By Danny Crownover
Having recently read The Vagabond’s account concerning the burning of the Dwight Inn in Alabama City back in 1900, many readers wished to know when the Bellevue Hotel on Lookout Mountain was destroyed by fire.
It happened on June 4, 1912. The blaze was discovered at 1 a.m. that morning. It began as a smoldering fire but soon got out of hand. Volunteer firefighters were forced to stand by and watched the magnificent structure go up in flames.
A news reporter at the time said the blaze made a glare in the heavens that was seen for many miles around and that the smoke billowed upwards like that of a volcano. It was in fact one of the most spectacular fires ever seen in the area, since the hotel was located on top of the mountain and the entire city had a clear view of it.
The property loss was estimated at $55,000 with on $10,000 insurance. The building was owned by the Bellevue Hotel Company, which was largely owned by Louis Hart, who was the company’s principal stockholder.
The Bellevue was not open at the time of the fire, but preparations had been completed to receive 30 guests two days later. Several persons, including caretakers, watchmen and a servant, were asleep in the building when the blaze was discovered by several railroad men downtown, who ran up the mountain to give the alarm.
At that time, the fire was burning in the structure’s northwest corner. Hart, who was spending that night at the home of his mother at Sixth and Broad streets, was notified and arrived on the
scene quickly. He could give no cause for the blaze, which completely wrecked his plans for developing a fine residence section on the mountain. Hart had started to build a car line from the city to the hotel and decided to complete it, despite the loss of the main reason for its operation.
The Bellevue was built in 1889 by the Gadsden Land & Improvement Company at cost of between $75,000 and $100,000. It was an architectural gem and considered by many to be one of the finest resort hotels in both the state and the southeast. When Louie Hart took over and opened the hotel, he brought his staff from New Orleans, including a chef and his assistants, waiters and a five-piece orchestra, all of whom were employed by New Orleans hotels during the winter season.
Hart hosted state conventions and statewide meetings of all sorts. The hotel was on the site once occupied by the home of Lonnie Noojin, Sr. The view of the city from the rooms on the east side from a point 500 feet above the city was magnificent.
Hart actually started to replace the hotel with an eight-story structure on the edge of the mountain near the Al Gwin home. He started on the foundation and was planning to go ahead with the project when he ran into financial difficulties. But for the fire, Hart likely would have developed one of the finest resorts in America and one of the finest residence sections in Alabama.