Mentone Alabama: A History
By Zora Shay Strayhorn
Copyright © 2001 Mentone Area Preservation Association, Inc. All rights reserved.
Decade of the Centennial
A spring, a river, a cave;
A mountain, a town, a hotel,
And most of all, the people.
They came, they configured to form a community.
Across Appalachia the people came, setting the drama of many lives.
Here we are after a hundred years.
What will we do with it?
Charles White McGehee, Editor
The Groundhog, Centennial Edition, October 1984
Around 1975 there was the breathing of a new life in Mentone--a resurgence, especially beginning with events around Old Hotel Square. The census of 1982 credited the town with 511 citizens; the outlying environs swelled the population especially in the summer with the camps in full operation.
In 1975 Fritz and Jo Ann Smith bought the dormant Hitching Post from Alexander Glover. This historic structure had been inherited by him from Eleanor Glover and John Graham. The Smiths made significant improvements, selling antiques and hand-dipped ice cream.
In 1977 Kyle and Durwood “Doc” Long bought and operated the Hitching Post for two years. In 1980 Bernise Crow and her sister Jean Elrod purchased the building, named their business “Crow’s Nest” and began selling antiques.
Work on St. Joseph’s-on-the-Mountain Episcopal Church began on the arrival of the Reverend Graham Glover, around 1971, continuing beyond 1975. It is somewhat of a memorial to Mr. Glover. The center of the church contains the Vernon log cabin built approximately in 1864, the oldest structure in Mentone.
In 1976 two lawyers from Birmingham, Frank Young and Jim Rotch, purchased the Sunset Hotel, annex to the Mentone Springs Hotel, and began operation of the White Elephant Galleries, managed by Susan Collins.
It was in 1976 that Amelia Kirk Brooks bought the Mentone Inn, formerly Hal’s Hotel, which she extensively revitalized. The inn was sold, leased, and sold again. In 1982 Mrs. Brooks again became owner and began a Bed ‘n’ Breakfast inn. It was placed on the Alabama Registry of Historic Buildings.
A most welcome addition to Old Hotel Square was the Yellow Deli, built by the young people of the Vine Street Christian Community Church. They constructed a rustic log and stone structure which was a most successful restaurant until the group transferred to Vermont. Virginia Harris and Barbara Boyd, sisters, became owners in 1979, changing the name to the Log Cabin Deli. In 1984 the Deli was purchased by Porter and Wilma Weaver. In 1986 Carmie and Brenda Petry bought the restaurant.
In 1977 the first Mentone Crafts Festival was held. Jack and Olive Jones opened the Cloudmont Ski and Golf Resort. Jack Jones, Jr., had the idea for the ski slope in 1969. This made year-round recreation possible in Mentone. A pilgrimage of homes was held in May.
The purchase of the Mentone Springs Hotel by Sandra and Ray Padgett in 1980 was a significant event for the town. The sights and sounds of the place were televised. When the Padgetts began extensive restoration of the structure, immediate results were obvious. It was eventually listed in the National Register of Historic Buildings. Many meetings and events were held in the lobby and dining room.
Much credit is due Sandra Padgett and Bruce Bon Fleur for organizing the Mentone Area Preservation Association. Without MAPA there would indubitably have been no Groundhog publication, Rhododendron Festival, Groundhog Classic Run, widely distributed tourist brochure, and many other events. MAPA was organized for the purpose of “preserving and protecting the heritage, natural environment and other unique qualities of life in the Mentone area.”
In 1981 Bruce Bon Fleur purchased Cragsmere from the Joneses, establishing Cragsmere Manna Restaurant and Gardens.
The original cabin of Cragsmere is part of the building once owned by Ned Jackson, a former slave. It was here that the young people of the Vine Street Christian Community lived during construction and operation of the Yellow Deli.
Bruce and his staff operated Cragsmere Restaurant as a quality eating establishment from Thanksgiving 1981 until May 1983, when it was reopened and purchased by Randy Still, known as the Country Gourmet.
