published Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

Officials mourn loss of Mentone Springs Hotel in Alabama

  • photo
    The ruins of the Mentone Springs Hotel are seen Monday in Mentone, Ala. The 130-year old hotel caught fire Saturday night. (Photo by Patty Tucker)
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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    The porch of the Metone Springs Hotel in Mentone, Ala., is shown in 2004. The hotel was built in 1884 by Pennsylvanian Dr. J. Frank Caldwell. The hotel burned to the ground Saturday night.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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    The meals served in the dining room of the Mentone Springs Hotel in Mentone, Ala., have earned mention on the Food Network and Southern Living. This is the upstairs ballroom for parties seen in February 2004. The hotel burned to the ground on Saturday night.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Buildings are replaceable. Mentone Springs Hotel is not.

The 130-year-old bed and breakfast at the heart of Mentone -- a tourist destination on Lookout Mountain in DeKalb County, Ala. -- burned down Saturday night, and local leaders are unsure what is next for the site of their town's former centerpiece.

"I hope something nice will be there sometime because it's right there in the center of town," said Mentone Mayor Rob Hammond. "But you just can't replace something that old and that historical."

DeKalb County tourism director John Dersham said the Mentone Springs Hotel was the first man-made tourist attraction in the area.

It all started when Civil War soldiers stationed at the base of Lookout Mountain began exploring its natural wonders. After the conflict subsided, those enamored with the beauty of the area began inhabiting the mountain. Among them was Frank Caldwell of Pennsylvania who built the hotel in 1884 at the site of two hot springs.

Caldwell chose "Mentone" for the name of his hotel because of an interpretation of the French word that meant "a musical mountain spring."

Though Dersham said the original springs are no longer at the site after they were redirected during road construction in the 1930s, the hotel survived the Great Depression and a quaint village of locally owned businesses flourished around it.

In 1983, one year before its centennial celebration, Mentone Springs Hotel made the National Registry of Historic Places.

Jim and Darlene Rotch purchased the hotel in 2010 and also owned the neighboring White Elephant Antique Gallery that was destroyed in the blaze. They could not be reached for comment Monday but posted on the hotel's Facebook page thanking well-wishers for their support.

"Thank you to everyone for the kind words of support and sharing wonderful memories of the Mentone Springs Hotel and White Elephant Please keep them coming," they wrote. "We, and everyone in our little mountain town, mourn this loss and take comfort in the stories and photos you've shared of great times had by all."

Hammond said the community still has plenty to offer but the loss of Mentone Springs Hotel is a definite blow.

"We haven't had a chance to really start talking about the future yet," he said.

Dersham said the redevelopment of the site will depend largely on what the Rotch's decide to do with it.

"That was a big, big setback for us because that was really the icon of our area," Dersham said. "When people though about visiting Mentone, the vision they had in their mind was that hotel because it had such a presence at the top of the mountain and people identified with it."

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

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