Jerry Summers: Mentone Springs Hotel

Wednesday, May 20, 2020 - by Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

The once stately Mentone Springs Hotel in Mentone, Alabama, in DeKalb County, southwest of Chattanooga is now silent with only a vacant lot and a “for sale” sign where the once popular resort stood.

On March 1, 2014, an electrical fire destroyed the 130-year-old Mentone Springs Hotel along with an antique mall on the property. The hotel had been built by physician Dr. J. Frank Caldwell from Pennsylvania in 1884-1887. He had become fond of the area when he had vacationed there.

The name of the hotel came from the daughter of a local resident, John Mason, who Dr. Caldwell had lived with while the 28,000-square-foot structure was being erected.

The daughter, Alice, recalled reading descriptive accounts of British monarch Queen Victoria, who had visited a place in France called Mentone. The meaning of Mentone had been described as “a musical mountain spring” and the title appealed to Dr. Caldwell so he adopted the name.

During its heyday the resort was advertised as one of the most beautiful and attractive locations in the South during the summer months beginning in June and ending in October. A variety of activities welcomed the guests that included swimming and fishing in the local river. Sports such as tennis, bowling, croquet, billiards and dancing were available for the adults while children enjoyed a separate playground. The resort also advertised the presence of two mineral springs that were represented as having strengthening and curative properties. Unfortunately, the spring dried up following the blasting involved in construction of a new paved road between Valley Head and Mentone in 1928.

Before the Depression the hotel was sold several times between 1918 and 1920. This led to deterioration of the facility necessary to accommodate large groups like the Alabama State Baptist Assembly. The last big church assemblage to meet in Mentone was in 1931. Because of the inability of individuals that leased the hotel to make a profit it eventually closed for several years.

On July 4, 1950, Ben Hammond of Rome, Georgia, purchased the property at an auction to serve as a summer home. It was sold again in 1956 to be used as a home and organ repair shop before closing again for several years. The hotel reopened in 2001 and underwent an extensive restoration in 2010-2011.

Like all great hotels it had its stories of ghosts on the premises to add to the mystical history of the locale. Prior to the fire of March 1, 2014, the hotel was considered “one of the oldest hotels in the State of Alabama” and had been featured in the New York Times bestseller “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.”

Before the fire the hotel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Like many other historical structures in the South the grand old hotel in Dekalb County deserved a better fate than perishing in the blaze on March 1. However, it can at least be said it avoided the indignity of death by the wrecking ball.

You still have the option of visiting two attractive sites just down from Mentone in either the summer or winter. DeSoto Falls State Park is seven miles from Mentone and the adjacent DeSoto Falls is one of the tallest and most visited waterfalls in Alabama.

In the winter, Cloudmont Ski and Golf Resort is Alabama’s only ski resort and is located on County Road 614, just off the Lookout Mountain Parkway in Mentone. It has excellent facilities for both beginner and intermediate skiers on eight hundred acres on mountain top property.


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Jerry Summers

(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers' articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at jsummers@summersfirm.com  

Mentone Springs Hotel
Mentone Springs Hotel

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