Mentone Alabama: A History

By Zora Shay Strayhorn

Copyright © 2001 Mentone Area Preservation Association, Inc.  All rights reserved.

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The Churches


The churches of Mentone are important threads in the tapestry of its history. Much of their background has genesis in the Bankhead community and the old Moon Lake School. There is a strong family orientation in some of the developments. Loyalty, cohesion, and individuality are paramount. The materials for these ensuing histories were provided by devoted members of the churches for which the author is extremely grateful.


Little River Church

Built around 1894, the Little River Church is located about two miles northeast of Mentone. Before the Civil War, as people moved into the Little River vicinity, the New Hope Baptist Church of Christ was organized. This was between 1850 and 1859 and was associated with the Cherokee Baptist Association. Meeting monthly at first in private homes, they began sessions at the Kirby Field House.

In 1861 the name was changed from New Hope to Lookout. Owned by the Kirby family, the Field House burned. Money was raised for the construction of a new church of logs, with wooden benches. People within a radius of four miles used the building as a church and school.

A discussion on June 1, 1861 considered dissolving and reestablishing at Holly Springs. But in July of that year it was decided not to make the change. In August M. J. Kingston gave land for a new church which was built. There are no records of services between October 1861 until August 5, 1865, probably because of the Civil War. Services were resumed and continued until 1880.

The Baptist Presbytery, with approval of the church members, dissolved the church on July 3, 1880. By unanimous vote, the building was given to Mrs. M. J. Kingston. Church letters were issued by the clerk to 52 men and 69 women. On the following day, the Baptist Presbytery reorganized the church. Articles of faith from the Cherokee Baptist Association were read, membership extended, and fourteen persons joined. The name chosen was Little River Church. The Mountain Baptist Association was organized “to promote brotherly love.”

Members of the reorganized church met monthly in private homes until a building was erected in 1884. Ellison Casey deeded an acre of land and water rights which included land of the former church.

Between 1890 and 1892 the building burned. The present Little River Church was built around 1895 on the site and is now an organized church with a few members. A Little River Cemetery Association gives perpetual care to the grounds and the building. The trustees are Britt Kirby, Hershell Pruitt, and Raymond Brown. Memorial services are held once a year, with other services at various times of the year.


St. Joseph’s-On-The-Mountain Episcopal

In the center of St. Joseph’s-on-the-Mountain Church is a log cabin built by Robert Vernon when he was nineteen. His son Simmie Sherman Vernon, born in the cabin, became an ordained minister and organized a church, a derivation of the Holly Springs Baptist Church. The cabin was moved a short distance around 1880 to the present location just across from the Mentone Springs Hotel.

In 1965 the Rev. Frank Machen retired to Mentone. He was ordained as an Episcopal minister late in life, serving three rural churches over fifteen years. Retired, almost blind and exhausted, he and his wife Weston set aside a room and placed a shingle “St. Joseph’s-on-the-Mountain” outside their home near the post office.

The Machens cultivated people with no church affiliation, developing a small, loyal congregation. The Reverend Frank Machen died in 1971.

On October 3, 1971 the Reverend Graham Glover held worship services in a tiny red building near the Hitching Post which he borrowed from his aunt, Anna Graham. Graham Glover and members of the congregation constructed the present building, searching out old buildings about the same age as the cabin, using these authentic materials to complete the church. On Sept. 1, 1974, holy communion was served in the present building.

St. Luke’s of Scottsboro donated from their original building the stained glass window behind the altar. It was hand-painted over a hundred years ago in France. The 19th Century front doors were also a gift from St. Luke’s. The long dark pews in the chancel area are from the Episcopal Church in Tuskeegee, Ala. George Washington Carver had developed the stain and personally did the hand-rubbing. The other century-old pews are from a Methodist Church in Silver Creek, Georgia.

Following purchase of the land and completion of the building, Graham Glover became fulltime rector at St. Joseph’s. He died in 1984 and is buried in a cemetery on Cove Road overlooking Taylor’s Ford. He was succeeded by the Reverend Robert H. Blackwell.

