This text was extracted from
"A Pictorial History of DeKalb County, Alabama"
Published by Landmarks of DeKalb County, Inc., 1972.
DeKalb County was once a part of the territory occupied by the Cherokee Indian Nation. The coming of white men to the county occurred during the American Revolution when a British agent, Alexander Campbell, was sent here for the purpose of arousing the Cherokees against the southern colonies. In 1777, Campbell made his headquarters at Wills Town, a Cherokee Indian village located on Big Wills Creek near the present community of Lebanon. Campbell was successful in arousing a number of the Cherokees by promising them clothing and conquered territory in exchange for the scalps of white settlers.
After the revolution, Cherokees continued to occupy the territory as did increasing numbers of white settlers who came from the Carolinas, Georgia, and Tennessee. Missionaries came to convert the Indians.
In 1816, when the Board of Missions of the Presbyterian Church sent missionaries to teach Christianity to the Indians, the Wills Town Mission was established at a location now in the northeastern section of Fort Payne. The mission was named after a half-breed Indian, Red Head Will, who is said to be buried nearby. The site of the mission is still marked by the gravestone of the missionary, Reverend Ard Hoyt. The famous old council oak near Wills Town has been destroyed by lightning.
Living in the vicinity of Fort Payne during this period was a Cherokee known by white settlers as George Guess. His Indian name was Sequoyah. In 1821, while living at Wills Town, Sequoyah announced that he had developed an alphabet for the Cherokee language, a project which he had commenced twelve years earlier. The alphabet contained eighty-six symbols. Each symbol represented a syllable, thereby enabling one to read and write the Cherokee language by merely learning the alphabet. Sequoyah’s contribution to Cherokee culture gave rise in the Cherokee Nation to the publication of newspapers, Bibles, and other works, and won for him a respected place in Cherokee history.
As the immigration of settlers into the Cherokee country increased, friction between the two races grew. By 1830, there was a growing demand on the part of the settlers for the federal government to buy the land from the Indians and to move them off it, thereby making way for homesteads. A small group of Indians led by John Ridge and Elias Boudinot, who were opposed by a majority of the Cherokees, agreed to give up Cherokee lands east of the Mississippi River. The Treaty of New Echota, signed December 29, 1835, ceded the Cherokee lands in Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia to the federal government for a consideration of five million dollars and a joint interest in certain western Indian territory. A federal agent sent into Cherokee country to investigate the situation reported that a vast majority of the Cherokees were opposed to the signing of the treaty including the Nation’s chief, John Ross, and considered it not to be binding upon them.
Nevertheless, the treaty was enforced and federal troops were sent by President Andrew Jackson to transport the Indians westward. General Winfield Scott was placed in charge of these federal forces in 1838 and, on May 10, 1838, issued a proclamation to the Cherokees warning them that their emigration was to commence in haste, and that before “another moon had passed” every Cherokee man, woman, and child must be in motion to join his brethren in the far west.
Under Scott’s orders, troops were dispatched to various points throughout the Cherokee country, and stockade forts were erected for gathering in and holding the Indians preparatory to removal. Captain John Payne was sent to the present site of Fort Payne where a stockade was erected near a large spring on a lot later occupied by the city water plant in the southern part of Fort Payne. The fort was named in honor of its commander.
When the Indians departed from the stockade at Fort Payne, there were only two wagons available to transport their personal property. The failure of the government to furnish transportation facilities required the Indians to leave behind many of their prized possessions and increased the sadness of their departure. The journey westward was filled with hardship and suffering, and one out of every seven Indians died before the party reached its new home in the west.
On January 9, 1836, eleven days after the signing of the treaty of New Echota, DeKalb County was created by the legislature of Alabama and was one of three Alabama counties carved from the Cherokee cession of 1835. Elections were held soon thereafter and the following were the first county officials: Judge of the County Court, Robert Hooks; Sheriff, Robert Murphy; Circuit Clerk, John Cunningham; County Clerk, Soloman C. Smith; Justices of the Peace, William Withdraw and Benjamin F. Greene; Constable, A. H. Lamar.
Removal of the Indians opened up new land for settlement. The census of 1840 revealed that the population of DeKaib County was 5,929. Most of the settlers selected land in the valleys because more valley land had been cleared, communication was easier, and the soil appeared more suitable for farming. However, a few hardy pioneers settled in the mountains and, by 1860, they were scattered over both Lookout and Sand Mountains.
By 1850, the population of the county had grown to 8,245 including 506 slaves and 9 free Negroes. Since most settlers were financially unable to own slaves, large families were an economic necessity. The settlers’ chief crops were grain and vegetables. Cotton was grown primarily for domestic purposes. Farm families produced their own clothing from cotton and wool. Hogs provided the settlers with meat and lard and, for the most part, settlers were dependent upon the commercial world for only such things as guns, ammunition, and hardware.
