Mentone Alabama: A History
By Zora Shay Strayhorn
Copyright © 2001 Mentone Area Preservation Association, Inc. All rights reserved.
President Charles Eliot of Harvard once said: “The organized summer camp is the most important step in education that America has given the world.”
Probably nowhere else in the United States is there a more highly concentrated group of youth camps than in the vicinity of Mentone. Jim Russell, Administrator of the DeKaIb County Health Department stated that the camps are a million-dollar business, serving 9,235 campers in 1983 alone.
The youth camps represent beyond doubt Mentone’s most important economy factor. They provide year-round employment and are a boost to local businesses in the summer. Jack Jones, Cloudmont Ski and Golf Resort owner, in talks before civic clubs in the Georgia-Alabama area, delights in pointing out that the gold early explorers were seeking was not in the ground to be mined, but is found in the business of recreation, tourism, the summer camps and similar activities.
There are twelve camps: eight in the general Mentone area, four on the mountain just across the Georgia line: three are boys camps, three for girls; two are for boys and girls; two are Scout camps and two basically Christian oriented.
Before cataloging the camps existent at the time of the Centennial celebration in 1984, it is in order to reach back and examine some of the pioneers that no longer exist.
Camp Alanita for Girls was established in 1922, situated on a ledge below Eagle’s Nest Rock on Mentone’s brow. It was limited to 100 girls which were said to be from the best homes in the South. “Lookout Mountain,” a brochure claimed, “is the ideal spot for developing the girl with a mind that thinks, a body that acts, and a heart that loves.”
The Council Hall was a sixteen-sided structure with a fireplace, piano, record player, writing desks, and porch equipped with swings, extending almost to the brow. Each cabin accommodated eight campers and one counselor; drinking water was from wells; chemically treated toilets were used but electricity was available.
There were tennis courts, athletic field, riding ring, archery range, swimming beach and diving board and a large bath house with curtained dressing rooms. Little River was used for aquatic sports. There was a craft studio, office and living quarters for the camp staff, plus a camp post office and commissary. The camp closed after a few years probably because of water or economic problems.
Adahi, a Girl Scout summer camp north of Cloudland near Little River, was originally homesteaded by Thomas Truly Brown and Louisa Rodgers Brown. They reportedly lost their wealth and large plantation in McLemore’s Cove, Georgia, after the Civil War, around 1875. Union troops had ravaged the place. Brown died in 1897 and is buried at Bankhead Cemetery.
In the early 1950s Delores Morgadanes purchased 80 acres from the Crow family. The property was one mile from Little River Church. Miss Morgadanes had a dam built on the river and for several years ran Camp Laurel Dell for Catholic girls.
In January, 1974, Laurel Dell was sold to Honey and Alexander Glover and to Bess and Frank Mason. The land was divided and the Glovers renamed their portion Camp High River. The camp consists of 15 buildings and a gymnasium, but is no longer in operation.
Camp Cloudmont was founded in 1924, purchased in 1947 by Jack and Olive Jones, and is now operated as Saddle Rock Camp for Girls on the property of the Cloudmont Ski and Golf Resort, still owned and directed by the Joneses.
Camp Juliette Low
In 1921 a mule team brought Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts of America, to the Georgia-side ridge of Lookout Mountain. She was in search of a site for a leadership training center in the southern wilderness. John and Will Ledbetter, who were developing Cloudland, offered her ten acres for the project. Her choice was an area on Little River with rugged terrain and a natural rock swimming pool. Juliette Low was the aunt of Marion Wallace Low of Mentone.
Juliette Low Camp was expanded to 340 acres with a lake. The first season was in 1922. Joint founder was Director Dorris S. Hough, who served for the first ten years. The camp was advertised as Girl Scout Training School at Cloudland Park, Georgia. During the first year there was only one permanent building on the site. The first camp was for girls 18 years and over, cost $6 a week, and was run on a strict military style. By 1935 the camp included younger girls.
