Mentone Alabama: A History
By Zora Shay Strayhorn
Copyright © 2001 Mentone Area Preservation Association, Inc. All rights reserved.
Post Civil War Times
The troops surrendered in mid-April, and Alabama Governor T. H. Watts was arrested by Federal authorities on May 1, 1865. From that date until June 21st when a provisional governor was appointed, there seems to have been virtually no state and local government in Alabama.
After the Civil War, families moved into the Mentone area from adjoining states and from across the seas. Early homes were of logs notched into place. Neighbors came together and worked hurriedly to build homes. Women prepared country dinners for a reward.
Horse-drawn vehicles were used, and the roads were in poor condition. During these post Civil War days a verse was frequently found posted alongside the terrible roads:
“This road is not passable
Not even jackassable
So when you travel
Take your own gravel.”
Although rural Alabama people had to work from dawn to dusk, they found time for church activities and social life. There were many who played the fiddle, groups that sang, and people who liked to square dance in Mentone. However, many church goers condemned dancing as evil.
Mentone has always had a tradition of all-day sings and dinner on the ground. In the early days church services often lasted from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with as many as six preachers holding forth.
There are two houses in the Mentone town limits dating back to 1883-4. They were built by two sisters of Henry Frank Shigley. He was born April 15, 1865, in Tippacanoe County, Indiana and married Rebecca Melissa Keith of Jackson County, Alabama, in 1888. They were early settlers of Mentone and parents of twelve children.
Annabelle Shigley was married to George Hull, and Elizabeth Shigley was married to a Dr. Applegate of New Orleans. After building their respective homes, Annabelle Hull, and husband, returned to Manistee, Michigan, and wrote her family in Mentone, “We would like to sell our house, and if you can get $800 please take it, because we don’t think Mentone will ever amount to much.”
On the town map of Mentone, No. 28-10-08-28, the old highway ran behind the Hitching Post and was called Cutler Avenue. The two houses referred to above are a short distance from DeSoto Parkway on the south side of the street, off DeSoto Parkway, which was also called Hull Street after the Hull family.
An early family in the vicinity of Lahusage was that of Constantine “Cos” Brown, born June 3, 1855, in Georgia. He bought eighty acres from the railroad in 1879 for $100 when he was a young man and built a log cabin. He married Anna Bell May, born July 27, 1861, in Gaylesville, Alabama, and they built a larger home to accommodate the growing family of four girls and seven boys. He was a farmer all his life, raised sheep and sold wool and fruit.
When the coal mining at Lahusage was at the height of its operation, the Brown family took in boarders for noon dinner. There was always someone to make music on a fiddle, and the working men would often toss coins out on the floor to watch one of the small children dance.
Constantine Brown’s parents were Thomas Truly Brown and Louise (Lucy) Rodgers who lived in Georgia. Louise Rodgers Brown gave birth to a son September 16, 1862, Oscar Routh Brown. On October 23, 1862, a black child was born to a slave girl.
The slave girl’s husband took one look at her child and recognized white blood; he threw the child in the fireplace. At that instant the midwife recovered the child unharmed. Louise Rodgers Brown took the black child to her breast and nursed it as her own. “Uncle Henry” Brown grew up as a member of the family.
He stayed and took care of the older Brown family until the death of Thomas Truly Brown, buried under the big rock at Bankhead Cemetery. Then Uncle Henry came to live with a sister of Constantine Brown, Mattie Hall, married to Ernest Hall. The Hall family lived in Mentone on the loop road or DeKaIb County 106 at the old Eller place.
Louise Rodgers Brown went to live with a daughter in the state of Washington. After the death of her father, Mattie Hall was en route to Post Civil War Times California by train and had Uncle Henry with her. The conductor told her that no blacks were allowed in the coach with the whites. Mrs. Hall said, “He is not a ‘nigger’; he is my brother, and he is going to ride with me.” And he did.
One early settler was Simmie Sherman Vernon, born November 6, 1869. His father was nineteen when he built the cabin that is now the central structure of St. Joseph’s-on-the-Mountain Episcopal Church. Simmie Sherman Vernon is credited with starting one of the first churches in Mentone and was ordained September 21, 1895, as a minister of a branch of Holly Springs Baptist Church.
Seven years after the end of the Civil War, John Mason arrived in Mentone in 1872 with his daughter Alice and was soon joined by his two sons, Henry and Ed.
The 1850 census of DeKaIb County shows Lavina Crow, the daughter of Isaac Crow and Alice Cox, to be seventeen years of age; she was a sister to Hannah who married Greenberry Crow, and a sister to John Christopher Crow. Lavina Crow married Henry Mason, son of John Mason; Henry and Lavina Crow Mason lived an exemplary life, living for a time in the Little River Community and in New Union with Uncle Erskine Crow until their death and burial at Little River. They had no children.
Ed Mason, a surveyor and engineer, married Della Christopher and laid out the town of Mentone. He was the original promoter, sending out literature to extol the curative powers of the clean fresh mountain air and the waters from two springs, Beauty and Mineral Springs. The water flow at Mineral Springs was destroyed when Alabama Highway 117 was constructed, but Beauty Springs remains as does the stone structure of Mineral Springs. Ed Mason was also the first postmaster of Mentone, from March 10, 1888, until April 1891.
John Mason first bought property in surrounding communities, Lahusage, Head River, Georgia, and finally in the Moon Lake district of Mentone from Marion O’Rear, deed dated July 17, 1875, 200 acres for $1,000 “cash in hand.” A New York style farm house at Moon Lake was soon constructed; it was two and a half stories high with ten rooms, eight fireplaces, and two large chimneys. Mr. Mason brought a man down from Chattanooga of Cornish, England, descent, to build the English-styled carved arch rock mantels as part of the chimneys. (A beautiful carved arch of a design of roses remains in the home of Ruby O’Rear, deceased). The home Mason built burned in 1891.
The brochures sent out by Ed Mason attracted Dr. Franklin CaIdwell, who boarded with the Masons while building the Mentone Springs Hotel in 1883-4. Alice Mason named the town.
A year after the Mineral Springs Hotel was completed, Alice Mason married Samuel O’Rear, the son of Charlotte Force and Marion O’Rear. They married at home, and soon afterward, Dr. Caldwell gave a grand ball at the hotel in honor of the newly wed couple. The father of the bride, John Mason, was fearful the floor would cave in because of the stompings to lively music as the ball lasted until dawn.
John Mason purchased land owned by the Lane family in the Bankhead Community and presented the property to Alice and Samuel O’Rear as a wedding present. Part of the land was the original homesite of the couple and part became later the home of Ethel O’Rear Davenport.
Alice Mason 0’ Rear had four children: Ethel, who married Seaborn Davenport; Jessie, married to Paul Whitehead; Nellie May, who died at about two years of age; Winifred Ruth O’Rear, called Ruby.
Ed Mason and wife Della Christopher lived with John Mason in the big ten-room house at Moon Lake until an apartment was built in a nearby building. The marriage was short-lived and the couple divorced in the 1880s. The building burned to the ground and Ed Mason was killed in the blaze.
A few years after John Mason bought the Moon Lake property in July 1875, there was no bridge to span Little River in the area. People wanting to cross would call for a ferry to get them to the other side. To solve the problem, John Mason agreed to buy all materials needed for construction of a bridge with the provision that townspeople would construct it; thus a covered bridge was built.
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