Gillette Mason, the second Mrs. John Mason, who was from Vermont. She had married in New York and was a widow with three sons and one daughter when John Mason met her on one of his visits to Iowa, and they were married. Harry Gillette married a lady from Chattanooga, and they adopted a little girl. After John Mason’s death in 1911, Caroline Gillette Mason had a stroke. Alice Mason 0’ Rear took care of her stepmother until all members of the Gillette family returned to their former home in Iowa.
A small store was erected by Ed Mason near the two-storied building, and it was later acquired by Gillette. A post office, the first in Mentone, was in the store with Ed Mason as postmaster March 10, 1888, to April 27, 1891. Between 1891 and 1899 the property changed hands several times. By 1899, the store and larger building, known by then as the Huron Boarding House, was owned and operated by the James Huron family until Mrs. Huron’s death in July, 1920. James Huron was born March 17, 1848, in Gallia County, Ohio, and moved his wife and family to Mentone from Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1899. His son Fred built the Riverside Hotel at Mentone in 1915 and ran it until about 1926 when he sold it. Camp Skyline Ranch, established in 1947, bought the hotel as part of its complex.
Halbert Olie (Hal) Howe was born February 29, 1884, in Talmadge, Ohio. He married Elizabeth (Lizzie) Green in 1908, the daughter of John Stephen Green and Achsah Olivia Culberson Green; she died in July, 1929. He came to Alabama in 1907, was postmaster at the Lahusage mines, and also worked in the commissary with Fred Huron. He first rented the Huron property in Mentone and later bought it in 1922 and made changes to the kitchen and dining room. It was known as “Hal’s House” until it burned in 1927. He rebuilt and opened in June 1928, calling it Hal’s Hotel and later the DeSoto Hotel.
On November 10, 1929, Nelda Estelle Ellis became the wife of Hal Howe; the Ellis family dates to 1835 in Valley Head, Alabama. Hal’s daughter Olga Green married N. B. Haston the same day, and the two couples honeymooned together for four months in Florida. Hal Howe wrote Mentone and My Philosophy in 1930.
Mr. and Mrs. H. H. Potts of Florida bought the Mentone Inn in 1954, and they changed the name to DeSoto Lodge until 1977. That year Amelia Kirk Brooks purchased the place and named it the Mentone Inn. She sold to a Mr. and Mrs. Nesbitt in 1979, who called it Mountain View Inn, but the Brookses had to take repossession. It was leased to Ray Cox of Gadsden for a short time. Mr. Cox changed the name back to the Mentone Inn. Mr. and Mrs. Hoil (Bill) McCarty and Mr. and Mrs. Glenn Franklin bought the property, but they, too, returned it to the Brookses. In 1986, Amelia Kirk Brooks (with the help of her husband Robert) owns and operates the inn. It is listed in the Alabama Register of Historical Places, and is located on Highway 117 across from the Mentone Springs Hotel.
Ned Jackson and his wife Margaret Davis were black. In 1898 they acquired property on DeSoto Parkway from W. N. Howell on which a log cabin was situated. Part of the 1985 Cragsmere Manna restaurant has hand-hewn log walls from the original log cabin and is one of the oldest remaining structures on Lookout Mountain.
Ned Jackson was a former slave. He grew up in Virginia; in the late 1800s he moved to this area where he spent years helping to build railroads. He lived near Valley Head.
“Uncle” Ned and “Aunt” Margaret had five children, and to support their family they performed many services for the community. Ned butchered and dressed animals; Margaret did laundry and was a midwife. They farmed. The family was respected and extremely well liked.
Sunday afternoons they had picnics at the “Jackson Place” where good food and friendship was enjoyed by their many friends of both races. In 1927 the Jackson family sold the property to N. B. (Nick) Davenport and his wife Jessie. They went into business partnership with P. G. (Pete) Snedecor, which resulted in a real estate promotional venture called the “Cragsmere Club.”
A clubhouse was constructed and the building expanded around the original dwelling to accommodate overnight guests. Recreational facilities were included and meals served. Guests were shown available mountain properties for sale as well as informed of land for sale in Florida. The Depression caused a swift and screaming halt to the Cragsmere Club.
From 1931 to 1937 the house was occupied by George Gifford, a lumberman. His family consisted of his wife and seven children; they farmed the land.
Mr. and Mrs. F. L. Ferrell purchased Cragsmere in 1937. “Hello” Ferrell was this district’s representative in the Alabama State Legislature during the late 1950s.