Roads were poor and, prior to the advent of the railroad, travel was slow and tedious. A map of Alabama in 1856 shows a road connecting Chattanooga and Elyton, now Birmingham, which passed through Valley Head, Rawlingsville, North Bend, Lebanon, and Van Buren in DeKalb County. The road was crossed at Van Buren by another road connecting Rome, Georgia, with Gunter’s Landing on the Tennessee River. Rome was the trading center for people in the vicinity of Fort Payne. In traveling from Fort Payne to Rome, one could go south to Van Buren and then east to Rome by way of Blue Pond and Gaylesville.
In 1861, W. 0. Winston and J. N. Franklin represented DeKalb County at the secession convention in Montgomery which passed the Ordinance of Secession on January 11, 1861. Both Winston and Franklin voted against secession.
The outbreak of the Civil War found DeKalb County’s citizens politically divided into three groups: (a) those favoring secession; (b) those opposed to secession; and (c) cooperationists. The cooperationists constituted a majority in the county as was the case in many of Alabama’s northern counties.
Cooperationists were opposed to immediate secession. They wished to call a southern convention to discuss the grievances of their section and, if secession became necessary, they proposed cooperation in seceding and forming a new nation instead of separate state action. Some of the cooperationists hoped by these tactics to produce delay so that compromise and sober second thought would prevent the dissolution of the union. Most of these moderates admitted the legal right of secession but questioned its practicality and expediency.
No major battles were fought in DeKalb County during the Civil War, but several minor skirmishes took place during the Chickamauga campaign in the fall of 1863. On September 5, 1863, a salt works at Rawlingsville was destroyed by federal troops, and a skirmish occurred on the same day at Lebanon. Three days later, another skirmish took place at Winston Gap. In a letter to Major W. H. Sinclair of the Union Army, dated at Rawlingsville on September 4, 1863, Major General Alexander McCook, Commander of the 20th Corps of Rosecran’s Army, wrote: “The little children here tell me that there has (sic) been no regular soldiers in the vicinity for four months.” Apparently, the skirmishes were with local forces and not with regular Confederate detachments.
However, Confederate scouts were active in the area as is evidenced in a report of Lt. C. A. Nichols, Assistant Inspector-General in the Confederate Army, which documented the presence of 40,000 federal troops at Whitehall near Valley Head on September 9, 1863. Another Confederate scout reported a force of four or five thousand federal troops encamped on Lookout Mountain on the same day.
The presence of the large encampment of federal troops near Valley Head was a part of the Union Army’s campaign to seize Chattanooga. General Rosecran of the Union Army anticipated that a direct advance against Chattanooga would force General Bragg of the Confederate Army to abandon Chattanooga and fall back to Rome. General McCook’s troops were to move from the Tennessee River across Sand Mountain to Valley Head and then, at the proper time, advance to Rome for the purpose of cutting off Bragg’s expected retreat.
On the evening of September 9, 1863, while in DeKalb County, McCook was informed that Bragg was retreating southward from Chattanooga, and he was ordered to move rapidly upon Summerville, Georgia, to intercept Bragg’s line of retreat and to attack his flank; however, the next day, after crossing Lookout Mountain, McCook learned that Bragg had not retreated very far from Chattanooga, and he was ordered to move to Chickamauga. McCook desired to take a mountain road to his destination, but felt that the route back through Valley Head was the only practical route. Taking this route delayed the arrival of his troops at Chickamauga a day, and General Rosecran later testified before a Congressional Committee that the “tardy arrival of McCook’s corps came near being fatal to us.”
The following is a list of Confederate units made up wholly or in part from DeKalb County: Company I, Yancy Guards, 10th Regt.; Company E, DeKalb Invincibles, 12th Regt.; Company B, Wills Valley Guards, 48th Regt.; Company B, DeKalb Rifles, 49th Regt.; Company G, 44th Regt.; Company K, 58th Regt.; Companies A, B, C, and K, 3rd Confederate Regt.
On February 3, 1852, the legislature of Alabama granted a charter to the following DeKalb County citizens for the purpose of constructing and operating the Wills Valley Railroad: Humphrey McBrayer, William P. Scott, Lewis Rea, Thomas G. A. Cox, Richard Ramsey, Charles Stowers, A. J. Cheney, Thomas A. Patrick, Samuel M. Nicholson, Obediah W. Ward, M. C. Newman, Alfred Collins, Charles D. George, Stephen McBroom, A. J. Ward, Reuben Estes, John G. Winston, John M. Bruce, John M. Lankford, Jesse G. Beeson, Joseph Davenport, Hiram Allen, V. C. Larmore, William 0. Winston, Jacob Beene, B. F. Porter, John J. Humphries, George W. White, Gaines Blevins, Daniel B. Buckhalter, and Jacob Putnam. The charter authorized $300,000 of capital stock in shares of $50 each and allowed payment of stock subscriptions in materials, labor, and supplies needed for construction of the railroad. Construction was begun by the Wills Valley Railroad in 1858 at Wauhatchie, Tennessee, where it made connections with the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad.