Bon Fleur opened an office in the Hitching Post. He published two issues of Mountain View, a quality magazine, three issues of Visitors Guide, and two editions of Trader’s Tab magazine. In 1984 he moved to Chattanooga, where he was an executive with the YMCA.
Initial organization meeting for the Mentone Area Preservation Association was at Cragsmere on Groundhog Day, February 2, 1982. It was formally organized on April 6 of that year. The first newsletter of the organization was a typical mimeographed legal-size mailing. Charles White McGehee, a former newspaper editor and retired Unitarian Universalist minister, along with Bruce Bon Fleur and others, conceived the idea of a printed publication, a monthly combination newspaper and magazine. First publication was in April 1983, with Mr. McGehee as editor and his wife Jean, associate editor. In 1986 Luther Yates Keith and his wife Darlene Clifton Keith became editors.
It was Mr. McGehee who in late 1983 proposed in a resolution to Mayor Rob Hammond that 1984 was the appropriate timing for the centennial celebration. A year-long series of celebrations was approved by the town council and coordinated by a committee comprised of leaders of civic organizations. They were Linda Brown of the Crafts Festival, secretary; Helen Hill, Rhododendron Garden Club; Homer Crow, MAPA; Sammy Cash, North Lookout Mountain Fire District; Leonard Shigley, Rescue Squad and American Legion; Ray and Sandra Padgett, owners of the Mentone Springs Hotel, which was also celebrating its 100th anniversary; Donna Bukley for the Spring Rhododendron Festival; Marty Griffin for the Groundhog Classic Run-from the Hitching Post to the DeSoto Falls turnoff and return; Bruce Bon Fleur, Centennial brochure; publicity, Mrs. Bukley and Mr. McGehee; events, Ray Padgett; secretary, Museum and Information Center, Bernise Crow; logo, Miss Griffin and Mayor Rob Hammond.
The year-round events were well-attended by both visitors and Mentone citizens. The four seasonal festivals became annual events-the Spring Rhododendron Festival, the Crafts Festival in July, the October Colorfest, and the Musical Mountain Christmas.
The Post Office
Another important event of the decade of the centennial was the move into a modern post office building on January 1, 1982, a 2,320 square-foot building. First postmaster was Ed Mason, who had constructed a small building in 1888 near the site of the present Mentone Inn and beside a two-story building built around 1873 by H. B. (Harry) Gillette. By 1899 the two buildings were owned by the James Huron family and known as the Huron Boarding House.
Around 1902 the post office was moved to “The Mentone Store,” present site of the Hitching Post, built by Guy Burgess. In 1930 Sam Graham and his partner Fred Huron bought the building, adding a room for a post office, the 1986 site of Sharon Barron’s Gourdie Shop. Around 1926 the post office was moved to a small building just
east of the Hitching Post. When the town built a structure across highway to serve as the Town Hall, the post office moved into half the building in 1957. Here it remained until the new building was completed in 1982.
At the time Ed Mason was postmaster, the mail was brought up the mountain by horseback. During the ‘50s Arthur “Lightning” Goss was a carrier for the mail from Valley Head. An inspector for the postal service asked how the air mail got to Mentone, and the answer was “by Lightning.
Following Ed Mason the following postmasters have served:
1891, Stewart H. Congam;
1891, Harry B. Gillette;
1899, Lovena A. Huron;
1900, Harry B. Gillette;
1901 Peter K. Smith;
1902, Guy A. Burgess;
1907, Fred Huron;
1909, James Huron;
1914, Grace V. Grew;
1918, Miss Jimmy M. Brown;
1920, Mary Maude Brown;
1926, Stella M. Shigley;
1934, Hal Howe;
1934, Evelyn Jones;
1946, Eva M. Jones;
1948, Lel and M. Cox;
1976, John G. Sterling (officer in charge);
1976, Benny L. Goss.