The Ferrells were active in civic and church affairs. Nina Ferrell did hand weaving, was a good cook, and an enthusiastic gardener. Some flowers, trees, and shrubs around the grounds of Cragsmere Manna are the original plants from Nina Ferrell’s tender care. She conducted a “Studio Tea Room and Gift Shop” on the place. They built a new home on the brow before they sold to Jack and Olive Jones of Cloudmont Resort in 1969.
In 1981 Cragsmere was sold to H. Bruce Bon Fleur of Daytona Beach, Florida. The new host and owner of Cragsmere Manna restaurant in 1986 is Randy Still, “The Country Gourmet.”
The history of Windward Inn on DeSoto Parkway dates to a land grant given to an Indian after the Civil War.
Around 1903 the family of Clara Moorman (born August 18, 1884, in Kentucky, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister) moved to Mentone and constructed a log cabin of rustic architecture. The family moved to Mentone because of the health of Clara Moorman’s mother. The log cabin was an art studio overlooking the brow for Miss Moorman, a graduate of Wheaton College, who had attended Chicago Art Institute. She was an accomplished artist.
A horseback riding trail passed the place, and riders would alight and ask for a drink of water; the studio was converted to a small European-style inn and named “Windward.” Three guest houses were added later, “Wake Robin,” “Tree Top,” and “Fallen Leaf.” Miss Moorman employed two maids and two yard men, and Windward was a popular meeting place known for its delicious food.
A guest, Carl Carmer, wrote part of his book Stars Fell on Alabama while stopping at the inn. Miss Moorman operated Windward Inn for twenty years. In 1946 she discontinued overnight accommodations, but continued serving meals until the early 1950s.
Mr. and Mrs. William Moerlins purchased the property from Miss Moorman. Mr. Moerlins was a government safety engineer. Mrs. Moerlins, an award-winning potter, had taught art at the Birmingham Museum of Art and had given private lessons in her home. For several summers she conducted pottery sessions at Windward. They built a new home on the property overlooking the brow. The old rustic Windward Inn still stands on the property, sometimes used by guests and occasionally rented for short periods. The inn is on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage.
The first store erected on the site of the present Hitching Post was built around 1900 and was called “The Mentone Store,” at the corner of Alabama Highway 117, Cutler Avenue, and DeSoto Parkway. The building was designed like a shotgun and was built by Guy Burgess, uncle of Guy Jones, president of The Citizens Bank, 1985.
The post office was in this building, with Guy Burgess as postmaster from September 9, 1902, until September 10, 1907. G. A. Burgess, father of the owner, was a cobbler who made and sold shoes in the store.
The store was bought by David Lovejoy Jones (“Davey”), born November 8, 1884, in Mentone. He had a complete country store, including a drug store and soda fountain. The old marbletop soda fountain is still in the Hitching Post. During the winter, he cut ice blocks from Moon Lake and shaved the ice for iced drinks in the summertime. Davey Jones built and lived in the Sam Barrett place, and he owned a large share of present-day commercial Mentone. He served as a county commissioner from district four from 1924-1931 and was influential in getting Alabama Highway 117 from Valley Head to the Georgia line.
“Hal” Howe operated the business one year. Albert Ellis and Red Hulgan operated the drug store one year and continued the tradition of serving milk shakes and homemade ice cream.
In 1924 the store was sold to Low and Pierce. Bertha Akins was an employee. One year the business was leased to N. B. Haston. In 1930 Sam Graham with partner Fred Huron bought the place and added the upstairs portion. Square dances were held upstairs on a dance floor well undergirded; Joe Husky called the square dances.
Mr. Graham added a room to the building for the post office that in 1986 is the home of Sharon Barron’s Gourdie Shop. The post office was moved from a small building below the Hitching Post in 1932 into the new room with Stella Shigley acting as postmistress.
The store was next purchased by Will Davenport. Wayne Baxter operated the drug store and dance hall. Lee and Lottie Davenport worked for Lee’s cousin Will Davenport. They rented Will’s equipment and ran the Hitching Post for about nine years, from 1932 to 1941. The meat cooler, original cash register, and other items of that period may still be seen there. Ray Perkins and Arthur Hixson worked there for a while; one year Arthur Hixson and Mr. Quillian ran the store.
Sam Graham’s daughter Eleanor and husband Bill Glover operated the store after 1941. Their three sons worked in the business: Graham, Alex and Billy. The name “Hitching Post” was given to the Mentone Store by Bill and Eleanor Glover. In the early 1940s breakfast was served at 5 p.m. for the fox hunters staying at the Mentone Springs Hotel to the accompaniment of excited yapping hunting dogs, followed by the sound of distant fox horns.
