Dekalb County Communities

History of Fort Payne   [Page 1, 2, 3, 4]

Reproduced from the Landmarks publication A Pictorial History of DeKalb County, Alabama

Another bit of groundwork was the incorporation of the city. A bill providing for this was introduced in the legislature in February 1889 by DeKalb's senator, W. W. Haralson. After passing both houses, it was signed by Governor Seay on February 28.

The Fort Payne Coal and Iron Company, having by now purchased 32,000 acres of land in the vicinity, immediately set about designing a city and preparing for hordes of speculators and fortune seekers. Streets were graded and new ones opened across the valley and up the ridges. A water supply was developed and a two-mile-long sewage system was constructed at a cost of $35,000.

The DeKalb Hotel, located at 400 Gault Avenue North, was built by the Fort Payne Coal and Iron Company in 1889. The hotel burned February 5, 1918.

By mid-summer the boom was in full swing. Mines were being opened and more and more laborers and investors arrived at Fort Payne. Industrial companies, banks and investment companies were organized, and stores, schools and churches were built. The DeKalb Hotel, occupying an entire square in the center of town, was constructed. The largest and best equipped hotel in northeast Alabama, this hotel boasted 180 rooms, a billiard room, a huge dining room and a ballroom. The owners refused offers as high as $100,000 for this hotel. Nearby an $80,000 opera house, now a tourist attraction, was built.

To landscape the city, the Fort Payne Coal and Iron Company hired Charles Landstreet who had come here from Virginia in 1887. Public parks were created, including Union Park across from the DeKalb Hotel, the site of the present city park on Gault Avenue. Trees, plants, flowers and shrubs were brought from all parts of the world. Several Japanage poplars planted at that time are still living.

The approach to Manitou Cave, which was developed by Fort Payne Coal and Iron Company in 1888 as an attraction. During the boom the beautifully landscaped park and candlelit ballroom were favorite meeting places for picnics and dances.

One of the most interesting attractions developed under Landstreet's supervision was Manitou Cave, located in the side of Lookout Mountain. Bridges and winding stairways were built leading to the huge ballroom, where dancers could watch the reflections of hundreds of candles glitter from the stalactites of the walls and ceiling. Later electricity was installed inside the cave and a public park created near the entrance.

Local citizens at entrance to Manitou Cave in Fort Payne about 1878.

Those identified are Harry Reed Godfrey and Orlando Godfrey, second and third on right, and Captain Williaim H. H. Minot, on left of cave entrance in straw hat. In cave entrance, left, Archie Spaulding; right, Mort Spaulding.

Even the machinery of politics ran smoothly. The new and old residents of the city agreed, prior to the first municipal election on July 1, 1889, to elect Major Godfrey as mayor. And, in order to give both groups an equal voice in the city government, it was further agreed that three councilmen would represent the older residents and two the newer arrivals. Elected as the city's first aldermen were A. W. Train, J. J. Nix, W. H. Minot, W. F. Payne and S. E. Dobbs. Ordinances were soon passed for the government of Fort Payne, including a law banning the sale of alcoholic beverages.

Due to the building boom, the grading of streets became one important function of the new city government. Within a year, 13 miles of streets had been graded and many streets were built upon as soon as they were located, often before they could be graded. With the postulation leaping from 500 to several thousand within a few months, temporary tents covered the ridges on either side of town, serving the newcomers as homes until hastily constructed houses could be completed.

The advertising campaign was intensified, and the Fort Payne Coal and Iron Company issued an attractive prospectus which was sent to prosperous businessmen all over the country, especially those in the New England states. Agents in charge of publicity placed a display of Fort Payne minerals in the Quincy House in Boston.

Boasts were made of the high quality of iron ore contained in "Iron Mountain", the name so optimistically given to the western ridge closest to the center of town. The capacity of the red ore mines located here was given as 300 tons a day. The capacity of the Brown Ore Mine, located on the eastern slope, was said to be 200 tons of good ore per day. The western side of Iron Mountain was thought to be rich in red hematite and large fields of ore containing manganese had supposedly been located on Sand Mountain, as well as smaller deposits of red and brown ore on Lookout Mountain.

The coke used to convert the ores into pig iron was made from coal mined on Lookout Mountain. Lookout Village was built near the mine.

To facilitate the movement of ores and fuel, the Fort Payne Coal and Iron Company even built and equipped a railroad. The Mineral Railroad, begun in 1889 and completed the following January, ran from the Alabama Great Southern Railroad in the valley in a northeastern direction to Beeson Gap and eastward to its terminal at the Lookout Mountain Coal Mine. A network of sidings in the manufacturing district made it possible to load and unload freight at the factories. The train consisted of' a locomotive, combination passenger and baggage coaches and coal and construction cars. Regular routes were run from the city to Lookout Village. A considerable amount of passenger and freight service was provided for the public in addition to the company's business.

The Mineral Railroad was intended to form a link in an east and west line connecting the Tennessee River at Guntersville with the Atlantic Coast. Fourteen and one-half miles were laid on this line at a cost of over $76,000, but the road was never completed. It was later taken over by the Alabama Great Southern line.

Fort Payne Stove Works was located in the 900 block S.E.

By the summer of 1890, the Fort Payne Coal and Iron Company had invested $1,900,000 in plants and equipment, and an additional $l,250,000 had been spent in developing the city. Meanwhile, Rice and other financiers had invested $50,000 on a water plant. This plant utilized the two immense springs of mild lime water at the base of Lookout Mountain and supplied the city with pure water. A power house had also been constructed, causing Fort Payne to be referred to as "the electric city", although rates were beyond the means of the average citizen. The Fort Payne lce and Storage Company, organized in 1889, supplied the city and surrounding area with ice and cold storage facilities.

By 1890 Fort Payne had quite an impressive directory of businesses and factories. The Fort Payne and the Bay State Furnaces had been constructed. The Fort Payne Rolling Mill and Steel Company was said to be the largest of its kind in the South. The Alabama Builders' Hardware Company was one of the most extensive hardware manufacturing factories in the South, and a stove foundry was being constructed by the Fort Payne Stove Works. The Fort Payne Basket and Package Factory, located two miles south of Fort Payne, and the Fort Payne Fire Clay Works appeared to be promising industries.

The Stoddard-Carr Lime Company was located on the North East corner of Oak Street and 20th Street S. E.

In addition, there were other hardware and lumber companies and quite a few miscellaneous industries. There were also four banks and several investment companies. Of the banks, the Bank of Fort Payne, organized in March 1889, was the first. The Fort Payne Journal, which had preceded and would outlast the boom, was joined by another newspaper, the Fort Payne Herald.

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