Mentone was incorporated in 1936 with Arthur Hixson the first mayor. The first council members were Paul White, Lee Davenport, Hal Howe, Fred Huron, and G. H. Hall. The clerk was Frank L. Gillen. Arthur Hixson resigned as mayor in 1938. The term was completed by Fred Huron with Tom Huron as clerk. The following mayors served after Huron:
Paul White, 1944-48;
C. E. Harvey, resigned in 1961 because of ill health;
Bill Pullen, acting mayor, 1961;
Sam Barrett, 1961-72;
Robert Daniel, 1972-76;
Ethel Manifold, 1976-80;
Sam Barrett, 1980 until resignation in 1983 because of ill health;
Barrett’s term was completed by Rob Hammond who was re-elected in 1984.
Bids were let on the town hall in March 1956. The first meeting was held there June 4, 1956.
The Rescue Squad
The communities of Valley Head, Mentone, and Hammondville held a meeting of about 24 men in 1962 to organize a Rescue Squad. Sam Barrett was elected captain. Their missions have ranged from searching for an escaped prisoner to looking for lost persons and rescuing a dog that had fallen over DeSoto Falls.
In 1978 most of the Mentone squad’s rescue equipment was stolen. All equipment was replaced, however, with funds from private citizens and the Alabama Band. In 1986 Pless Cox was captain and the equipment included two boats with power motors; World War II weapons carrier (utility truck); GMC equipment van and First Aid vehicle; generator and light-rig truck; radios, ropes, helmets, blankets, smoke masks and similar items.
The Rhododendron Garden Club
An active and continuing organization is the Rhododendron Garden Club. Organized on May 1, 1966, the original officers were President, Mrs. James T. Jones; Vice-President, Mrs. Claude M. Howe; Recording Secretary and Treasurer, Mrs. Ovie Blalock, corresponding Secretary, Mrs. James A. Berry.
Their many projects have included planting flowers in the park adjoining the Town Hall, abundant planting of rhododendrons throughout the community and having the town council declare the community a bird sanctuary.
The Woman’s Club
Many Mentone women have participated in the Valley Head Woman’s Club, organized in 1930 and a member of the national Federated Women’s Clubs. Thirteen charter members were Mrs. D. C. Alexander, Mrs. Bob Ault, Miss Liza Callan, Mrs. Paul Davenport, Mrs. Seab Davenport, Mrs. J. W. Ellis, Mrs. J. B. Holt, Mrs. Nellie King, Mrs. Anderson Maxwell, Mrs. P. T. Orr, Mrs. Carl Sloan, Mrs. W. B. Thompson, and Miss Ida Moore, first president. Purpose of the club is “to study and discuss cultural subjects, to promote social and useful relations among women of thought and culture, and to render them helpful and useful to themselves and to the community.”
The Crafts Festival
The Mentone Crafts Festival began in 1977. It is held annually at Brow Park the weekend immediately following July 4th. The first year there were about 1,000 adult admissions paying $1.00 fees. There were 26 exhibitors. The original officers were Stanley Brown, president; Becky Steele, secretary, succeeded by Linda Brown; treasurer, Christa Brown; vice-president, Bud Ellis.
Linda Brown has served as president since 1982. By the year of the Centennial there were 75 exhibitors and demonstrators. Registration was limited because of lack of space.
The North Lookout Fire Protection District serves the DeKaIb County area atop Lookout Mountain north of DeSoto Park Headquarters. It was incorporated November 14, 1979, representing a community spirit of cooperation. LeGrant Gable, chief of police at that time, coordinated mailings with the goal of buying a $12,000 fire truck and meeting the need for volunteer firemen, equipment, housing, telephone service, and other needs.
The original board was The Reverend Jimmy Graves, chairman; Frank Biddle, vice chairman; Willo Blackburn; Stanley Brown; Sam Cash; Maxine Baty, secretary; Eleanor Tate, treasurer; Patrick Tate, attorney; and Sammy Cash, fire chief.
Under leadership of Chief Cash many other improvements were attained. An additional fire truck was bought for $750. A block building, originally a gun shop, was bought in downtown Mentone from Mr. and Mrs. Jackie Smith. Frank Mason donated an insulated building to house the fire trucks. An unidentified citizen donated ten complete fire-fighting suits and 1,000 feet of hose. The town council helped with monthly payments.
Under leadership of chairperson Marty Griffin many fund-raising activities were held: fish fries, bake sales, rummage sales, turkey shoots and road blocks.
