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This Friday evening was the start of a long holiday due to Labor Day being today. Since we were given the extra day to enjoy time with one another my husband and I, like many other Americans took this opportunity to take a short vacation. As soon as I got home from work on Friday we loaded up our car and hit the road for Fort Payne, Alabama. We finally made it to our room around 8:30 that evening and then headed out for a late evening meal of some pretty awesome ribs at the local Santa Fe. We soon retired to our room at the Holiday Inn (a perfect stay, and the front desk presented us with snacks upon our arrival due to being Priority Club members) to rest up for our next day of adventures.
After checking out of the hotel and grabbing a quick complimentary breakfast we headed out towards DeSoto Falls. On our journey to the falls we passed through DeSoto State Park and saw multiple camping and cabin areas as well as the nature trail boardwalk. As we drove closer to the falls, the beauty surrounding the road overwhelmed me and Chase and I discussed how nice it would be to live in such a place. The roads were canopied by the growing trees, looking like something one would only see in the movies. We saw other tourist spots along the way including signs pointing to Cloudmont, the only place to snow ski in the state and signs pointing towards Little River Canyon. Finally we made it to DeSoto Falls and the area was beautiful. It appeared to be the perfect spot for a picnic if only we had came prepared. There was also a stone stepped walk way where since the water was low we could walk out in front of the dam that was built up. From there we walked on down to the falls, recognizing it to be the tallest waterfall in Alabama. It being one of the most photographed views of Alabama, I had to have my shot at it as you will see below. As we were headed back to the car we even saw some kayakers putting in at the upward stream. I can only imagine the beauty they could see from the view on the water.
From the falls we took the short drive over to the boardwalk that over looks the Little River. The fall coming from Little River was not quite as large as I had remembered but that could be due to the lack of rain the area has received recently. However, I did notice how crystal clear the water was and even from our high elevation you could see the bottom. From the boardwalk, we decided to take the 23 mile ride with multiple vistas of the falls, stream, and canyon. We felt truly on top of the world overlooking the canyon that took thousands of years to form from the mountaintop stream. Along the drive we also saw many large rocks from the mountain that were screaming at us for pictures (see below). It was also apparent that autumn was coming atop the mountain and many of the trees were beginning to change colors. I can only imagine it’s beauty in a couple of weeks.
At the end of the scenic trail drive we got turned around and ended up back in Fort Payne even though we planned to head to Mentone. However, it turned out to be a blessing because earlier when we were driving through town I had seen the signs pointing to the old Trail of Tears cabin site and had wanted to see it. We just missed the rain in time to get a few pictures of the 1838 stockade that was used to hold soldiers and the natives before sending them on to what is now Oklahoma. This is also the area that gave the town its name as the fort building was directed by Major John Payne.
Back on track, we headed to Mentone to do a little walking around the town and have lunch. For our mid day meal we chose to eat at the Mentone Springs Hotel, built by John Mason and how the town received it’s namesake and beginning as a health resort. I was hoping to have the whiskey ribeye steak on the Alabama Dishes to Eat Before You Die, but that must only be an evening meal and I had to settle for a wrap. As we dined on the antiqued porch, a one man band preformed and we chatted with other diners. It was an experience like none other.
After filling our bellies, we headed to the town of Valley Head to see Sequoyah Caverns, named for the Native American responsible for developing the native syllabary who once lived in the area. Also on the Sequoyah Caverns site is Ellis Homestead that has a cabin complete with a desk, table, ironing board, and other items dating back to pioneer times that we looked at while waiting for the next cave tour. We also saw a donkey, chickens, turkeys, and a peacock on the grounds. Finally our tour began and off we went to see the numerous stalagmites, stalagtights, and the pools of water that were so clear, it appeared to be deep canyons inside the cave. We walked through “Fat Lady Squeeze”, saw mysterious stone sculptures, bats, and even fossils of what appears to be fish bones implanted in the caves walls. Our tour guide mentioned to us how miraculous the cave is and how if we pay attention, it can tell us things. She gave us the example of how one day the bats were extremely nervous, flying around and hitting people which is out of the ordinary and that night, the town of Fort Payne sustained an earthquake, which is not something common for the area. She also stated how the day the earthquake in Turkey killed so many people that she was in the cave and the ground was shaking under her, but no one outside of the cave felt anything. At the end of the tour, it was rather shocking to walk from the 60 degrees inside the cave to the 80 something degrees just outside of it.
