The old post card describing the Shelby Hotel, with above photo ~ "Alabama's Oldest" operating daily. This historical landmark was first constructed in 1863, totally destroyed by fire in 1898, rebuilt in 1900. First hotel in State to have running water and electric lights. Conveniently located to Lay Lake, the Coosa River and Gulf State Hunting Reserve. Mr. B. Rommell, Owner.
As written by John Draper III on Thursday, January 22, 1976, The Shelby News-Monitor, gives a glimpse of the past through the eyes of the owner of the Shelby Hotel at that time. Here it is!
"Alabama's oldest operating" reads the post card describing the Shelby Hotel. The weathered structure stands on the outskirts of what used to be one of the thriving industrial centers of Shelby County.
Shelby, once the home of Shelby Iron Company, was known for its high quality pig iron and, according to the owner, B. Rommell, the fine cooking at the Shelby Hotel.
The 77 year old gentleman and his dog, Tiny, still reside in the imposing 18-room inn at the intersection of Highway 42 and 308. Guests are few and far between but that doesn't faze Mr. Rommell.
"I remember when eight passenger trains would stop in Shelby everyday," he tells. "And the people would pile off and come down here to get some of Mrs. Rommell's cooking."
The Shelby Hotel is reputed to be the first in Alabama to have running water and electric lights. It was built in 1863, totally destroyed by fire in 1898, and rebuilt in 1900.
I and a friend from the University, Tom Whiting, found our way to the hotel with the aid of Tony Pate, whose father owns what is left of two General stores in Shelby. The two stores stand mute and give a Western, ghost-town feeling to the viewer.
In front of the buildings is a rusted gas pump with the price of gas reading 19 cents per gallon. The place was abandoned sometime in the mid-fifties. The town of Shelby was deserted well before that, however. The mines shut down in June 1922 recalls Mr. Rommell. It was downhill after that as the entire city depended on the furnace established by Horace Ware in the 1840's for their livelihood, directly or indirectly.
Ware's furnace could turn out four to six tons of strictly fire-class cold-blast pig iron per day. The ore was mined with pick and shovel and delivered by a mule pulling a cart with no driver.
Pig iron not used in Shelby was hauled by oxen and wagon to the Coosa River and boated on crude crafts to Montgomery. From there it went by steamboat to Mobile. Some, according to Mr. Rommell, was hauled all the way to Mobile by oxen. The return trip found the wagons loaded down with supplies for the town.
During the Civil War the Shelby Iron Works were destroyed by Wilson in his raid. Prior to destruction, the plant manufactured guns, armor plate, and cannonballs for the Confederate soldiers. The furnace was repaired and resumed operation after the war.
The last of the old furnace men in Shelby died in 1936. He was Arnold Sturdivant, who worked at Shelby for 25 years. Now the town has also died as most left for Jefferson County and elsewhere.
"We (Shelby) had a good depot when Birmingham was using an old caboose," scoffs Rommell. "Shelby made some of the best razors in the world. Why we made all kinds of things - cooking utensils, dog irons, boiling kettles, sausage grinders, anything."
The determined old man pats his knee and Tiny, his companion since his wife passed away two years ago, quickly leaps onto his lap. The kitchen, large by any standards, is where Rommell spends most of his time. The room is cozy warm and has that easy, lived-in feel.
Talk comes easy to Rommell, and Tom and I just listen for a long time as we vicariously experience the past through this man's stories. He speaks of Al Capone, Alfred Landen and others that I can't remember from American History. His talk rolls to Teddy Roosevelt and you can tell he liked the man.
"Mr. Roosevelt spent the night right here in this very hotel," he says proudly. "He didn't come riding up in no fancy car. No sir, he walked."
But Rommell doesn't think highly of Franklin Roosevelt. "He never was the same caliber of man," he explains. "I had the pleasure of dining with Alfred Landen, the opponent of Franklin Roosevelt, and his wife and four daughters. He was a good man." As is Mr. Rommell.
