Mentone, Dekalb County, Alabama ›
Mentone sits atop Lookout Mountain and was founded in the late 1800’s by John Mason. In 1884, Dr. Frank Caldwell, builder of the Mentone Springs Hotel, asked Mr. Mason to name the town. His daughter, Alice Mason, named the city Mentone after the French city of Menton, meaning “Musical Mountain Spring”. As indicated by the name, Mentone is blessed with mineral springs that were believed to have healing powers and became a thriving health resort. Mentone, at an elevation of 1708 feet, is listed as having the highest elevation of any city in Alabama.
The first house was built in Mentone around 1854 by Robert Vernon. At this time the area was known as Ellison’s Precinct after a Mr. Ellison, who operated a grist mill here. Robert Vernon’s house is now St. Joseph’s-on-the-Mountain Episcopal Church.
The Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto visited this area after hearing rumors of gold in the Lookout Mountain area. In 1540 DeSoto and his men ascended Lookout Mountain between Blanche and Menlo. They camped at DeSoto Falls while searching for the rumored gold. They never found the gold and Desoto’s historian noted their experience by saying “They came to this place and found no gold, an area of lofty hills and stupendous rocks”.
The lands around Mentone were originally occupied by the Indians and a battle between Indians and frontiersmen in 1782 occurred near here. This small battle occurred on the north face of Lookout Mountain when British agitated Chickamauga Cherokee, led by Skyuka, met a loose-knit band of settlers under the command of John Siever.
In September, 1863, the forces of McCook’s Union Army came through the area. The following excerpt of their movements was taken from the report of Brig. General Jefferson C. Davis
“The division remained in this camp until the afternoon of the 4th, when it moved across Valley Head and went into camp at Winston’s, taking possession of and picketing the gap and roads over Lookout Mountain at that place. During the night of the 8th and early on the morning of the 9th the Cavalry Corps under command of Major-General Stanley, ascended Lookout Mountain and moved to the front with the object of making reconnaissance in the direction of Alpine and Summerville.”
“In obedience to orders from General McCook, I moved forward with the Second and Third Brigades in support of this movement, leaving the First Brigade behind to hold the mountain pass at Winston’s, and to guard the baggage train of both corps ordered to be left at that place. After ascending the mountain in compliance with instructions, Heg’s brigade was ordered to march across the mountain and take possession of Neal’s Gap, on the southeast side of Lookout Mountain, while Carlin’s followed the main cavalry column and encamped at the base of the mountain near Alpine, Ga.”
“During the night it was ascertained that General McCook’s whole corps would be concentrated at this point, and after consultation with General Stanley as to its propriety, I ordered Colonel Heg to move from Neal’s Gap at once and report to me at Henderson’s Gap. This movement was made on a mountain road leading direct from Neal’s to Henderson’s Gap by the succeeding forenoon.”
Mentone is a mecca for summer camps. Some of the camps are listed below.
Camp Cloudmont is the oldest summer camp and was established in 1924 by the YMCA of Miami, Florida on 40 acres of land. Six years later it was purchased by Charles W. Edwards, Abele, and Sommers. Today the camp comprises more than 40 buildings and 5,000 acres of land.
Lookout Mountain Camp opened in June, 1928 and has been owned and operated by the same family longer than any other. It was established by Dr. J.A. Gorman and his son-in-law, Gray D. Morrison. Dr. Gorman practiced dentistry there for 10 years, traveling on horseback to attend the needs of the mountaineers.
Alpine Camp for Boys is located where Milford Howard built Alpine Lodge in 1928. The lodge was operated as a mountain resort until 1934, when it was purchased by Miss Alice MacVicar of Miami, Florida. She founded Alpine Camp for Girls with a capacity to enroll 85 campers. In 1959 the property was sold to Rufus Hyde of Dallas, Texas and Richard C. O’Ferrall of Jackson, Mississippi, who established Alpine Camp for Boys.
Skyline Camp was founded in 1947 by Miss Eloise Hart Temple, who began her work with girl’s camps in 1935. The 70 acre camp hosts campers from ages 6 to 16. The current owners, Edward Cash and Sally Johnson, still maintain contact with Miss Temple.
Camp Laney was founded in 1959 by Coach Malcolm Laney, assistant coach at the University of Alabama and has a capacity of about 350 boys.
For more information on the history of Mentone, visit the official website of the Mentone Area Preservation Association.