Mentone Alabama: A History
By Zora Shay Strayhorn
Copyright © 2001 Mentone Area Preservation Association, Inc. All rights reserved.
The Turn of the Century
At the turn of the century, Mentone was becoming popular as a summer resort, and although there was no electricity nor fans, the cool mountain breezes were a refreshing relief from the heat of the cities. Residents had wells to bring up water by pail; outdoor plumbing, wood stoves to cook on, and wash boards to clean their clothes.
There was good fellowship and happy times recalled by many who remember dancing upstairs at the Hitching Post and at the Mineral Springs Hotel. Mentone was a magnet that drew people to the supposed life-giving, health-restoring curative waters and the vigorous climate.
In 1902 three men arrived in the Mentone area: Lamb, Hubbard, and Russell Sage, a wealthy banker. They owned and promoted a coal mining operation. Combining the three names, the community was named Lahusage; it was approximately four miles east of Mentone, south of Alabama Highway 117.
Houses were constructed for about one hundred families and wells were dug. There was a commissary, a building used for school and church services, two-storied. The upper story was used as a Masonic Hall. A doctor’s office was built with Dr. M. T. Floyd serving as company doctor.
A hotel for executives of the mine was managed by Mac Hardwick. He married Lillie May, sister of Anna Belle May, wife of Constantine “Cos” Brown. Wiley Evans was superintendent of the mine and father-in-law of Henry A. Renfro who ran the commissary and was postmaster October 4, 1904, until John T. Bradley assumed the position November 1, 1909. The post office was discontinued to Bankhead April 15, 1911, and changed to Nightingale July 11, 1911.
There was a “dinky line” that carried coal from underground pits to Five Points in Cherokee County a few miles east where the coal was dumped into a shoot that slid down the east side of Lookout Mountain into cars of the Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia Railroad (TAG).
Coal was there, but it was expensive to mine; the mine closed around 1916.
A partnership of a Dr. Channey and a man named Chapman, both from Lindale, Georgia, bought the land and sold the houses to individuals who demolished them and carried them away. Dr. Channey was an outdoorsman who liked to hunt and fish, and it was generally believed that he planned to keep the land for his private use.
Around 1920 a 180-room hotel was planned at Lake Lahusage when H. H. Pounds from Florida with a group of investors started construction on the east fork of Little River near the mining community of Lahusage. Their company was called the Lookout Mountain Development Company and bought 7,000 acres in the area.
In 1924 a stone dam was constructed across the river forming a beautiful lake. The dam broke in November 1924 after heavy rains. W. Blevens “Bleve” Strickland was foreman of the rockwork and a Mr. Hall was engineer of the project. It was soon rebuilt.
Strickland was married to a daughter of William Houston Key and Merica Jane Blansit Key; they owned a farm near the mining community of Lahusage. He was a rock mason, a miner, and a carpenter. He built many dams along Little River and constructed cabins and dormitories for summer camps.
The crash of 1929 caused the end of the project and the land was returned to its original owners. The hotel was nearly completed and was used for a while by the government for veterans of World War I to convalesce. It was also used to house boys of the Civilian Conservation Corps who were on a government project building DeSoto State Park.
In 1884 Cutler Avenue, the old public highway as it was called, ran across the top of the mountain through Mentone, starting behind the Hitching Post (which was not built until about the year 1900 by Guy Burgess and called the Mentone Store). The old public highway went past the two homes of the former Shigley girls to the United Methodist Church which was built in 1884 and called the Mentone Methodist Episcopal Church.
A block or so beyond the church on the south side was the home of Charles Cole (“C. C.”) Brown born June 5, 1853, in Georgia, married Sarah Eveline Shinhalder July 1, 1877; and settled in Mentone October 1901. They built a colonial-type two-storied home with eleven rooms. It was known as “Brown’s Hotel” because of many guests; it was the center of social activities for their son Roscoe and seven daughters. Ministers were especially welcomed guests. Maud, a daughter, was a dedicated school teacher. Small cottages on both sides of Cutler Avenue were rented to “summer folks.” Across the street from the main house one cottage was used for dining rooms during the summer. Another cottage was reserved for domestic help. There was no electricity nor running water, but people were glad to come for the cool air. “C. C.” Brown had good business acumen because he bought land on both sides of Cutler Avenue from the Methodist Church east to Huron Street.
The family of Constantine “Cos” Brown was no relation to the “C. C.” Brown family, but they were good friends.
“Uncle Warner” a former slave on the Daugherty plantation at McLemore’s Cove, Georgia, in his old age came to Mentone to cook for “summer folks.” The Daugherty Plantation was the home of Thomas Truly Brown and Louise (Lucy) Rodgers Brown. The mother of Thomas Truly Brown was a Daugherty; a Daugherty cousin married a Routh. After the Civil War, “Uncle Warner” was given a parcel of land.