The church doors are always open. Travelers and tourists are welcome to come in and rest.


Mentone Church of God

The Mentone Church of God is another of those local churches that began at the Bankhead school. It was organized in l9l5 by W. S. Gentry, the Alabama Overseer for the Church of God. Charter members were Minnie Ivens, Anna Brown, Morgan and Mattie Crow, Nettie Crow, Lee Crow, Mrs. John O’Rear, Kate Culberson and Maybelle Brown (Cox).

Worship services were held at different days and hours from the other churches, in order to avoid conflict. The Bankhead School building burned in 1939. About 12 members met under an oak tree and decided to build a structure of their own. The land was given by Minnie and Frank Ivens. Many participated in building the white frame church on Highway 117 about three and one-half miles east of Mentone.

Minnie Ivens and her family were from Chattanooga. She was a sister of Lula Mae Bain.

It was in 1918 that Lula Mae Bain and Edd Lester Bain as a young couple came from Cedar Bluff, Alabama, to Mentone in order to be with her ister, Minnie Ivens.

“Gramma Bain” or “Sister Bain” as she was affectionately called, was the pillar of the Mentone Church of God. More than any other person she financed it by selling produce from the porch of the home she and her husband maintained on Highway 117. The small farm she and her husband tended was productive. She asked donations from their customers. One pocket of her apron was for the church. She was pint-sized, soft-spoken, the mother of nine children, gentle and devoted to her church.

In 1973 a new church was built on the north side of Highway 117, a short distance from where the old church stood.

The headquarters of the Church of God is in Cleveland, Tennessee. It maintains Lee College in Cleveland, an orphanage in Seviervile, Tennessee, another in North Carolina, and a Bible School in Fresno, California. Maybelle Cox is the only living charter member of the church in 1985. The others who had met with her under the oak tree for the decision to rebuild the burned church were Lula Mae Bain, Dewey Bain, Virgie Brown, Malcolm and Sally Smith.

Pastors since the new church was built in 1973 are the Reverends Terry Wigley, John Tisdale, Douglas Salisbury, Harry Carey, John Whitaker, Joey Kirby, and Roger Stanford.


Mentone Church of God of Prophecy

Before 1900 a white, one-room frame school building stood alongside the old highway in Bankhead on land donated by Marion O’Rear. Because he was of no religious persuasion, it was stipulated that religious services could be held, but that it was to be an open or union church. This became the center of religious activity. There was a union Sunday School and a yearly revival, but no regular minister was available.

Many of the early churches in the Mentone area had their roots here. When Moon Lake School was built and the school consolidated, the old school building was used as a community center for religious activity.

The Church of God of Prophecy was organized in 1915 by W. S. Gentry, in the old Bankhead school building. Charter members were Minnie Ivens, Virgil and Dora Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Charlie Eller, Kate Culberson, Mrs. John (Maggie) O’Rear, Sam and Maude Cash, Sr., Joe Nelson, Lee Crow, Anna Brown, Jim Cohen Morgan and, Mattie Crow, and Nettie Crow (Smith). Nettle Smith, only living charter member in 1985, was fourteen when she joined the church.

The old Bankhead building burned in 1939. The congregation then moved into a store building donated by Dan Smith, located just off the present Alabama Highway 117. It was on the north side, about three miles east of Mentone.

The generous member Dan Smith had moved from Collinsville to Mentone around 1916. With his wife Lula May and their children, he farmed until around 1928, at which time he began the grocery store which he donated to the church when the old Bankhead building burned.

A new building was constructed a short distance down the road, called the Old Sawmill Church. The congregation worshipped there until the present building was constructed in 1968 in Mentone.


Mentone United Methodist Church

When the United Methodist Church in Mentone was organized around 1892, it was called the Mentone Methodist Episcopal Church North. In 1938 several Methodist churches formed the Methodist Church. Again in 1968 a merger changed the name to the United Methodist Church.