We left the majestic cave and headed up further north to Scottsboro to see Chase’s grandparents and parents for a while and then on over to Huntsville to see his dad and stay with his family for the night. I am glad we could work in a chance to visit family during our short vacation.
After getting up the next morning, we headed to a place I have never been and was really excited about. We went to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville. The museum holds many items of historical value in relation to space projects and even how space research has benefited the average human with the development of items such as WD-40. There were many interactive things and walk throughs of various portions of space shuttles. Also at this time, the museum holds a mammoth exhibit which was rather interesting. At the end of our stroll around the museum we watched an IMAX movie entitled Space Junk about the satellites and other objects in space that no longer serve purposes and how they could be future problems. We also rode a simulator for an amusement park on Mars.
The Space and Rocket Center was the conclusion of our weekend trip. We had tons of fun, but were anxious to get back to Auburn to our own bed. We are hoping to continue taking short trips like this and just enjoy some fun times together. Please check out the pictures below and run your mouse over them for captions (I need to better learn how to use the wordpress photo upload). Also, for further information on DeSoto Falls, Little River Canyon, Sequoyah Caverns and all of DeKalb county, visit my previous post by clicking here.
Just off of the beaten path, a little dot on the state road map, That’s where I was born and where I’ll die.
Things move at a slower pace. Nobody’s in a rat race. And these days that’s a special way of life.
Down home. Where they know you by name and treat you like family. Down home. A mans good word and a hand shake are all you need. Folks know if they’re fallin’ on hard times they can fall back home. Those of us raised up down home.
-sang by country music group, Alabama, originally from Lookout Mountain and Fort Payne area of DeKalb County.
Named for Major General Baron Johan DeKalb who fought in the American Revolution, DeKalb County was created and founded from land seceded from the Cherokee on January 1, 1836. Primarily an agriculture area, the first major crops were grain, corn, and cotton used for domestic purposes. Many of the area still today raise livestock on DeKalb County land.
When the Civil War broke out in the states, the people of DeKalb County, much like Northern portions of the state of Alabama were not personally interested in it due to low slave populations. Eventually with time, many inhabitants did join up with Union forces and begin to fight for that side of the war. The most common cavalrys from the area were the “First Tennessee and Alabama Independent Vidette Cavalry” and the “First Alabama Cavalry United States Volunteers.” When voting for secession, the majority of the area voted against seceding from the states and had plans to join up with other areas in northeast Alabama and Eastern Tennessee to begin the state of Nickajack should the secession occur.
Some of the towns originally settled in DeKalb County are now non-existent. These include the towns of Rawlingsville, Bootsville, Battelle, Camden, and Lebanon. Rawlingsville served as the first county seat beginning in 1835. The town of Bootsville, named for the Indian Chief Boots who once lived in the vicinity, then became the county seat for a few short months. Camden and Lebanon also served as county seats before moving the seat to its current town of Fort Payne. The town of Battelle that was once a mining community along the foothills of Lookout Mountain around what is now Valley Head has grown up into forest and vanished from existence as well.
In the 19th century, with the guidance of their leader, William Weber known as “Big Will” or “Red Head Will”, the Cherokees established settlements in the valley between Sand Mountain and Lookout Mountain. The largest of these settlements were known as Big Will’s Valley and Willstown in what is now known as Fort Payne. The legendary Cherokee Sequoyah who also went by his white name of George Gist or Guess moved to Willstown from his home in Tennessee in 1818. Sequoyah, having been maimed early in his life, often spent time concerned about the future of his people. He was intrigued how the white people used a written language to communicate and decided a similar language could be developed for the Cherokee. Despite ridicule from friends and family, Sequoyah developed an 86 character language of written symbols and presented the new alphabet to nation leaders in Willstown in 1821. By 1828, Sequoyah’s alphabet was being used to print the first Native American tribe newspaper called the Cherokee Phoenix. This remains the only Indian written language ever developed in the United States and is still in use today. Just two years after developing his famed alphabet, Sequoyah left Willstown, relocating to first Arkansas and then later the Indian territory of what is known as Oklahoma.