In the summer before Mrs. Low died, she transferred the campsite to Camp Juliette Low, Inc., a holding company, neither owned nor directed by the Girl Scouts of America. Its philosophy emphasizes response to the impact of nature and ecology and a concern for the environment. A nonprofit organization, it is managed by a board of trustees.
There are four two-week sessions each summer, with 100 campers each session. In 1985 Cathy Bennett Holley was Director.
Camp DeSoto for Girls
Mentone’s oldest camp is probably Camp DeSoto for Girls. It was originally a boys’ camp, built in the late 1920s by a Mrs. Newton, who operated it until her death in 1935, when it was leased to Eloise Hart Temple. Because of Mrs. Temple’s youth, Mrs. Frazier Banks, a director, was sent to assist her. It became a camp for girls.
Martha Berry, the educator, was helpful in an advisory capacity. She sent girls from the
Berry School to work in the dining room. In 1944 Camp DeSoto was purchased and operated by Norma Bradshaw and Bess Herron. Sue McLaurin Henry became a staff member in 1947, teaching English in the winter. She had come to DeSoto as a tennis instructor and counselor. A graduate of Mississippi State College for Women, with graduate work at North Carolina University, her full-time duties began in 1972, and she purchased the complex in 1975. She became a full-time resident in 1980. Norma Bradshaw is director emeritus.
Located on Little River, about a mile east of Mentone, Camp DeSoto consists of 48 buildings, three separate and distinct camps within one larger unit. There are two four-week sessions each summer. There is a lodge, where the library is located. The gym has a stage and is used for team sports, informal parties, and Sunday church services.
Camp DeSoto strives to develop girls physically, socially, and spiritually through the many sports programs, arts, and other activities. There is instruction in horseback riding, tennis, archery, riflery, swimming, canoeing, and crafts.
Horses were first provided by Hardy Jones, then by his son Ed Jones. Until her death, Ruby O’Rčar maintained the flower beds and supplied flowers for the dining room and for other occasions.
Lookout Mountain Christian Conference Center
The Lookout Mountain Camp for Boys, organized in 1927, opened in June 1928 under the guidance of Dr. Jacob Gorman and his son-in-law Gray Morrison, who had married Ethel Gorman. Dr. Gorman had a dream to build a summer camp for boys. He bought property on Little River a few miles east of Mentone. The site was bought from a Mr. Pounds who was developing the Lake Lahusage area, building a huge hotel.
A lodge was built on the bluffs above Little River and the Lookout Mountain Camp for Boys was begun. In 1958 because of the death of Mr. Morrison, his two sons Gray D. and John assumed operation. Until 1974, the Morrisons lived in New Orleans and came to Mentone summers to conduct the camp.
In 1974 John Morrison and his wife Anne Sewell Morrison moved to the camp at Mentone to live year-round, along with their children Anne Dixon, Edith Gorman, John II, and Bennett Sewell.
Because of strong religious conviction, John and Anne Morrison founded Lookout Mountain Christian Conference Center. It is a year-round retreat for various religious groups, family retreats, and group activities.
At the center of the facilities is the historic lodge with a well-stocked library, a huge fireplace and wide spaces. Basketball, volleyball and running are activities available in the open-air gymnasium. A dam on Little River provides safe swimming for entire families, with canoes available for cruises down the river.
Twenty-four log cabins provide facilities for housing. The dining room seats 150 people, with kitchen facilities for many more. There is a bookstore and gift shop.
It is indeed unusual that one family would operate a camp for such a long period.
Alpine Camp for Boys
In 1928 Colonel Milford Howard and his wife “Lady Vivian,” after a European trip, built a Swiss-type lodge on Little River about a mile from his Master School site. Until 1934 it was operated as a resort. At that time Alpine Camp for Girls was founded by Alice McVicar of Miami, Florida. It was designed to accommodate about 85 campers.
The camp was sold in 1959 to Rufus Hyde of Dallas, Texas, and Richard C. O’Ferrall, of Jackson, Mississippi, who established Alpine Camp for Boys. Richard and Alice O’Ferrall purchased the full property when Mr. Hyde retired in 1962. With their daughters Toy and Carter they made Mentone their year-round home.