By 1860, the Wills Valley Railroad had been extended to Trenton, Georgia. In 1861, the railroad was consolidated with the Northeast and Southwest Railroad which was already serving southeast Alabama. Construction was suspended during the Civil War and was not resumed until 1868 when a group of Boston capitalists under the leadership of John C. Stanton, a carpetbagger, took over the charter and continued construction of the road under the name of the Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad Company.
Stanton’s power in the state legislature enabled him to secure the state’s endorsement of bonds to the extent of $16,000 per mile for every five miles of railroad constructed. Stanton also obtained a loan of $2,000,000 from the state pursuant to an act providing for the issuance of bonds as the road progressed. However, Stanton obtained the issuance of the full amount within thirty days and used the proceeds to build the Stanton House Hotel and an opera house in Chattanooga.
The new road reached Birmingham in the fall of 1870, completing rail connections between Trenton, Georgia, and York, Alabama, but in January 1871, the company defaulted in payment of interest on the state-endorsed bonds. Following bankruptcy proceedings, the railroad was acquired in 1877 by Alabama Great Southern which has served Fort Payne since that time.
In 1876, Fort Payne became the county seat of DeKalb County. The coming of the railroad caused many citizens to feel that the county seat, which was Lebanon at that time, should be changed to a town served by the railroad. Lebanon had been the county seat for more than twenty-five years and previous to that, court had been held at Rawlingsville, Bootsville, Camden and Portersville. Rawlingsville was designated by the legislature to be DeKalb County’s first seat of justice. From Rawlingsville, the county seat was moved to Bootsville, then Camden, then Lebanon, then Portersville, back to Lebanon and then to Fort Payne.
DeKalb County was named for Baron DeKalb who was killed at Camden, South Carolina, in the Revolutionary War. It is probable that the naming of the county and one of its first county seats was influenced by the presence of settlers from South Carolina.
The first courthouse in Fort Payne was built with funds donated by Dr. A. B. Green. It stood on a site which is now the intersection of Grand Avenue and First Street. The bricks out of which the old courthouse was built were made on the construction site, the walls having been erected around the kiln in order to save hauling and handling. The building was used by the county until 1890 when a new building was constructed on the same site.
In 1887, fifty years after the removal of the Cherokees, Fort Payne was a town of approximately 500 people. Families residing in the town at that time included the Claytons, Greens, McCartneys, Duncans, Poes, Cravens, Hammonds, Garretts, Lyons, and Smiths.
Lookout and Sand Mountains are the southern extremities of the venerable Appalachian Range. This range was once as grand as the European Alps or the Rocky Mountains; however, the Appalachians are millions of years older, and, consequently, have been eroded to their present size and configuration.
On the western brow of Lookout Mountain, overlooking the sweeping valley below, is Mentone, once a fashionable and popular vacation retreat. Two of the large and once bustling old hotels remain as silent and nostalgic reminders of a time when the "summer people" came in throngs by train to Valley Head, and were carried by horse-drawn carriages, and later by automobiles, to these hotels or to their summer homes where they could rest or play in a pleasant atmosphere.
Mentone was founded by John Mason, a native of New York City, who, as a young man, joined the United States Cavalry and was sent to the Middle West. His parents were interested in the opening of the Oregon territory, but they were city people, comfortably well-to-do, and did not care to face the hardships of a transcontinental trip by wagon and so, instead, they set sail from New York planning to reach Oregon by ship around Cape Horn. Young John expected to join his family later in Oregon, but he received the news that the ship and passengers had been lost, which was the fate of many vessels rounding the treacherous cape.
John Mason decided to remain in the Middle West and settle in Iowa. He proved to be a good businessman, and in time became moderately wealthy. During this period, however, his health began to fail, and believing in the curative value of fresh air and pure water, he traveled extensively to find these resources, and eventually reached Lookout Mountain about twelve miles north of what is now Mentone. He remained there several months, was restored to good health and returned to Iowa. His health began to fail again, so he returned to the mountain and once more regained his strength. Whereupon he traveled back to Iowa, sold his holdings and returned to Lookout Mountain with his family in 1870. He settled in the area of Moon Lake and lived there until his death at the age of 92 in 1911.
Mason wanted others to enjoy the benefits of mountain life and was instrumental in bringing in settlers from distant places. He would tell the newcomers, "Do not come with the expectation of making a fortune, but if your fortune is already made, it is the most wonderful place in the world to live."