The same year that Sequoyah left, the American Board of Missions sent missionaries to teach Christianity to the natives. Under the operation of Ard Hoyt, the Presbyterians developed a mission and cemetery that remained in use until the removal of the Indians. The cemetery is all that remains of the Willstown Mission and can still be seen today on 38th street near Godfrey Avenue. Grave sites are marked by stones and cedar stumps for the Cherokee and headstones for the white pioneers of the area. Ard Hoyt is among those laid to rest in this unique cemetery.
Major John Payne arrived in Big Will’s Valley in 1838 by orders of President Andrew Jackson to build a fort used to hold the Cherokees and soldiers until relocating to the Oklahoma area. Payne picked the area of Big Will’s Valley due to its close proximity to a large spring good for drinking water. The construction of the stockade began April of 1838 and was used until October of that year when the last major group of Native Americans were forcefully moved during the “Trail of Tears.” The stockade was called Fort Payne by the soldiers and the name stuck. Although the site is not open to the public, a stone chimney and other remains of the 1838 log stockade can be seen from the end of 4th street in downtown Fort Payne. This is one of the few remaining structures from this era that remain standing.
The railroad completion between Birmingham and Chattanooga resulted in a large population boom in Fort Payne known as the “Boom Days” and on May 5, 1878 voters elected the town the new county seat of government. By 1889 wealthy New England speculators founded the Fort Payne Coal and Iron Company and financed the construction of rolling mills, foundries, steel plants, and other industries and the town gained incorporation. The “boom” only lasted four years, but many buildings from this exciting time still stand today including the Fort Payne Opera House and the Fort Payne Depot. There is now a “Boom Days” Heritage Celebration in September each year to remember how the town grew so rapidly into what is today the largest town of DeKalb County.
The Fort Payne Opera house was built in 1889 by W.O. Rice. It was known as the “handsomest opera house in the state” and was used as both a movie and live theater. A group called Landmarks has since restored the old opera house and once again live productions are brought to stage there making it the oldest opera house still in use in the state.
The Fort Payne Depot served as a passenger station for 79 years. Beginning in 1891, this pink sandstone, Romanesque architecture building was operated by the Alabama Great Southern Railroads and was used as the main stop of the line. In 1970 the passenger service was dropped but was still used for freight until 1983. Three years later, Landmarks of DeKalb, Inc. renovated the building and put a museum inside. The museum is composed of three rooms, each containing a different piece of history.
The entry room of the museum has 19th century pottery, currency, and leaflets from the Civil War times. Rotating exhibits that have included coins, china, glass, and other collectibles can be found in the second room. The third room is where the most popular items are including more than 600 Native American artifacts donated by Gussie Killian. Outside of the museum is a Norfolk-Southern caboose that was donated through the efforts of A.G. Labrot. The caboose houses a miniature railroad village that has operating trains. Also outside of the old train depot is a trailer containing almost 100 dioramas created by Italian artist Steve Fiora. These dioramas date back between 1915 and 1934 and feature fairy tales, historic scenes, and scenic representations. The Fort Payne Depot is one of the few railway terminals in Alabama that remain from the 19th century. It was and has remained a place for people to gather.
Upon discovering that the iron ore and coal deposits were not as plentiful as expected by the northern speculators, the town of Fort Payne had to create a new way of making money. In October of 1907 the Florence Knitting Company/W.B. Davis Hosiery Mill was established. With some time, Fort Payne became the “sock capital of the world” producing more than half the socks made within the states at three million dozen pairs per week. The hosiery mills in Fort Payne employed some 5,000 people until the 1990s. At that time, trade tariffs dropped and the hosiery industry in the United States disappeared.