The children of “Cos” Brown on meeting Uncle Warner in Mentone would be asked: “I want you to tell me about my folks out west.” Uncle was a small man with a crop of snow-white hair. At the old plantation in Georgia at his home he had a room reserved exclusively for his white friends.
At the corner of Huron Street and Cutler Avenue was the home of the Fred Jones family. Continuing on Cutler Avenue on the north side of the street was property purchased in 1906 by Dr. L. A. Mallicoat from a Mr. Day. A home was built for Dr. Mallicoat’s father-in-law and mother-in-law Mr. and Mrs. W. A. Routh after the death of his wife, Annie Routh. The summer home was built by Mr. Day. Mrs. Routh was heard to remark that she recalled living on the Daugherty Plantation and that there were so many slaves that if she dropped a handkerchief, there was someone to pick it up.
Dr. Mallicoat was a graduate of the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee, who practiced medicine in Menlo, Georgia, and was the company doctor at Trion, Georgia. His second marriage was to Gertrude Green in 1916.
“Uncle Warner” would stay in Mentone with the Routh family, and when he got homesick he would walk back to his home in McLëmore’s Cove.
Dr. Mallicoat sold a small parcel of land to Eli Shortridge in 1911 for a summer place. Mr. Routh and Fred Jones built the house.
Continuing on the old public highway the road crossed the covered bridge past the Wesleyan Methodist Church to the Bankhead community alongside of the Bankhead school.
The old Bankhead School which also served as a church was situated alongside Cutler Avenue about three and a half miles from the heart of town. The old road more or less paralleled the present Alabama Highway 117, but meandered along in an erratic easterly direction.
The log cabin which served as the Bankhead School was situated on property owned by John Stephen Green, south of the road. Miss Nettie Seymore was teacher. The old road came near the community later known as the Coots community. The Coots family first came to the mountain in 1921.
A short distance north of the road was John Stephen Green’s home. He married Achsah Olivia Culberson, who had come to the Bankhead-Nightingale community in the 1880s. The Bankhead post office was in their home, and Achsah Green served as postmistress from February 13, 1889 to March 30, 1900 when the post office was discontinued.
The old public road continued to the Nightingale area where the Bankhead post office was reestablished in a building serving as country store and post office. It was near the home of John V. Smith who served as postmaster from February 18, 1903 until the name was changed to Nightingale July 11, 1911.
John Smith’s wife, Emma J. Smith, affectionately known as Miss Emma J., became postmistress until November 8, 1913 when the office was closed. Emma J. was sister of Anna May, wife of Constantine Brown. Miss Emma J. named her “plantation” Nightingale, which included the post office. She was part Cherokee, mother of nine, feminist, writer, schoolteacher, and midwife.
One early arrival in Mentone was Horatio Libby from Portland, Maine, who homesteaded brow property in 1880. The Meadowbrook Farm of Ralph Libby, son of Horatio Libby, was purchased from Cyrus Pittman Orr in 1917 who with his wife Lilian and seven daughters had summered at Jericho, as it was then called. It was at Meadowbrook Farm that bullets have been found dating Union soldiers’ camping there.
The section of Mentone now known as the Berry Patch (originally belonging to the Eldridge Jones family) was bought from a Mr. Cosby of Cosby-Hodges Milling Company of Birmingham, Alabama. Buyer was Gordon T. Cecil and Dr. W. T. Berry. The property was comprised of thirty-three acres and was purchased between 1920 and 1925.
Mrs. Berry was the former Rebecca Gertrude Cecil of Columbus, Tennessee, and it was her brother Gordon T. Cecil and her husband Dr. Berry who purchased the land. Dr. Berry was a physician in Birmingham and he and his wife had nine children.
When school was out for the summer the family lived in Mentone until school resumed in the fall. Summer kitchens could accommodate about forty people at one time. In the early years domestic help was brought from Birmingham, but later local people were employed. Because of the large family all had responsibilities and chores. When the daily work was finished, there was great fun swimming at the big rock on Little River as well as croquet and ball games.
Gordon Cecil married Elizabeth Bethea Johnson in 1930. Three rooms in the main house at Berry Patch date to the time of the Civil War, to Eldridge Jones’ home. The cedar trees in the yard are over one hundred years old; about eleven family homes have been built, and there is a private cemetery on the grounds.
Betty and Henry Johnson came to the Head River Community, Georgia, on Lookout Mountain from Gwinett County, Georgia, before the Civil War. They had nine children; he was a farmer.
When the Civil War broke out, all the men left, and Betty took care of nine small children.
One child, Texas Frances Orleans Johnson, married Jesse Johnson (no relation) and lived on a farm at the upper end of Cove Road above the Blalock settlement. “Aunt Tex,” as she was known, loved, and respected, had eleven children. She was a midwife and herb doctor. She rode side-saddle over the Mentone area in any kind of weather, day or night. She and her husband Jesse are buried at Little River Cemetery.
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