Richard O’Ferrall graduated from the University of Mississippi and served two years as a lieutenant j.g. in the U.S. Navy. Alice is a graduate of Newcomb College, Tulane University and the University of Wisconsin.
Camp Alpine is situated on the crest of Lookout Mountain about seven miles from Mentone. A total of 52 buildings is on the banks of Little River. There are two four-week sessions and one two-week session each summer. A well-rounded camping experience is provided, including horseback riding, tennis, crafts, camping, and swimming. There is an open-air gym and an athletic field. Many rustic cabins are throughout the expanse of the camp.
In 1985 Mrs. Leonard “Bea” Crow was honored for fifty years of service to Alpine, principally as dietitian. When Miss McVicar operated the camp the caretaker was Joe Keith. B. C. Webster served for about twelve years, succeeded in turn by Luther Kirby, Kim Kerby, and Ron Godbois.
Skyline Ranch Camp
Eloise Hart Temple founded Skyline Camp in 1947, after a career in girls’ camp work that began in 1935. For 25 years she operated Skyline, developing most of the traditions and clubs which have prevailed there. She maintains a home at the edge of the campus.
In 1984 the owner-directors became Susan and Larry Hooks, who acquired Skyline through family ownership. In the first year of their leadership, a program of one session for boys 6 to 12 was instituted.
Skyline is about one mile east of Mentone, situated on approximately 60 acres of land. It lies on both sides of Little River, with Riverside Bridge connecting the senior camp to the main grounds. The main campus consists of riding trails through mountain terrain, with many properties available for outdoor activities.
There are 17 cabins near the main dining hall, an area called “Hut Row.” The camp is divided by age groups or living arrangement and competition. The senior division consists of sixty campers, girls 14, 15 and 16 who live in an eight-room cabin called “Summerplace.”
Overlooking the river, Skyline Lodge contains the camp library, practice pianos, and is a meeting place and home of the assistant director and nurse. Situated nearby is a dining hall. The counselling staff consists of college students from throughout the Southeast.
The camp program points toward self-confidence, companionship, and improvement of skills through riding, swimming, and tennis, badminton, swimming, lifesaving, dramatics, crafts, hikes, archery, and related activities.
Valley View Ranch for Girls
In 1954 Jack and Olive Jones founded Valley View Ranch for Girls. At that time they operated Cloudmont Camp for Boys, but in 1984 leased a large portion to Saddle Rock, continuing to operate Cloudmont Ski and Golf Resort on a year-round basis.
About 18 miles from Mentone, on the Georgia portion of Lookout Mountain near Cloudland, Valley View Ranch is a vast area of more than 1,000 acres. In 1974 it was purchased by Nancy Jones and her sister Marsha Hair and her husband Doug. The ranch became a family activity. Nancy is director and recruiter. Marsha and Doug became year-round residents. Sisters Angela Jones and Janis Jones Carrier are instructors in horseback riding during the summer sessions, with Frank Carrier assisting in ranch operations. Nancy Carole Jones is sole owner and director.
At this year-round working ranch quarter horses are raised for use of the campers in the English, Western, Hunt, Rodeo and Gymkhana styles. There are two four-week sessions with a limited enrollment of 120 girls. Each rancher is assigned a horse or pony, or may bring her own. Horse and rider are trained in equitation, pleasure, problem clinics, trail classes, reining, and bareback. Emphasis is placed on care and responsibility for the horse, as well as on riding skills.
Other recreational programs include swimming, canoeing, crafts, tennis, archery, gymkhana, and horseshoes.
At Valley View Ranch the girls live in lodges. There are about 25 buildings, a foreman’s house, four riding rings, a lighted horseshoe arena, six stables for 150 horses, the Chuck Wagon, which is a dining lodge, tack rooms for 150 saddles, recreational buildings, infirmary, ranch house, and office.
A famous name in Alabama football, Malcolm Laney, assistant coach at the University of Alabama and head coach at Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, was founder of Camp Laney for Boys. Coach Laney and his wife Louise began the camp in 1959 and operated it for the ensuing 15 years. The camp is located about one mile east of Mentone on Little River on the former site of Riverdale Lodge which burned in 1930.
