Mentone Alabama: A History
By Zora Shay Strayhorn
Copyright © 2001 Mentone Area Preservation Association, Inc. All rights reserved.
A Description of the Mountain
Alabama lies between 84 degrees 51’ and 88 degrees 28’ 03” west longitude and 30 degrees 13’ and 35” north latitude; it is about halfway between New York and Mexico, near the southern end of the North Temperature Zone which puts Alabama in a semitropical zone. The growing season in North Alabama is measured at Valley Head and is 198 days. Valley Head has the dubious distinction of registering the coolest spot in the state. The annual average temperature in North Alabama is 60 degrees F. The yearly average of rainfall for the whole state is 53 inches, northeastern section 55 inches.
Lookout Mountain has its own air conditioning winds. Winds are usually the friends of mankind but turn into enemies when they sweep through Alabama in the form of tornadoes or hurricanes. Mentone has not been known to have had many violent storms.
Lookout Mountain where Mentone is located on the southern end of the Appalachians is a long, narrow mountain. Three states own a portion of Lookout: Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. The northern tip, in Tennessee, is a long, narrow plateau. The Indians named it “Chatanuga Mountain,” the Muskhogean Indian word meaning “rock coming to a point.” The widest part of Lookout is the nine miles between Cloudland, Georgia, and Mentone, Alabama.
On a fairly clear day looking toward the west from the brow at Mentone, one sees low-lying hills, softly contoured, and a wide valley below. The shades of color of the trees range from chartreuse to jade green. Two-thirds of Alabama is in forests. Below is Wills Valley that starts north around Trenton, Georgia, and extends south for about seventy miles.
To understand and appreciate the beauty and good life of present-day Mentone, Alabama, one must dip into the mysterious geological past.
During the Cambrian period of the Paleozoic Geological Era or about 600 million years ago, there was a vast tropical sea covering portions of this area as evidenced by marine life trapped before ridges were elevated. Hundreds of millions of years later during the period known as the Carboniferous period, named for the “fossil fuels,” petroleum, coal, and natural gas developed as the result of the reptiles, sharks and amphibians, and large marine animals falling and dying in the swamps, as did numerous scale trees and seed ferns. At this time sedimentary rocks were laid down, such as sandstone, limestone, shale, coal, and conglomerates under water. There is little evidence of volcanic action or lava flow.
At the end of the Paleozoic era, mountain folding in eastern North America produced the heights which constitute today’s Appalachians.
One of the five types of rocks in Lookout Mountain is Davonian black shale. During the Devonian period, more than 400 million years ago, amphibians, ammonites, and fish were abundant. On top of the Devonian black shale is a big block of Fort Payne chert. It is called Fort Payne chert because it is found in good form in our nearby city. On top of that is a huge block of Floyd shale, named for Floyd County, Georgia. Next is Bangor limestone. The three-named rocks: Devonian black shale, Fort Payne chert, and Bangor limestone are called subcarboniferous, or Mississippian measure. Millions of years passed between the formation of these three layers. Then came a heavy stratum of Lookout sandstone. Walden’s sandstone, after Walden’s ridge, caps the rocks. The last two layers are called Coal or Pennsylvanian measure.
Little River with its spring-fed river beginning at Head River, Georgia, flows peacefully through Mentone, Alabama, and is the only known river in this hemisphere to flow along the top of a mountain. It meanders along the high plateau of the eighty-three mile-long narrow Lookout Mountain, plunging over a precipice one-hundred feet to form DeSoto Falls, in DeSoto State Park, about three miles from downtown Mentone. There are about fifteen falls in the Park, but DeSoto Falls is the most famous. DeSoto Falls was originally called Indian Falls as recorded by Federal troops in September, 1863, and later changed to DeSoto Falls by Sarah Force O’Rear. The river flows through a rock-cliffed gorge, Little River Canyon, and merges with the Coosa River, one of the three main river systems of the state.
The mountain is considered by spaleologists (from the Latin root word “spelaeum,” cave) to be one of the richest regions for caves in the world. Where the overlapping of the crust of the earth occurred during the time the mountains were uplifted, faults formed. At the ground level of the mountain is several hundred feet of limestone. As water seeped into the faults, the limestone was gradually dissolved by the carbonic acid found in weak solutions in rain water. Huge caverns and caves were carved out as the water made its way through the lime substrate, leaving only ledges of rock that were resistant to erosion. There are miles of winding passageways, caves, caverns, pools of water, waterfalls, and underground streams running the entire length of Lookout Mountain.
Below the brow of Mentone in Valley Head is a large cave that was supplied at one time with emergency rations by the Civil Defense for use in the event of a disaster.
The Southern Appalachians have a rich deciduous forest that is varied. Among trees found to be native to this area are ashes, birches, cherries, dogwoods, elms, gums, hawthorns, hickories, hollies, Iindens, locusts, magnolias, maples, mulberries, oaks, pines, plums, poplars, black-walnuts, redbuds, sourwood, sassafras, and willows.
Shrubs found natively around Mentone include azaleas, rhododendrons, blueberries, thorns, grapes, honeysuckles, huckleberries, hydrangeas, ivies, laurels, roses, sumacs, and viburnums.
