Landmark Mentone Springs Hotel Destroyed By Fire

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The landmark Mentone Springs Hotel at Mentone, Ala., was destroyed by fire on Saturday.

Also burned to the ground was the hotel annex, which was operated for many years as the White Elephant antique and book business.

The fire broke out about 9 p.m. and soon was out of control. A guest initially tried to put it out using a fire extinguisher.

After the annex also began burning, firefighters began an effort to prevent the roaring fire from spreading to other buildings in Mentone.

The Mentone Inn Bed and Breakfast across the highway was not damaged.  

Darlene and Jim Rotch said on the hotel's Facebook page, "We are heartsick and sad to announce that the Mentone Springs Hotel and the White Elephant are gone--devastated by fire. Thank God no one was hurt. We do not have the details of what happened but will try and keep everyone updated as we learn more."

A number of those who grew up visiting and staying at the stately frame hotel posted nostalgic comments.

The Mentone Springs Hotel was said to be the oldest hotel in Alabama.

Built in 1884 by Dr. Frank Caldwell as a 57-room hotel, it prospered for a time by attracting "summer people" to Lookout Mountain. Each of the rooms in the hotel when it was built featured hot and cold water supplied by deep wells. A wide porch spanned two sides and the front of the building on the first floor.

A hallway led from the dining room to the reading room and lobby, which featured a unique three-side fireplace.

Advertisements for the Mentone Springs Hotel claimed that it was located in one of the most healthful and attractive spots in the South.

The hotel grounds included two springs - Mineral Springs and Beauty Springs - both of which were believed to have furnished water with strengthening and curative powers. The Mineral Springs dried up following the blasting involved in construction of a new paved road between Valley Head and Mentone in 1928.

The Mentone Springs Hotel changed hands several times soon after it was built. New owners in 1914 remodeled the hotel and added the two-story annex with 24 rooms, each with a private bath.

A 44-room dormitory was added in 1920, as well as an auditorium designed to seat 600 people. It had six classrooms.

The Alabama State Baptists began using the hotel beginning in 1921 for their youth convocations and often more than 1,000 members of the Baptist Young People's Union would attend conventions at the hotel.

The hotel failed during the Depression and it was operated with little success until an auction was held on the hotel grounds July 5, 1950. Ben Hammond of Rome, Ga., bought the old hotel for use as a summer home.

Norville Hall, an organ builder and repairman, acquired the hotel in 1956 for use as a home and for storing organ parts. He had been the manager of the hotel from 1945 until 1950.

The annex was sold to H.L. Murphy of Summerville and it was remodeled and operated as the Sunset Hotel for several years.


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