He came to Shelby some 56 years ago and if Mrs. Rommell had lived, would have been married 55 years Christmas Day. "She was the best cook in the county," he says quietly and you can tell the hurt was deep.
There is a moment of silence that is uncomfortable until Tom says he would like to see some of the rooms. This white-haired man is on his feet in a twinkle and heads toward the door calling us to follow.
We step into a huge dining room and it is cold. The high ceiling probably makes for cool summers but it's a cold place in the winter. A long hall runs most of the length of the building and we start up the stairs to the guest room.
The bed is large and old and you can feel the elegance that once surrounded the room and its occupants. Now the plaster is cracking and chipped and the rug worn.
Rommell continues our tour of the many rooms and we come to a closet filled with iron works. "All this was made just across the road there." He shows us oxen shoes and other small iron products. Along a mantle are rocks of different types.
Being an "A" student of Dr. Connell's geology class I glance over his collection and start when I notice one small rock has a slight spot of shiny metal. It looks like pyrite, fool's gold, to me, but I've never seen any real gold in a rock before.
"Its real,", Rommell says. "Not enough to do anything with - just a trace."
He goes down the shelf naming mica, dolomite, lead, and others. And he's right on each one. His knowledge prompts me to wonder about his education so I ask.
"Son, I barely finished the 9th grade."
A running commentary of current events and an understanding of almost anything has been evident in our time spent with Rommell. His education is obviously one of experience.
We are just about through with our tour when he calls to one last room. The big door is locked and he shuffles to find the key. Inside is a high, large bed with a spotless white bedspread. In the center sits a delicate wedding doll. The bed is heavy and the black wood shiny even now."
"This is a special bed," he says quietly. "Mrs. Rommell made it up and it hasn't been touched since. She made that Bride doll too. This bed is over 200 years old. I found it a long time ago and cut all the old wood off. This is hand-finished and polished for her." he mumbles as he runs his hand over the fine wood.
Then his mood changes and he gets a smile on his face. "I only rented this room to special people - honeymooners." You can see he takes delight in his memories. "Yep, this is the Honeymoon Bed. Many a couple has spent their first night here."
Tom and I look at the bed in a different light but Rommell gets ready to move-on. He is still spry and as he leads us down to the porch we have to double-time to stay with Tiny and him.
On the front porch is one of those swings like your grandmother always had at her house. The kind your little brother would fall out of if you swung too high and your mom would get mad because you cracked his skull.
We sat for a minute as dusk crept into the sky. Across the road is the ironworks. You can let your mind work and hear wagons at the furnace, the howl of a steam engine down at the tracks, and easy conversation on warm, lazy afternoons.
It's nice to imagine just good things and good times.
But Tom and I are late and the cafeteria closes at 6:15. We leave Rommell and Tiny a little reluctantly for we have tasted of a time which we do not know but have seem through the eyes of someone else. And we respect and somehow long for that time.
The Shelby Chronicle, Trade Issue, Thursday, December 29, 1887, "A FOUNTAIN IN THE WILDERNESS. The Pioneer Iron Company of Alabama. The Shelby Iron Works."
... The boarding house of the place, the "Dannemora,", was completed in 1885 at a cost of $10,000, contains about thirty (30) rooms and is one of the best-kept places of the kind in the state.
The Chronicle, Thursday, February 8, 1900, "Shelby."
On the 31st day of January the Dennemora House was entirely destroyed by fire. When discovered the flames were bursting out of the room of the east wing. An alarm was sounded, and a large number of men soon gathered. By earnest efforts a great deal of furniture was saved, though most of it in a damaged condition. Some silver ware, crockery and carpets were lost. Mr. and Mrs. Wade, who was running the hotel, were the largest losers. Soon after was discovered hose was attached to a hydrant and a powerful stream of water turned on the house occupied by Mr. William Crossett, and though it was but a few feet from the burning building it was saved. The post-office building was also saved by a continuous application of water to the roof. A serious accident occurred during the fire, a falling chimney striking Thomas Bierly, one of the Company's engineers, on the head. Dr. Parker dressed the wound, and the patient is expected to recover. The new hotel building will be opened this week by Mr. and Mrs. Wade.
