Publisher’s Note: Historically Speaking…

The Lookout Mountain region has an exciting and diverse heritage beyond facts and figures.

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History – the bane of most high school students’ existence. Truly, the way we usually are taught history, it can be a bore. Dates and names of leaders, battles and seemingly infinite lists of who conquered whom. From inside the four walls of a classroom, we are given a CliffsNotes version of our past. I know I used to feel this way.

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Grady Gillam and Ora Epperson at Noccalula Falls in 1915 / photo courtesy Danny Crownover

But local history opened my eyes. I grew up feeling fairly isolated from the real world. I thought everything noteworthy always happened somewhere other than where I lived. My awakening came from finding arrowheads in the freshly plowed fields behind our house after a hard rain. Who were the people who made them? What were their lives likes? Where did they go? Who else was here before me?

Though fascinated with my finds, it was only after I was a young adult that I really began to realize that the local history of my small world was rich and diverse. I pored over the Fort Payne, Ala.-based Landmarks of DeKalb publications that my granny bought and learned more and more about this area. I still felt far removed from the action of the big cities, but I found new reasons to be proud of my home. Its history is colorful, inspiring, sometimes tragic and often triumphant in spirit. This region and its unique landscape have been a magnet for people for thousands of years (see history sidebar to Noccalula Falls article). It’s been home to various groups, invaded, fought over, settled and fought over some more.

This region was home to the last remnants of the Cherokee Nation – from here, these people made their final stand in the American courts before being forced west on the infamous Trail of Tears. It was a region occupied by two great armies during the Civil War and where skirmishes and major battles (see article on Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park) left legacies still felt today. It was the site of New England speculation that gave rise to short-lived booms throughout the region – most notably in Fort Payne, where this heritage is still celebrated annually with the Boom Days festival. It was a place of growth and prosperity in the wake of the industrial age. And finally, it has spawned great men and woman who have shined on the world stage.

We pay homage to this area’s past in each issue with our History Book department, but virtually every story contains elements of history. You can’t escape it because the past shows us the direction in which we are headed.

As I get older, I find myself embracing the past more and more. I find both excitement and contentment in discovering something new that is really old.

rndyspr15Sadly, we occasionally lose an important piece of our history as we did last year when the Mentone Springs Hotel burned. Future generations will have to rely on the written and verbal accounts and photographs documenting the iconic symbol of the mountain village of Mentone, Ala. I often find myself standing at a historical marker trying to visualize the time period or event described on these placards. Fortunately, the Lookout Mountain region still has many historical buildings and preserved areas for visitors to enjoy.

These places give us the opportunity to instill in the younger generation the idea that history doesn’t have to be a bore if you get out and experience it. Sometimes it takes a little searching and self-discovery.
We invite you to come explore this region and its glorious history. It’s like a little mystery that’s a treasure unto itself.

Randy Grider
rgrider@lookoutalabama.com