Among these early settlers was Dr. John E. Purdon, a retired British Army Surgeon. Dr. Purdon, in turn, encouraged young Englishmen to come and live with him while he taught them how to farm. At least three young men did come, but the venture failed because of one flaw in Dr. Purdon's plan: he knew nothing about farming.
The Purdons lived across the DeSoto River (the West Fork of Little River) from the Masons and were later joined by relatives, the Thomas F. Sproules, a titled Irish family driven out of Ireland during an uprising. The Purdons left Mentone, but the Sproules lived out their lives there and received an annual income from the revenues of their Irish home.
Others came from Maine, among them: Mr. and Mrs. Horatio Libby and their son Ralph, Mr. and Mrs. Alvares Tylers and Gene Tyler. All of these remained except the Alvares Tylers.
Edward Mason was the eldest son of John Mason. His father owned many acres of land all around Mentone so Edward decided to survey streets, name them and build a summer resort. Frank Caldwell came from Ohio, it is thought, to investigate Edward's plans for the building of a hotel on the brow of the mountain. He found the plans quite feasible, and the hotel construction was soon begun.
Caldwell was boarding with the Masons during the construction, and at a meal one day he remarked that the hotel was progressing toward completion, and the town proper was laid out, but that it still had no name. Alice Mason, John's only daughter, said that she had just been reading an article about "Queen Victoria Vacationing at Mentone" (Menton), France. Mentone means "Musical Mountain Spring," and because this was a fairly accurate description on the grounds on which their hotel was being erected, Caldwell agreed that this was a very suitable name for the town, so before the end of the meal the names Mentone and Mentone Springs Hotel came into being.
The Mentone Springs Hotel was a popular and fashionable summer hotel during the 1880's and 90's and on into the turn of the century. Its popularity gradually declined however, and it eventually closed its doors.
Many of those who visited the hotel during its active life later built homes and cottages forming a summer colony. Other hotels were built as well as several business buildings. The first store in the area, built near what is now DeSoto Lodge was operated for many years by Harry Gillette, a stepson of John Mason.
As the village grew, a number of prominent people established summer homes there including the Wright family and Miss Martha Berry, the famed founder of Berry Schools of Rome, Georgia. Some descendants of these early families still live in the vicinity, including the family of Ralph Libby (direct descendants of the well-known Libby Packers and Glass Manufacturers) and three granddaughters of John Mason, the daughters of Alice Mason and Samuel O'Rear. These sole survivors of the Mason family are Mrs. Ethel O. Davenport, Miss Winifred Ruth O'Rear, Mrs. Paul Whitehead and son, James, Hope Davenport and Mrs. W. Paul White.
The grand old days of the summer hotels of Mentone have passed, but another kind of summer activity has replaced them. Each spring hundreds of boys and girls from all over America, and the Southeast in particular, converge on more than a dozen camps to enjoy the open-air life. These camps include Alpine Lodge, Cherokee, Lookout Mountain, Cloudmont, Valley View Ranch, Ponderosa, DeSoto, Shady Grove, Laney, Juliette Low, Skyline, and Comer, a huge camp owned and operated by the Boy Scouts of America. This camp can accommodate several thousand scouts at one time.
The Mentone area has had its share of interesting and colorful characters. Colonel Milford W. Howard, who was a politician, lawyer, actor, writer and visionary, developed the area around River Park. He publicized this area which lies along Little River (DeSoto River) in the vicinity of Alpine Lodge on the west side of the River. Howard was also instrumental in the development of DeSoto State Park, and in River Park he constructed a church known as Howard's Chapel, one end of which is formed by a huge boulder. At Colonel Howard's death, his body was cremated and his ashes were placed within this great rock.
Tribute to another man of national prominence from Mentone is found in the following excerpt by Congressman Tom Bevill taken from the United States Congressional Record, Vol. 116, No. 82, dated Thursday, May 21, 1970, page H4716, and titled, "Alabama's Allgood":
East of Mentone near the Georgia state line lie the remains of the old Lake LaHousage Hotel. This 180-room hotel was the dream of a group of investors from Florida who came to Lookout Mountain in 1924. They realized the possibilities of a resort in this picturesque setting along the eastern fork of Little River, and they formed the Lookout Mountain Development Company with H. H. Pounds as President. A stone dam was constructed across the river in 1924 forming a beautiful lake, but the dam was washed away in November of the same year and was rebuilt. The project was engineered by a Mr. Hall, and Blue Strickland was foreman of the rock work.
The Depression of 1929 struck before the great quarried sandstone building was completed, and the company went into receivership. The property was taken back by the original owners, Dr. Chapman and Dr. Chaney of Lindale, Georgia. Although the hotel was never completed, it was used by the government as a convalescent home for World War I Veterans and later as a campground for C.C.C. boys who were building DeSoto State Park during the 1930's.
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