In addition to its historical attraction, Fort Payne has several other tourist attractions to offer including DeSoto State Park and Little River Canyon. De Soto state Park is named after the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto who is thought to have passed through the area in 1541. It is thought that de Soto sent some of his men into the mountains looking for gold. However, some people disagree that de Soto was the discoverer. Some credit Prince Madoc, the legendary Welsh explorer for carving the caves due to old English accounts that reached the New World in 1170. The park’s 3,502 acres of forested mountain terrain complete with streams, rock formations, various flowers, birds, and other animals was once the homeland of the Cherokee. After their removal, it was said that Union cavalry troops camped here on their march to the Battle of Chickamauga. Most of the park’s buildings date from the 1930s. These structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps are made with stone that was mined from a quarry on the park’s grounds. Drill marks can still be seen along the hiking trails from this. Today, De Soto State Park consists of 15 miles of hiking and biking trails, a camping, picnic, and playground area, cabins, chalets, a motel, a boardwalk, canyons, and multiple waterfalls. The largest waterfall, known as De Soto Falls is on a separate parcel of land, near Mentone. De Soto Falls is the tallest waterfall in Alabama plunging 104 feet. It is one of the most photographed views of Alabama. De Soto State Park, atop Lookout Mountain was voted one of America’s top 10 state parks by Camping Life Magazine.
De Soto State Park falls along the Little River. Little River is very unique in that it is one of the only rivers in the world that flows almost entirely on a mountaintop and is the nation’s longest mountaintop river. Little River, beginning at 1,900 feet above sea level drops over 1,200 feet before finally merging with Weiss Lake. Over thousands of years, Little River has carved a canyon that is 12 miles long and reaches depths of nearly 700 feet. This is some of the most stunning scenery in the Deep South and has been nicknamed “The Grand Canyon of the East.” The falls, once called “May’s Gulf”, was home to the Edna Hill Community in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The community had a mill using the water as a power source. Only photographs of the Edna Hill Community remain today. Today, visitors can take the 23 mile drive along the canyon’s rim for scenic vistas and waterfalls free of charge. The more adventurous may also kayak, canoe, rappel, rock climb, or ride horses through the area.
Adjacent to the National Preserve is Little River Canyon Center operated by Jacksonville State University in partnership with the National Park Service. This center offers walking trails, exhibits, a library, and more. Field schools are also offered including wildlife watching, hiking, and other family oriented programs.
While in the area, tourist should stop by the Fort Payne Motor Speedway for a family night out with racing. On Saturday nights beginning at 5, the NeSmith Chevrolet Weekly Racing Series presents a race. One might also stop by to take a class or simply watch glass blowing in action. At Orbix Hot Glass, Inc. fine decorative and functional glass can be purchased and observed. After a day of seeing the sites, travelers should stop in at Bar-B-Que Place and have JoJo Potatoes, one of the Alabama Dishes to Eat Before You Die.
If in town the first weekend of August, one is sure to hear some old-time fiddling, sacred harp music, banjos, and bluegrass. The DeKalb County Fiddlers Convention that was founded in 1908 draws contestants from all over the South East to “celebrate the heritage” musically.
The country music group, Alabama, may have drawn inspiration from the annual musical celebration as members Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry, and Jeff Cook originate from the Lookout Mountain and Fort Payne area. Alabama was the most commercially successful country act in the 1980s and was named “Country Music Group of the Century” by the Recording Industry Association of America. Now that the band is retired, the group’s fan club and museum that holds their many awards and achievements is located in Fort Payne. Also in Fort Payne is Randy Owen’s Registered Hereford and Angus Production, Tennessee River Music, named for the groups first hit single and Cook Sound Studios where one can “see music come to life.”
Another notable group from the Fort Payne area is the NASCAR famed Flock family. The father of the family, Carl Lee Flock, began entertaining the community by being a bicycle racer, trick cyclist, and a tightrope walker. Later, his daughter Reo (named after the REO line of automobiles) became an airshow performer, traveling all over the Eastern U.S. In 1939, Reo’s brothers, Bob and Fonty, entered the 100 mile race at Atlanta’s Lakewood Speedway. Bob finished 3rd. In 1948, Bob, Fonty, and brother Tim signed onto France’s National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing or NASCAR series. All three placed in the top 10 of points. Ethel Flock Mobley, their sister, joined them later which is the only time four members of one family were part of NASCAR’s top division. Her career was short-lived. Fonty is most remembered for racing in Bermuda shorts and argyle socks in the 1952 Southern 500 at Darlington, a race he won. He parked his car on the front stretch, climbed on his hood and led the crowd in “Dixie.” His brother Tim is remembered for racing with a monkey named Jocko Flocko for 8 races in 1953. Tim was later named one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers.
