published Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Fire destroys Mentone Springs Hotel in Mentone, Ala.

  • photo
    The Mentone Springs Hotel in Mentone, Ala., seen in this 2004 photo, was one of the oldest hotels in the state. It was destroyed by fire Saturday night.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

  • photo
    The 130-year old Mentone Springs Hotel is destroyed by fire Saturday night. The hotel and neighboring antique shop were lost in the blaze.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

  • photo
    Fire consumes the Mentone Springs Hotel as seen from the nearby Moonlight Bistro.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

A beloved landmark in Mentone, Ala., burned to the ground Saturday night and took a local antique shop with it.

The Mentone Springs Hotel, a 130-year old building on the National Registry of Historic Places and situated in a quaint DeKalb County community, caught fire and burned for several hours. The blaze spread to the White Elephant Antique Gallery, destroying both buildings.

Owners Jim and Darlene Rotch posted on the hotel's Facebook page about midnight Saturday that there were no injuries and they were still learning details about the fire.

Patrons and well-wishers showered the hotel with support on its Facebook page late Saturday night and Sunday. Meanwhile, firsthand testimony from those who witnessed the blaze conveyed a sense of heartbreak for the mountaintop town, a regional arts center.

"It's a devastating loss for the community because that was the oldest hotel in operation in the state of Alabama," said Christine Ballenger, owner of the neighboring Moonlight Bistro. "It was very historic, brought a lot of tourism to the Mentone area, and it's going to be missed."

Larry Johnson, who runs the local Camp Skyline girls camp with his wife, sat down at a restaurant across the street just moments before flames broke out.

Johnson said the Mentone fire chief was sitting in the booth across from him and that firefighters made it to the scene almost instantly but could do little except keep the fire from spreading.

"It's just devastating," Johnson said. "It's something that's the centerpiece of Mentone."

Johnson and other locals stayed for hours helping fire crews from around the area fight and contain the flames.

"The fire department here in Mentone and all the ones from Valley Head, Hammondville and Fort Payne that responded did a really good job of protecting the other cabins that were downwind where a lot of embers and ashes were falling and lighting little fires," Johnson said. "They did a good job of protecting what they could once it had gotten out of control."

The Mentone Springs Hotel celebrated its 130-year anniversary in January and is included in the book "1,000 Places to Visit Before you Die."

Mentone is a town of less than 400 situated on Lookout Mountain that attracts visitors with its locally owned inns and restaurants.

It is home to Cloudmont Ski and Golf Resort.

Frank Caldwell of Pennsylvania built the hotel in 1884 before ownership changed hands during the Great Depression, according to a history of the hotel posted on its website.

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

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