After the death of Eleanor Glover, the heirs were John Graham, followed by Alex Glover. For several years different people occupied parts of the building: Rose Brown had a cloth shop, Clyde Lance Jones had a beauty shop, the Blalocks had a woodwork shop.
Fritz and Joanne Smith bought the place in 1975 and sold antiques. Durwood “Doc” and Kyle Long were next to purchase the building in 1977 and owned it for two years. In 1980 Bernise Crow and her sister Jean Elrod bought the property after having leased it for a year; they added the name “Crow’s Nest” and are dealers in antiques.
The original building of the White Elephant Galleries was used as an annex to accommodate the overflow of crowds from the Mentone Springs Hotel. The annex was built by A. A. Chapman, who owned the hotel in 1913 and 1914. The annex housed 24 rooms, many with private baths. In July 1950, H. L. Murphy of Summerville, Georgia, purchased the old annex and renamed it The Sunset Hotel. He and his wife ran the hotel for a time. In the mid ‘60s it closed. In 1976 it was bought by Mr. and Mrs. James Rotch and Mr. and Mrs. Frank Young Ill of Birmingham. The White Elephant Galleries contains unusual works of arts and crafts.
Nippersink, a Cherokee Indian word meaning “Little River,” was the name given to the summer lodge built for Mrs. Eugene Taylor of Murphreesboro, Tennessee.
Nippersink was built in 1934 in DeSoto Falls Park, a residential development organized by Phiffer Smith of Baltimore, Maryland, and A. A. Miller of Fort Payne. Arthur Abernathy Miller built the twenty-foot-high dam above DeSoto Falls in 1920, to operate Little River Power Company, later sold to Alabama Power Company.
The architect for Nippersink was a Mr. Weldon of Birmingham, Alabama. The large building was to be used as a summer home, built among the rhododendrons on the west bank of Little River of native material, except for the huge cedar posts used across the front of the lodge which were shipped by flat car from Lebanon, Tennessee.
Ernest Shigley and Fred Jones were the contractors; Lee Matheney assisted as well as local craftsmen. Lee Crow was the mason for the stone work, including the lodge’s huge stone fireplace, one of the finest examples of rock work on Lookout Mountain. The original hickory furniture, handmade by Robert Pullen, is still used.
After the demise of Mrs. Taylor, Nippersink was sold to Annelee Tucker and Elizabeth Lowe in October, 1944, both teachers, who established a mountain summer resort in 1945. For many years the staff of young women was from Berry College, Rome, Georgia.
In January, 1973, Osceloa G. Hauge purchased Nippersink; her husband, a retired naval officer, assisted his wife in the operation until their retirement. In 1977, Nippersink was purchased by Geraldine and Ed Disney.
The great influx of tourists or “summer people” to the newly established resort areas of Mentone in the 1920s was an unwelcome phenomenon to some of the permanent residents. The reasons for the anxiety are revealed in a letter written in 1929. The original letter, signed by a minister and 21 other people, was owned by Mrs. Henry Batty Graves (deceased) of Mentone and was printed in The DeKaIb Legend, May, 1972:
“We who sign this letter to you, live in Mentone township; we own our own homes here and are trying to rear our children free from the vices which now endanger them. Most of us were born and reared on the mountain in the simply Godly way peculiar to mountain folks. In recent years, and especially in the last year, conditions have so changed with the growth of Mentone that if not checked is certain to affect the lives of our children for evil. We think it best to be specific and state our grievance in a plain way.
“1st. We bitterly resent the parading of young men and women on roads and streets, walking and packed in automobiles half naked. “Our ideas of common decencies of life may be ancient and crude but they suit us and we know the example is hurtful to our children.
“2nd. Bathing on the mountain which in itself is a delightful recreation has become a moral menace by the extreme to which it is carried. The way in which half naked boys and girls are mixed in the water and sunning on sand banks, is demoralizing and certain to bring evil to any community which tolerates it. The pity and shame of it is that it is worse on the Sabbath day than any other; the shouting and noise from these places are heard in our Sunday Schools and church gatherings.
“3rd. Regardless of our opinions of the modern dance halls, we insist that there are extremes in which they should not be carried. If they are to be run at all in Mentone, they should be so conducted at night that extreme jazz music, shouting and boisterous conducts should not disturb the people of the neighborhood. . . .“
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