Another town of DeKalb County that holds a large historical value is Mentone. Mentone was originally established during the 1880s as a health resort high on Lookout Mountain. John Mason had traveled extensively to find fresh air and pure water before reaching Lookout Mountain. After several months there, Mason’s health improved greatly and he moved back to Iowa. Shortly thereafter, his health went downhill again, so he returned to the area. Back at the mountain once again, he regained his health and returned to Iowa only to sell his holdings and bring his family back. In 1870 the Mason family settled in the area known as Moon Lake and began a campaign for the curative properties of the mineral water. With the help of a man named Caldwell, Mason began construction on a hotel and health resort for the area. At a meal Caldwell brought up the need to name the nearly completed hotel at which little Alice Mason said she had been reading an article about “Queen Victoria Vacationing at Menton (France).” Menton means “musical mountain spring” and as this was an accurate description of their new home area, they agreed the town would be called Mentone and the new hotel Mentone Springs Hotel.
The Mentone Springs Hotel still remains today as a bed and breakfast. Once a popular and fashionable hotel of the 1880s and 1890s, the hotel is listed in New York Time’s “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.” It is known as the “Grande Dame of Lookout Mountain” and serves a whiskey ribeye steak featured on Alabama’s Dishes to Eat Before You Die. Also on the list is Moonlight Bistro’s fried green tomatoes with aoli sauce.
There are many other bed and breakfasts of the area including the Mountain Laurel Inn which is nestled in the woods near De Soto Falls. The Mountain Laurel Inn features another dish on Alabama’s list, decadent french toast. Crystal Lake Lodge offers mountaintop views from each room. Mentone’s only inn perched on the edge of Lookout Mountain is Mentone Mountain View Inn. The Mentone Inn (built in 1927) and the Raven Haven Bed and Breakfast also offer accommodations.
Mentone is noted for its numerous arts and crafts. The Art Gallery at Mentone has paintings and other products in a variety of medias. Also unique to the area is Alabama’s only place for snow skiing, Cloudmont Ski and Golf Resort. When night temperatures reach 28 degrees or below, the resort begins machine making snow to use with their various begineer to intermediate slopes. The chalets and cabins are available year-round.
Also part of Cloudmont is the Saddle Rock Golf Course. This 9 holes, 18 tees golf course, uniquely sets its first tee on a 30 foot rock. This 63 executive par course is complete with water hazards and sand traps.
Another tourist attraction that takes advantage of the mountain’s rocks is the Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel. This stone church was built by Colonel Milford Howard as a memorial to his first wife. A huge boulder serves as the church’s pulpit and that is where Howard’s ashes were dispersed.
For the horse lovers, Mentone offers Holly Springs Stables and Shady Grove Dude Ranch. Holly Springs offers guided nature trails for all skill levels by the hour. Both English and Western tact available. Shady Grove Dude Ranch has guided hourly trail rides as well as bunking in the “round-up” or in a rustic cabin.
Boasted as the “camping capital of the world”, Mentone offers numerous summer camps. These camps include a month-long camp for girls called Camp DeSoto, a Christian girls camp that offers mother/daughter weekends called Camp Riverview, another Christian girls camp called Camp Skyline, and at least three camps for the boys: Camp Laney, Alpine Camp, and Lookout Mountain Camp.
Along the same lines as the summer camps which use the natural wonders of the area for educational purposes, Nature’s Classroom and One World Adventure Company invite learning in the area. Nature’s Classroom, “where education is the adventure” offers classes, field groups, evening activities, and more to support what is learned in the classroom by teaching practical and creative applications. One World Adventure Company uses the outdoors to develop the “whole person” through retreats and summer camps for children. Hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, horseback riding, camping, and other things are part of the fun.