Following Coach Laney’s retirement, the camp was bought in 1974 by Rob Hammond. A graduate of Vanderbilt, he taught for four years at the Darlington School in Rome, Georgia. He began at Laney as a camper, then served as junior and senior counselor. Operation of the camp is shared by his wife San. They have a son Jordan. Rob Hammond became mayor of Mentone in 1983.
The Laney facilities include a gym, swimming pool, riding ring, athletic field, and archery and riflery ranges. There are four two-week sessions each summer with an enrollment of 160 boys per session. Objective of the camp is to give each boy an exciting camp experience under close supervision, experiencing close friendships and gaining self-confidence in a setting of natural beauty.
History of the Camp Laney site began in 1887 when Dr. John Edward Purdon and his wife Katherine came from Athlone, Ireland, with their servants to Mentone. He had been a Major Surgeon in the British army, a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin.
In Mentone he practiced medicine, often without pay. The Purdons’ friends, Mary and Thomas Sproule also brought Irish servants and a parrot to Mentone and built a house on the adjoining property. They are buried in Bankhead Cemetery.
The remains of an old fireplace still stand as the only evidence that the Purdon family lived on the Camp Laney site.
Camp Comer Scout Reservation
About four miles south of Mentone on the DeSoto Parkway, the eleven county Choccolocco Council of the Boy Scouts of America owns over 1,000 acres, including a 90-acre lake. It is divided into two camps, one section for tent camping and one area for families. The reservation contains thirteen camping sites.
The land was purchased in 1962 and named after Hugh Ross Corner of Sylacauga, a longtime scout worker, who was serving as president of the Choccolocco Council at that time. M. M. Beck, council vice-president, suggested the name.
In 1965 a fund-raising campaign was successful in developing the lake and camping area. Stumps were removed from the lake and the dam was raised. The lake was named Lake Republic in honor of Republic Steel of Gadsden, a financial supporter of the camp.
On June 8, 1965, Camp Comer was officially opened. Work continued on the reservation and a year later 3,000 scouts and leaders attended camp.
An important event was the 85th Anniversary Camporee on the weekend of May 3-5, 1985, which also was the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Boy Scouts of America. In 1985 the director was Bob Dunaway; assistant director was Mike Bobo; and Ray Johnson was business director.
Ponderosa Bible Camp
Located five miles north of Mentone and consisting of 80 acres along Little River, Ponderosa was founded in 1973 by the University of Alabama. Two professors of the Psychology Department, Dr. Henry Rickard and Michael Dinoff established a camp for emotionally disturbed children and for those with learning disabilities.
In the spring of 1976 Ponderosa Bible Camp was established on the property under auspices of the Children’s Bible Mission, a non-denominational, non-profit Christian home mission organization with national headquarters in Lakeland, Florida. Although non-denominational, the CBM maintains a doctrinal position of evangelical, conservative fundamentalism.
Those active in beginning the Children’s Bible Mission work in the Mentone area were W. B. Hunt of Sylvania, known as “The Bible Story Man,” “Miss Bess” Robertson, and Elsie Bailey, who retired in 1985. Director Glenn Miller began serving in 1976; along with his wife Linda and sons Curtis and Kenneth, he lives year-round at the camp. Both are graduates of Southeastern Bible College.
Mr. and Mrs. James Evans joined the staff in 1980. Mr. Evans uses a puppet to relate Bible stories and is known as “Donald Duck.” Children earn partial scholarships through Mailbox Club Bible lessons.
The camp embodies twelve buildings for staff, a dining hall with huge fireplace, a chapel, and six cabins each serving sixteen campers. In addition to the Bible classes, camp activities include singing, volleyball, swimming, archery, canoeing, basketball, crafts, and music.
Ponderosa Bible Camp not only serves the Children’s Bible Mission, but schedules and services camp rental groups. Next steps in a major development plan will be construction of an insulated multi-purpose Gym-Chapel building and pool.