Several federal and state grants were arranged by Senator Lowell Barron, representatives Ralph Burke and David Stout, as well as Kenneth Brandon of the Board of Education. Contributions have also been received from the Alabama Band’s June Jam, the town of Mentone, the camps and private citizens.
Chief Cash agreed to remain until all debts had been paid. When he resigned November 1, 1985, the mortgage on the buildings, on the trucks and equipment, as well as $6,000 in repairs on the trucks had all been repaid. Money was still on hand for construction of housing for additional vehicles and equipment.
Veterans of World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War have been represented in the membership of Mentone’s American Legion Post 215. After WW II some Mentone veterans attended the Valley Head Post. In 1948 the local chapter was formed. Two lots were donated for a Legion Hall by Mrs. Lila Van Zandt, whose son Wallace had been killed in the Second World War. Labor and various materials were donated for construction of a building. The stone fireplace was made by Lee Crow. The building is on Little River Road behind Blackburn’s Store.
Charter members were Oliver Coots, Dan Smith, Joe Jones, Paul Smith, Sam Cash, Max Cash, Norrace Baty, Rudolf Lane, Martin Blalock, Ralph W. Lowe, Luther King, Jr., Leland Cox, Leonard Shigley, Emery Brown, Carl Weigand, Bill Smith and Jim Worthy.
An active Auxiliary was formed shortly after organization of the Post. In 1984 there were 49 members.
Moon Lake School
There is continued pride in Moon Lake Elementary School. As its students move on to Valley Head High and various colleges, they represent high standards of learning. Moon Lake School was founded in 1911, near Moon Lake, on land donated by Ed Mason. A large two-story structure was built. First teacher was Miss Lizzie Mason. Other principals in that building were Chester Allen, Ernest Shigley, Pearl Young, a Mr. Davis, Maude Brown, a Mrs. Stewart, Foye Doherty, Ben Price, and W. B. Smith.
In November 1927 the building went up in flames. A new two-story building was erected. Miss Willie Mae Davis and Miss Louise McKowen were the first two teachers. Subsequent teachers were Mr. and Mrs. Charles Adams. By 1933 enrollment had increased and a bus was added with Roy Crow as driver.
In 1939-40 New Union School was consolidated with Moon Lake and another room added.
A lunchroom was added in the late ‘40s. Of the many talented teachers, Kathryn Jones was prominent, retiring in 1978 as principal. She was succeeded by Elaine Keith. When Mrs. Keith went to Valley Head as principal, her successor was Charles Bell.
Listing of the Mentone Springs Hotel on the National Register of Historic Places and the Mentone Inn, Windward Inn, and Howard’s Chapel on the Alabama Registry of Landmarks and Heritage brought new tourist attention. Visitors came to DeSoto Falls, DeSoto Park, and the other points of interest, especially in summer when the town is alive with the activities of the youth camps. The four seasonal festivals especially bring visitors to the town.
By 1986 there were year-round activities--on the slopes of Cloudmont Ski Resort was artificial snow, said by its maker Gary Jones “to be better than real.” The Gourdies, Sharon Barron’s creatures made from gourds, attracted nationwide media attention and involved a cottage industry employing ten local persons. Sharon’s “Gourdie Book” involving these lovable non-directive creatures who listen and keep secrets has a setting in the Mentone Springs Hotel and was receiving wide circulation.
There was a positive, forward-looking attitude in the town, which yet was striving to retain its heritage, natural environment, and unique qualities.
Truly there was music in the air. There was a fulfillment of one of the town’s descriptions as a “musical mountain spring.” One of its troubadors was guitarist-vocalist Tony Goggans of the Malibu Mountain Band. He sang at such places as Cragsmere Manna, St. Joseph’s-on-the-Mountain Church, and especially at the spring and fall festivals. During these times, to tourists and Mentone citizens, he sang praises of the attributes of the town, its mountain, river and people.
Mentone continues to attract talented and interesting artists: potters, craftspeople, wood-workers, writers, painters, photographers, quilters, musicians--individuals with creativity, vision, and a certain restlessness-looking for a place to rest. Some stay, some move on.
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