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Bucket List Standout up in Flames

The face of Mentone was forever changed when a March fire swept away the landmark Mentone Springs Hotel.

The face of Mentone was forever changed when a March fire swept away the landmark Mentone Springs Hotel.

Photos by Dennis Keim

It was supposed to be one of the 1,000 places you should see before you die, according to a New York Times best seller. Now there’s nothing to see but ashes, but the final chapter may not yet be written on a grand Alabama icon.

Fire destroyed the Mentone Springs Hotel, a 130-year-old landmark in DeKalb County, along with an adjacent antique mall on March 1. The destruction was so thorough that no official cause was determined, though eyewitnesses saw flames shooting from an upstairs electrical panel.

The destruction of one of Alabama’s oldest inns, built in 1884 by Dr. Frank Caldwell of Pennsylvania, was in a way “like losing a family member,” according to owner Jim Rotch, a Birmingham attorney. The Victorian-style hotel was featured in the bestselling book “1,000 Places to See Before You Die” and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Rotch and his wife, Darlene, purchased the property four years ago from another couple, who had started the restoration process. More work had been done and the building was thought to be in good shape, Rotch says.

“There’s been a great outpouring of emotion about the loss of the thing. Lots of people have Mentone stories to tell — weddings, honeymoons, family reunions. A lot of things happened there,” Rotch says.

There are no specific plans now for the two-acre property in the heart of town.

“I’ve talked to the mayor and told him my intention was to do something with the property that is compatible with the town and the nature of the town, though I don’t yet know what that will be. We’d like to develop it or put it in the hands of somebody who would enhance the tourism aspect of it for the town.” 

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