Mentone Alabama: A History
By Zora Shay Strayhorn
Copyright © 2001 Mentone Area Preservation Association, Inc. All rights reserved.
Personalities and Legends
Across the years Mentone has attracted people with strong personalities and creative minds. Their innovative and artistic inclinations have placed them into borderline between history and legend. Carl Carmer’s book Stars Fell on Alabama deals with the aftermath of a meteor shower which illuminated north Alabama skies in November 1833 and caused people to run for shelter.
Many personalities have illuminated the history of Mentone, leaving their marks and their reflections. Four such stars are Colonel Milford Howard, Congressman Miles C. Allgood, Granny Dollar, and Martha Berry.
The saga of Martha Berry is chronicled in many articles and books, principally in the volume by Harnett Kane. From the cabin where she began Bible classes for underprivileged boys from the Possum Trot area near Rome, Georgia, she developed Berry College, a 30,000-acre school of international renown. Largely built by students, it embodies classrooms, shops, farms, dairies, kitchens, bakeries, weaving rooms, orchards, poultry lots, brick plant, nurseries, printing plant and other facilities.
Of Martha Berry, President Theodore Roosevelt said, “This is the greatest practical work for American citizenship that has been done within the decade.” Her enthusiasm brought a similar statement from President Coolidge, financial support from Andrew Carnegie, Adolph Ochs, Henry Ford and friendship with President Franklin Roosevelt.
She received the American Institute of Social Science Medal and honorary doctorates from an array of colleges, including Oberlin and the Universities of Georgia and North Carolina. In a 1931 nationwide poll she was voted one of the twelve greatest American women.
On a tract of land overlooking Moon Lake in Mentone, her large summer home was built, designed by Atlanta architect Sam Cooper. Key person in construction was Albert Cash, who did the stone work, and Geddins Cannon, Miss Berry’s chauffeur. Large wooden gates, built at Berry College, formed the entrance. Hand-made furniture, rugs and drapes were made by Berry students. In the garden were embedded mill wheels among ferns and native flowers. A large screened porch, hand-hewn logs for posts, overlooked the lake.
Martha Berry’s father also built a house at Mentone. Several generations of the family have vacationed here. Mentone resident Eleanor Graham Glover, Martha’s niece, was sister of the prominent artist John Graham, and was mother of Alex Glover and the late Rev. Graham Glover.
Martha Berry’s Moon Lake house was finished in 1939. Only two weeks after moving in, she became seriously ill. In 1942 she died at age 76.
Miles C. Allgood
Miles Clayton Allgood had a long, distinguished career. He is mostly remembered because he persuaded President Franklin Roosevelt to visit Alabama, leading to establishing the Tennessee Valley Authority. In 1932 Allgood was summoned by the President to Warm Springs, Georgia, for advice on methods to help farmers. Allgood pointed out that fertilizer was one of the greatest needs, and that government facilities at Muscle Shoals could be reactivated to produce fertilizer for Southern farmers.
Allgood, Senator Lister Hill, and other members of the Alabama delegation accompanied Roosevelt on a tour by special train to visit the Muscle Shoals properties utilized during World War I for nitrate, used in munitions. In the President’s special car Allgood pointed out potential sites for developing hydro-electric power. The result was the TVA Act of 1933.
Congressman Allgood represented the district which stretches from DeKaIb and Cherokee Counties on the Georgia line to Franklin County on the Mississippi border, the old seventh district. His congressional career began March 4, 1923, continuing until he retired January 3, 1935.
Allgood was born in Chelpultepec, Alabama, February 23, 1878. The town was later named Allgood, in honor of Miles’ father, Dr. W. B. Allgood. At six he drove horses at a cotton gin, picked cotton at fourteen, and at eighteen passed the county examination to teach. He taught at a three-month school near Chelpultepec for $16 a month.
Before retirement he spent a night at Hal Howe’s Hotel and sensed improvement from the hay fever he was suffering. In 1924 the Allgoods bought a lot from Howe, built a home on the brow, and lived there for the remainder of their lives. He died in March, 1977, at age 99. Mrs. Allgood, the former Willie Randall Fox, died in 1984, in her ninetieth year.
Col. Milford Howard
Milford Wriarson Howard was born December 18, 1862, in northwest Georgia of humble parentage: a mother he adored, a father he feared. When the family moved to Arkansas, he worked in a cotton gin, where at age 13, sitting on a bag of cotton, he heard two lawyers argue a case--an event which caused him to decide to become a lawyer. The family moved back to Georgia. Shortly thereafter Howard moved to Fort Payne. With less than two years of formal education, he was admitted to the Alabama Bar in 1880.
Thereafter he was referred to as “Colonel,” a title applied to lawyers at that time. In 1883 he married Sally Lankford. In 1886 he became a county solicitor, the following year being very involved in launching the boom in Fort Payne.
He was a towering man of six feet four, easily moved to deep emotion. He had visions, but in many cases the vision died aborning or had an ephemeral existence. Although in his later years Colonel Howard thought of himself as a failure, credit is due him for the existence of Alpine Camp for Boys, Sally Howard Memorial Chapel, and the Scenic Highway to run the length of Lookout Mountain. His dreams led to Comer Scout Reservation, DeSoto Park, and DeSoto Parkway.
