This past week The Vagabond was on Lookout Mountain and recalled the old hotel that once stood overlooking the mountain.
There are a few of the old families who children remember their parent talking about the Mineral Springs Hotel. Many people who settled in this portion of Northeast Alabama in the early 1900’s recall that about the time the steel plant was located in Gadsden by Everett and George Schuler, there also was one of the finest and most beautiful hotels in Alabama in this community.
It is likely that Gadsden citizens can no longer remember this hotel under the name given. Most folks will recall the Bellevue Hotel, which perched on the brow of Lookout Mountain. It was where in the past that Mrs. B.L. Noojin, Sr., and her late husband built their beautiful white home. Old-timers said that Bellevue was just another name for the Mineral Springs Hotel.
Recalling that era of grandeur when industrialists were first turning their sights toward the South, a booklet that was printed about the old hotel and many of the places of interest in Gadsden in bygone days.
The brochure starts off thus, “Easy access on one of Lookout Mountain’s grandest peaks, it towers above the City of Gadsden, Alabama, in a most imposing manner. The scenery around this hotel is the grandest in the South.
“From its verandas can be seen majestic stretches of mountain scenery, magnificent forests, yawning precipices, with rocks jutting out here and there, while, in the distance, glimpses of a broad winding river lend charm and peace to the scene.
“Nearby, famed for [its] beauty and grandeur, you can hear the roar of Noccalula Falls with a drop of 96 feet, an amphitheater in the rear of this waterfall underneath the overhanging rock of 10,000 square feet.”
The brochure continues in the vein of description so masterful in those days:
“Here on this lofty peak is, inspiration for the artist: a place for cultivation of the best and purest taste of the beholder. Nature, being a true idealist, has done her part and outwitted human efforts in making the situation an inspiring one.
“But when the day is done, and nature’s glorious works are shrouded in darkness and the busy commerce of the valley has retired to rest, one can see from a distance the result of man’s genius and labor. For the hotel is lighted [sic] with clusters of electric gems that gleam out and seem to vie with night’s diadem of stars in brilliancy, rendering beautiful and bright this noble edifice.”
In recalling this hotel, the late historian Will I. Martin said that the original booklet did not exaggerate one bit about the hotel or the surrounding scenery. The illustrated booklet contains views of the front of the building, which was of stone and wood construction. The booklet also contains views of the driveway in the front, the egress porchcochere, some cozy corners, the lovely dining room and the very beautiful parlor.
The hotel boasted of a French chef from New Orleans and perfect service. The dining room was so placed that one could see the town in the valley. The rooms were large with outside views. Most rooms had two or more windows.
The Bellevue Hotel was erected by the Gadsden Land and Improvement Company as part of a campaign to boost Gadsden in the early 1890s, but a financial panic that engulfed the nation killed it off completely.
About 1896, the property was sold to Jones College, which operated for only a short time. Loui Hart, said to be one of the greatest boosters land advertisers Gadsden ever had, bought the property in about 1906 and proceeded to operate it. It was Loui and D. Hart who named the hotel and got out the original brochure. Loui Hart also planned and laid out the surrounding Bellevue Highlands as a choice residential section and began building an electric street railroad to the hotel.
Just before the line was completed, the hotel burned down. Hart built the road to the Falls, where he erected a dance and skating pavilion until he could build another hotel.
Hart actually started one, building the foundation, but a severe ‘business panic’ floored him financially. However, Hart’s dreams of Bellevue Highlands were carried out in later years.
In the days of the Mineral Springs Hotel, the Southern Iron and Steel Company employed 3,500 with a monthly payroll of $150,000. Alabama Consolidated Coal and Iron Company employed 800 workers with a payroll of $30,000 and Dwight Cotton Mills employed 1,200 workers who took home monthly pay of $30,000.
Coosa Pipe and Foundry occupied 30 acres. Kyle Lumber Company also had 30 acres, while Gadsden Car Works occupied 22 acres.
Alabama City, Gadsden and Attalla Railway employed 75 workers with a monthly payroll of $4,000. This railroad had a single track, 15 miles long and well ballasted. Gadsden had a street railway system with cars equipped with electric motor power.
But the old Gadsden, with its mountain hotels, streetcars and railroad to Attalla, is just a part of the past. However, the Gadsden of today might have surprised even the dreamer of progress, Loui Hart.