One of the newer camps is Woodmont, about 15 miles north of Cloudland in the Georgia section of Lookout Mountain, just off Highway 157. It is a privately owned summer camp for boys and girls 7 to 16. Summer sessions are from one to five weeks. It was established in 1981 by Jim and Jane Bennett, faculty members of DeKaIb Community College near Atlanta.
The program at Woodmont is centered around four principal areas: aquatics, arts and crafts, sports and games, and nature lore. Campers choose from such activities as horseback riding, dancing and acting, nature lore, arts and crafts, swimming, fishing, gymnastics, archery, and volleyball. A computer class is offered for two weeks during the summer session.
A large dining hall lodge is the center of much activity in the evening, as well as for meals and games. In the evening there is singing, campfire programs, folk dancing, talent shows and skits.
There is a swimming pool, central bathhouse, football-size athletic field, small lake for fishing and canoeing, and hiking trails. Cabins accommodate eight campers each, as well as one or two counselors.
Jim Bennett attended the University of Mississippi and Georgia State University. Jane Bennett has degrees from Georgia State University and the University of Georgia. Two of the Bennett children became staff members early in the stages of the camp. Alyson is Program Director and Girls’ Unit Head, and Tyran, Boys’ Unit Head. Young college students are utilized as counselors.
Saddle Rock Camp for Girls
One of the newer camping establishments is Saddle Rock for Girls, near Mentone just off DeSoto Parkway. Its 80 acres lie along Little River in the Cloudmont complex of the Jones family. Begun in 1984, Saddle Rock operates four sessions of two weeks each during the summer. Activities range from dance to riding. Each camper takes five activities daily, according to age group and development level.
Purpose of the camp is to contribute to the physical, spiritual, and mental development of the girls. Director Marty Griffin, native of Montgomery, Alabama, attended Mississippi University for Women, with graduate work at the University of Georgia. After several years of teaching, she leased and directed Camp Skyline for ten years prior to establishing Saddle Rock. Her camping background represents 20 years of leadership.
History of the Saddle Rock site reaches back to 1924 when 40 acres was developed by the Young Men’s Christian Association of Miami, Florida. It was operated by C. W. Able and L. B. Sommers and purchased by them in conjunction with Charles W. Edwards five years later. As a private camp for boys some 40 buildings were constructed and 5,000 acres purchased.
Around 1930 this was the site of Camp AHMY, spelled backwards YMHA--Young Men’s Hebrew Association. There was a dining hall, ten cabins, and two tennis courts. Nearby was Ice Box Cave where ice-cold water was used to keep perishables. The old swimming hole on Little River still remains. The Depression probably caused this camp to close.
A new and thriving girls’ camp, Saddle Rock rests in an area which was bought in 1947 by the Jack Jones family of Coral Gables, Florida, and developed into the vast Cloudmont Ski and Golf resort. Mr. Jones attended the original Cloudmont boys’ camp.
Cherokee Camp for Boys
Newest in the area is Cherokee Camp for Boys, located on Cove Road in Walker County, Georgia, about ten miles east of Mentone. The camp property was first bought and built by Bob and Mary Harrison of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, in 1954. The camp had separate facilities for boys and girls.
Jack Jones leased and bought the camp in 1964. He used it as a rental camp for groups and school bands. In 1986 the property is owned and directed by Donald Guinn, Jr., and his wife Becky.
Guinn is a 1968 graduate of Valley Head High School. With a full athletic scholarship, he attended Purdue University, graduating with a degree in Physical Education. He coached freshman football at Purdue, then did graduate work at Alabama University in School Administration. He was associated with Camp Laney and Camp Cloudmont. Becky Guinn, a Mentone native, attended Jacksonville University and the University of Alabama.
The main emphasis at Cherokee is sports activity, especially aquatics, tennis, golf and team sports such as football, basketball, wrestling and soccer.
Cherokee spreads over 100 acres. The buildings include a full gymnasium, athletic field, hard-surfaced tennis courts, twelve cabins, dining hall, staff lounge, horse stable, and office building. Cabins accommodate eight campers and a counselor.
Next Section: The Churches
Back to: Mentone Home Page