Of political note, he served two terms in the U.S. Congress, was nominated for the presidency of the nation, was seriously considered as a candidate for governor of Alabama and the U.S. Senate. Howard wrote several books; one was made into a movie with him starring in the title role. He was a self-taught lecturer.
Returning to this area after his movie-making and film-writing in California, Howard first settled on a farm north of Fort Payne. In 1923 he became absorbed with developing a Master School for Southern Mountain Boys and Girls. With co-founder Stella Vivian Harper, the school was located near the present Comer Scout Reservation. Classes began in September 1923.
The school existed for only a short time, closing because of lack of funds and support.
Colonel Howard then became promoter of River Park, envisioning a golf course, radio station and scenic highway. The lodge at Alpine was completed, present site of Alpine Camp for Boys.
A year after his wife Sally’s death, Colonel Howard married his cousin, Stella Vivian Harper. An elegant red-haired woman, he referred to her as “Lady Vivian.” For several years Colonel Howard was a correspondent for The Birmingham News with a Sunday feature, “Vagabond Sketches.”
While the Howards were traveling in Europe, he interviewed Dictator Benito Mussolini of Italy. The interview altered his political philosophy, causing him to endorse fascism. The couple returned from Europe depleted of funds. Lady Vivian supervised construction of the building of a mountain cabin. Work on the cabin was done by Frank Kirk, who was fifteen at the time.
In the last year of his life, in feeble health and with meager funds, Howard braved freezing weather to oversee and fund construction of the Sally Howard Memorial Chapel, in memory of his devoted wife, mother of his children, who died in California October 28, 1925. Her funeral services were held at the “Wee Kirk 0’ the Heather” at Forest Lawn Cemetery, Glendale, California, a reproduction of the Annie Laurie Church in Scotland. Sally Howard Chapel is a reproduction of the Scottish chapel, also. Across one of its beams is a quotation from her last letter: “God has always been as good to me as I would let Him be.” Across another beam is the word IMMORTALITY, which had become a strong preoccupation with him in his later years. The chapel was dedicated June 27, 1937.
Seemingly unable to withstand the simple rugged mountain life, with little or no funds, Lady Vivian left the mountain. They were divorced. But after his death December 28, 1937, in California, she brought back his ashes to be entombed in the giant rock which is the solid anchor to which the Sally Howard Memorial Chapel is attached.
Nancy Emmaline Callahan Dollar, who came to be known as “Granny Dollar,” is buried beside her husband in Little River Cemetery. On her tombstone are the dates “1826-1931.” She died January 29, 1931, but her birth date is uncertain.
There is no doubt that she was what is known as “a character.” Her mother, Mary Sexton, was Scottish, and her father was a tall full-blooded Cherokee Indian. William Callahan, two wives, and some twenty-six children lived in Buck’s Pocket, a five-miles-long gorge on Sand Mountain in DeKaIb, Jackson and Marshall counties.
When the Cherokees were forced into the long march westward called “The Trail of Tears,” the Callahan family hid in a cave in Buck’s Pocket. Later William Callahan was involved in a fracas with local residents, and fearing revenge, he moved his family to Marthasville, near Atlanta, Georgia.
Nancy inherited her father’s stature, rugged features, and tremendous lung power. During the Civil War she drove a mule wagon on a regular route from Marthasville to country stores within thirty miles’ radius. This she continued for almost twenty years. During the Civil War her fiance, Tom Porter, was killed in battle, as was her father.
In her seventies, Granny married Norman Dollar and moved to the Mentone area. Twenty years later, her husband died. She managed to buy his tombstone by selling her cow. From this time until her death eight years later, the legends grew around Granny Dollar. She enjoyed embellishing the stories told about her and encouraged their telling. She told fortunes and managed to survive by growing chickens and vegetables and by the generosity of friends and neighbors.
Her last years were spent on Colonel Milford Howard’s property. The ruins of her cabin are almost hidden from DeKaIb County Highway 156 on the south side of the road a short distance east of DeSoto Parkway. The chimney still stands and vines have taken over the decaying ruins. Across the paved road a dirt road meanders up a hill to the former site of Colonel Howard’s Master School.
Colonel Howard is responsible for much of the legend surrounding Granny Dollar. In 1928 he wrote a feature story about her for The Birmingham News. He met Granny upon his return from a long stay in California. She had then settled into one of his cabins. Although his financial situation was precarious, Howard agreed to Granny’s desires, which included a bit of fat meat in her greens and biscuits, her “baccy” for her ever-present corncob pipe, and rations for her “Injun” chickens and mongrel dog Buster.
Preparing for her own demise, Granny had saved twenty-three dollars toward a tombstone, but the money was stolen from her. People in the community arranged for her burial, and Colonel Howard delivered the eulogy. Soon afterward Buster had to be put to sleep and he was buried in the yard near Granny Dollar’s cabin, with Colonel Howard again delivering the funeral oration.
Many residents of the Mentone area remember Granny Dollar. Essie Downer and Frank Kirk remember youngsters shopping for Granny and bringing in wood for her. Clyde McNew was born in her cabin, where his mother had gone to seek Granny’s midwifery care.
In 1973, largely through the efforts of Annie Young of Fort Payne, Granny’s tombstone was erected. The head of an Indian woman is inscribed at the top and “Daughter of the Cherokee” is written at the bottom.
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