The Reverend J. W. Reece organized the church, probably in early 1892. At that time Sunday School was held at the home of Henry Rillette, near the present site of Mentone Inn. Mr. Reece preached there Sunday afternoons. Early church records were destroyed by fire, but it is believed the charter members were Ed Mason, George Washington Crowe, Mary King Crowe, Mary King, Harry Gillette, Mr. and Mrs. T. F. Sproule, the Reverend John Nelson Shigley, Mr. and Mrs. Jay Reece, Lily Reece, and Annie Reece.

A hand-written deed in the church shows that Ed Mason deeded land on Cutler Avenue for the church. He not only paid for and built the foundation and the tower; he owned a sawmill near the covered bridge, to which other church members brought logs from their land to the mill to be cut at no cost. In a cooperative effort, various members paid for building materials and built the church.

Charter member George Washington Crowe came from Tennessee and married Mary King. Charter member John Nelson Shigley, a retired Methodist minister, was from Manistee, Michigan. His wife Eleanor died in 1883 and her funeral was the first held in the church. Charter member Mary King was the mother of Luke and Pluma King and Mary King Crowe. Henry Gillette was son of Caroline Gillette Mason, the second Mrs. John Mason. The Sproules were early settlers from Ireland. Lily and Annie Reece were aunts of Leonard Reece. Members of the family of Roscoe Brown (son of C. C.) have remained active in the church: Catherine Brown Bailey, Raymond, Carrie Ruth Brown Kirby, Gerald, Carlton and Sara Brown Harris.

The Crowes have remained active. Grandchildren recall going to clean the church with grandmother Mary King Crowe, who always knelt for prayer before leaving, making certain a bouquet of flowers was placed on the altar for the Sunday services. In the cornerstone the members placed a Bible, a Discipline, silver coins, and a list of charter members. Four sons of Finn and Belle Keith Crowe became ordained Methodist ministers: Finn, Jr., Charles, Floyd, and Edmond.

Most likely the first fulltime minister was John Paul Gilbreath. A parsonage was eventually built near the church. Because of the Methodist policy of steady rotation of ministers, a variety of clergy have served in Mentone. During the time of the Centennial, the minister was the Reverend Ann Q. Lohr.


Sally Howard Memorial Chapel

Sally Lankford of Fort Payne was a beautiful, brown-eyed blonde of fifteen when Colonel Milford Wriarson Howard of Georgia arrived in 1880. He came to Fort Payne to study in the law office of attorney L. A. Dobbs. At age nineteen Milford Howard was admitted to the Alabama State Bar, one of the youngest ever admitted. The honorary title “Colonel” was applied to southern lawyers at that time.

Sally Lankford and Milford Howard were married in 1885. She became mother of their children and his strongest supporter. A true dreamer, he had early interests which ranged from politics to the two summers he spent in Alaska. There he installed a hydraulic plant for washing gold and built a factory for the canning of salmon. The Alabama investments proved a failure. He returned to the Mentone area to make his mark on its development.

When Sally Howard died in California, she was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale at the Wee Kirk 0’ the Heather, a reproduction of the Annie Laurie Church in Scotland. Inwardly he yearned to reproduce the Glendale Chapel as a memorial to her in Alabama. In the last year of Milford Howard’s life, in failing health, he set about building the Sally Howard Memorial Chapel on an elevated spot near DeSoto State Park.

It was winter. The ground was wet and sometime frozen, as he stood to oversee the workmen. All of his remaining funds were utilized. Help was provided by the young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps and residents of the mountain. It was necessary to compromise for clear windows instead of stained glass, and a simple wooden cross for the large electric cross he had wanted.

Stones from Little River formed the pulpit. On a large beam above the pulpit are words from Sally’s last letter: GOD HAS ALWAYS BEEN AS GOOD TO ME AS I WOULD LET HIM BE. Above is his own word IMMORTALITY. The chapel was dedicated June 27, 1937. Milford Howard’s ashes are entombed there. He died in California December 28, 1937.

In September 1973 the Chapel was deeded to the DeKaIb Baptist Association. In March 1984 the First Baptist Church of Fort Payne assumed the ministry of the chapel services. They are conducted each Sunday morning, March through December, at 10:30 a.m. and are especially participated in by summer visitors.