At the Rhododendron Garden Club of Mentone in May, 1984, Margaret Persons was the guest speaker, a past president of the Blanche Dean Chapter of the Alabama Wildflower Society. She stated that there are some 3,000 species of wildflowers in the Southeast. About 1,000 of these are in northeastern Alabama.
In this area are found the natural crocus, shad bush, spring beauty, false anemone, trailing arbutus, Dutchman’s breeches, foam flower, shooting star, trout lily, dog-toothed violet, bloodroot, May apple, the trilliums, ferns, Virginia blue-bells, euonymous, chickweed and yellow jasmine.
Also found here are the wild geranium, iris, jack-in-the-pulpit, trumpet honeysuckle, the woodbines (which Ruby O’Rear said are yellow on the brow because of the lime and pink farther away), Indian pipes, pipsissewa, mountain laurel, azaleas, rhododendron, tulip poplar, oak leaf hydrangeas, spider lily, and lady slipper. A carniverous plant found on Little River in the vicinity of DeSoto Park is the pitcher plant.
When the Europeans first arrived here, the Indians were growing and using such vegetables and fruits as hickory nuts, pecans, chestnuts, walnuts, strawberries, huckleberries, blackberries, peaches, cherries, muscadines, grapes, potatoes, pumpkins, peas, beans, squash, tomatoes, okra, and corn.
In the Mentone, Alabama area, fishing is a popular sport in the ponds, creeks, and rivers. Some of the fresh water fish caught are bluegill and shellcracker brim, large-mouthed bass, crappies, and perch. Catfish are found in places that have been stocked.
Wildlife found in the Mentone vicinity includes deer, quail, turkey, rabbit, squirrel, fox, raccoon, opossum, and mourning dove.
In 1982, when John Paul Verdon was twelve years old, he caught a four-and-one-half-pound large-mouthed bass in a pond off Alabama Highway 117 on property formerly owned by Jimmy Jones. John Paul’s grandmother, Mrs. R. C. Gilbreath, had it mounted for his wall.
Sammy Cash, Mentone’s fire chief, before he retired from the Forest Service in the late 1970s, had a call from a woman in Valley Head; she was frantic: “Have you ever killed a bear?” she asked Sammy. “One just went through my yard.”
“No,” Sammy replied, “but I can try.”
When he arrived in Valley Head, children in a black church were wild with excitement as the black bear put its paws up on the window frame. Sammy saw its tracks, but didn’t see the bear.
In 1977 Paul Leldon Johnson of Cove Road was returning home from work on Highway 157 about six or seven miles from Mentone. He thought he saw a black object that might be a 50-gallon drum; it moved. Following him was a friend from Sand Mountain who saw the bear. It was a black bear because it walked off on its four paws. Returning to the scene, both men said it had disappeared into the woods.
In 1981 T. F. (Mack) Blalock also of Cove Road, one evening about 2 p.m. looked across his field and thought that his neighbor had acquired a black calf, until it started toward him; the bear lumbered off into the woods nearby. Mack Blalock shot a red fox by his barn a couple of years ago and sold it to someone who wanted the skin. Stanley Brown was exploring an old cave called the Council Cave at DeSoto Falls about 4:30 in the evening on October 9, 1984. He looked up and saw a magnificent red fox on the cliffs. It ran off in the direction of Little River.
In the neighborhood of Lake Lahusage, Taylor Collins and his wife built a home. On Sunday night, October 14, 1984, they heard a bobcat crying like a woman in travail.
A bobcat was sighted in the summer of 1984 by Betty and Scutter Smith when they were on their way to Cloudland, Georgia. The cat dashed across the highway; the hour was daylight. Returning home after dark, the Smiths saw the same cat cross in front of them on the highway.
Scutter Smith is a professional trainer of dogs. He is in the woods much of the time. A couple of miles from his home on Alabama Highway 106, in the area the government is reclaiming after strip-mining, he saw a large bobcat; it was early in the morning.
In the 1940s the Tri-State Fox-Hunter’s Convention met at the Mineral Springs Hotel, and after an all night of hunting, dogs yapping, they would have breakfast at early daylight at the Hitching Post.
The reason there is little fox-hunting now on Lookout is because the dogs spot a deer and follow it for miles, sometimes into the North Georgia woods, with the hunter unable to retrieve his dogs. There is still fox-hunting on Sand Mountain.
J. R. Bain, Grandpa Bain’s oldest son, recalls the bonfires in the woods while hunting with his family and friends as a child, ‘possum, skunk, and ‘coons. J. R. was a young boy fishing at the site of Lake Lahusage the day the dam broke because of the heavy rains; the water of the lake went down dramatically.
On May 10, 1975, a bird count was made in the Mentone area north and south of Alabama Highway 117 to the Georgia State line, and the most frequently recorded birds were mourning dove, chimney swift, barn swallow, blue jay, common crow, Carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, Carolina wren, robin, wood thrush, red-eyed vireo, prairie warbler, eastern meadowlark, red-winged blackbird, common grackle, summer tanager, cardinal, indigo bunting, rufous-sided towhee, chipping sparrow, and pileated woodpecker.
Although the soil and rugged contour of the land in Mentone has not been particularly good for large areas of farming or raising of livestock, it is a good recreational area. The early Indians set this part of the land off for hunting. Today the area remains a Happy Hunting Ground for year-round residents and for vacationers.
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