The town of Collinsville is shared between the counties of DeKalb and Cherokee. The town was founded in the mid 1800s by Alfred Collins. Every Saturday, Collinsville holds a trade day and is noted as the South’s “oldest and largest flea market.” Collinsville Trade Day offers antiques, collectibles, furniture, tools, food venders, and more. Also in Collinsville is a 1,00 square foot stage used as an outdoor theater by Dream Field Productions. This stage was built from recycled lumber from across the country.
Fyffe is recognized for its annual UFO Days Festival. This Unforgettable Family Outing event complete with hot air balloons, music, and vendors is based on a time when it was thought there were unidentified flying objects in the area. The Fyffe High School Red Devils is famed throughout the state for several 2A lady basketball state championships. Barry’s Backyard Barbecue in Fyffe offers a dish on Alabama Dishes to Eat Before You Die of Buffet and BBQ.
Some notable people from Fyffe include: Vestal Goodman, Southern Gospel Artist; Cat Freeman, formerly of the Statesman Quartet and the Oak Ridge Boys; and Lowell Barron, politician.
The town of Geraldine has High Falls Park. This park has a bridge that spans a gorge overlooking Town Creek and a 35 foot waterfall. Pavilions and a playground are also part of the park.
Henagar, famous for the 1950s gospel-country duo known as the Louvin Brothers is also home to one of the few remaining drive in movies. The Henagar Drive In is open year round, always showing a double feature of new release movies. Concessions are also offered at the drive in.
Each Labor Day, the town of Ider hosts Mule Day. Mule Day is a day of activities including horse and mule pulls, antique tractor and car shows, and arts and crafts.
Rainsville is the largest community on Sand Mountain. The area was originally known as Parker Town named for the Parker family who settled the region around the town. Will Rains moved to the town in the 20th century and opened the first store in 1907. He then renamed the area Rainsville, as it is called today. The town was incorporated October of 1956 and holds the McCurdy House on the list of Alabama Landmarks and Heritage. Katy’s Katfish in Rainsville is recognized for its dish of catfish and chicken. Down on the Farm is a pick your own pumpkin patch from mid September to November and then from November 26-December 23 open for Christmas trees and live wreaths.
DeKalb County State Public Fishing lake is located in the town of Sylvania. This 120 acre lake offers bass, bluegill and redear sunfish, catfish, and crappie fishing. A daily fishing permit is required and they ask that you check what types of fish can be kept before fishing. Boat rentals, a playground, picnic area, country store, and campground are also around the lake.
Once the Cherokee land of Telonga, the town of Valley Head is home to Sequoyah Caverns. Nestled in Will’s Valley among the rolling hills and pastureland is the cave named for the Cherokee Indian Chief Sequoyah who once lived nearby. The cave extends to the base of Sand Mountain and is made unique by its reflecting or “looking-glass” pools. Guided tours, crafts in action, duck feeding, gem mining, and more is offered at this tourist attraction.
Built on the ground that was once used for meetings among the natives of the Telonga village is Winston Place Bed and Breakfast. This pre-civil war mansion was built in 1831 and is decorated with original antique furniture.
Other towns of DeKalb County include: Crossville (named for its many crossroads by founder James A. Copeland), Dawson, Dogtown, Hammondville, Lakeview, Pine Ridge, Powell, Sand Rock (shared with Cherokee County), and Shiloh.
Some useful DeKalb County links:
Information for the DeKalb County, Alabama post was obtained from the following: alabama.travel, alapark.com, alpinecamp.com, campdesoto.com, camplaney.com, campskyline.com, cloudmont.com, discoverlookoutmountain.com, dreamfieldproductions.net, encyclopediaofalabama.org, exploresouthernhistory.com, fortpaynedepotmuseum.com, fyffecitylimits.com, landmarks.dekalbal.org, mentonealabama.org, naturesclassroom.com, oneworldadventureco.com, outdooralabama.com, riverviewcamp.com, seehighfalls.com, sequoyahcaverns.com, thealabamaband.com, virtualcities.com, & wikipedia.com