Moon Lake Baptist Church

Sometime after 1911 when the old two-storied Moon Lake School was built on land given by Ed Mason, two church groups met together as a Union Sunday School. One was to become the Moon Lake Baptist Church, also known as the Moon Lake Missionary Baptist Church; the other was the Wesleyan Methodist.

The Reverends L. K. Weaver and W. B. Riddle in 1923 organized the Moon Lake Sunday School, with Ollie Murdock as superintendent and Willie Perkins as secretary-treasurer. R. T. Ellison stimulated the building of a church house and a committee was formed. Martha Berry, founder of Berry School, donated land adjoining the school.

Immediately the men came together with saws, axes, horses and wagons, some to clear the land, others with timber cut from their own land, to be dressed by W. C. Perkins’ sawmill near the old covered bridge. Rocks were gathered for the foundation. Work continued through the winter months. The ladies prepared food for the workers and raised money for books and a piano. On April 13, 1924, the Church School moved into the new church. The first sermon was preached by the Reverend Alexander of Valley Head. The next Sunday there was dinner on the grounds, dedication talks and singing.

On May 17, 1924, the church was organized. In August a revival increased membership. A BYPU and WMU were organized. Fourth Sundays were the preaching days. In December 1927 a fire destroyed the building. Invitations were extended by the Wesleyan Methodist and Mentone Methodist to use their facilities. The invitations were accepted.

By July 1928 another church had been erected. As participation remained active, a fire again destroyed the building in November 1933. This was the middle of the Depression. Unable to rebuild, the congregation was scattered for fourteen years. In September 1947 there was a tent revival on the church lot for three weeks. With determination, a new church was built and the first services were conducted in the present building on Feb. 15, 1948. The Reverend Herbert Buckles was pastor. A revival again brought members and by 1950 full-time services were begun.

Many improvements have been added: an educational and fellowship building, baptistry, padded pews, carpeted aisles, steeple and paved parking lot. There is now a library, amplification system, and vestibule.

The following ministers have served since 1924: The Reverends L. K. Weaver, W. B. Riddle, W. S. Matley, Herbert Buckles, J. A. Faile, B. C. Clark. W. L. Jennings, Bill Penley, Henry Mangun, I. A. Benifield, Aubrey Johnson, Gary Kendricks, James Tidwell, T. C. Nelson, George King, John Richey and William Steele.


Mentone Wesleyan Church

The Wesleyan Church in Mentone was originally known as the Wesleyan Methodist Church. In 1966 the Wesleyan Methodist and the Pilgrim Holiness churches consolidated to become known as the Wesleyan Church.

In the summer of 1912 the French family arrived in Mentone with two sons, William and Robert, and a daughter Frances. They conducted a tent meeting near the hall owned by Ed Mason at Moon Lake. The French family were good musicians and preachers and they organized the Wesleyan Methodist Church. The church was painted brown and was known as “the little brown church in the wildwoods.”

Henry Frank Shigley and wife Rebecca Melissa Keith Shigley and as many of their twelve children who were old enough at that time became charter members: Elizabeth (Reece), AnnaBelle (Warren), Ernest Shigley, Grace (Jones), Frances Ethel (Adams), Stella (Silk), Edna (Jones), Roan (Smith), Nona (Williams), Ruby (Daniel), Clarence, and Margaret (Crowe). Many of the Shigley and Kirby families were charter members.

Other charter members were Misses Jimmie Brown and Eva Ruth Brown (Armentraut) who donated the land for the church building.

In 1985 the only living charter member was Ethel Shigley Adams. Early members were Mr. and Mrs. Louis Kirby and Mr. and Mrs. Albert Cash.

The Rev. H. A. Johnson was the first resident pastor. His son James H. Johnson retired in 1985 from teaching Sunday School and was in his thirty-ninth year as treasurer of the church.

Ministers who served the church were the Rev. William French, Mrs. Kate Shaffor, and the Reverends Anderson, H. A. Johnson, Snipes, E. L. Shigley, George Vernon, Hodge, Eugene Smith, Barns, Charles Crowe, Downey, Edmond Crowe, A. C. Clemens and George Davis.


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