The People's Advocate, Thursday, January 5, 1911, "Entertainment At The Shelby Hotel"
Shelby, Ala., Jan. 2. - A very delightful social function was given last Saturday night at the New Dannemora Hotel by J.M. Kifer as host. Thirty-five of Shelby's most prominent people participated in the many enjoyable features of the evening, beautiful prizes being awarded to those excelling in the several contests. At 10:30 refreshments were served in the large and spacious dining room while the Shelby orchestra rendered a most delightful program. The rooms and corridors were very artistically decorated under the direction of Mrs. Ingersol and Messrs. Pomeroy and McDaniel, and much credit is due to those three for their valuable assistance in making this occasion one long to be remembered. The New Dannamora has just recently been re-opened by the Shelby Iron Company under the able management of Mrs. Ingersol, and is without a doubt the finest hotel in this section.
After some very appropriate toasts from Mr. Walker, Mr. Finch, Dr. Batson, Mr. Layman, Mr. Farrar and others and a respond from Mr. Kifer, the guests departed for their homes wishing Mr. Kifer a very happy and prosperous New Year.
Those present were Mr. and Mrs. Finch, Mr. and Mrs. Layman, Mr. and Mrs. Woolridge, Mr. and Mrs. Roberts, Dr. and Mrs. Batson, Mr. and Mrs. J.H. Walker, Mr. and Mrs. S.K. Walker, Mr. and Mrs. Frost, Mr. D.F. Farrar, Miss Blair, Miss Smith, Mr. Geo. McGiboney, Miss Davis, Mr. John Curlee, Miss Hale, Mr. Abbott, Mrs. Ryland, Mr. Pomeroy, Miss Harper, Miss Barber, Mr. Jones, Miss Jones, Miss Curlee and Miss Wooten.
The first wife of James M. Kifer was Texania L. Kifer, born November 20, 1851, died May 29, 1882. She is buried in Old Shelby Iron Works Cemetery. His second marriage was to Maggie Howell in Shelby County Alabama on December 20, 1882. The obituary indicates that she died on May 27, 1883. On March 6, 1885 his last marriage was in Shelby County Alabama to Lucy Emma Tillman. Their children were Ross Tillman Kifer, 1887-1951, and Allene (Kifer) Hull, 1897-1979. Lucy Emma Kifer's last marriage was to Ellsworth Swift. Lucy E. Swift, 1866-1938, is buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Birmingham, Jefferson County Alabama.
The obituary, "James M. Kifer Dies In Birmingham," The People's Advocate, dated Thursday, July 22, 1915, "Mr. James M. Kifer, aged 71 years, died at his home in Birmingham last Sunday night. Mr. Kifer formerly lived at Shelby and was foreman of the wood work department for Shelby Iron Co., for about 40 years. He was well known and highly esteemed by every one. His remains were carried to Harpersville Monday where interment was made."
James M. Kifer served in the Confederate army, Shelby County Alabama, Private Co. "I" 18th Infantry.
The People's Advocate, Thursday, January, 18, 1912, "gives a glimpse" of a particular Friday night at the New Dannemora Hotel.
Quite a number of little people gathered at the New Dannemora Hotel Friday night, January 12, in honor of Miss Pattie Ingersoll's thirteenth birthday, although the weather was very cold and a slight snow falling. The arriving guests were received by the hostess and her mother, assisted by Misses Marie Smith and Mary Ella Vincent, of Sylacauga, guests of the hostess. All were served with hot chocolate, by Miss Grace Brymer, after which many games were enjoyed until a late hour. In the Song Contest there were three couples who held correct papers, necessitating a "guess" for the prize. A number was written down and each given one guess, Miss Grace Brymer winning the prize, a box of candy.
Dainty refreshments, consisting of Charlotte Rouse and cake, were served by Mrs. Ingersoll and Miss Vivian Greene.
The invited guests were Misses May Seales, Grace Brymer, Ruby Brymer, Sadie Davis, Willie Davis, Marguriete Averytt, Edith Averytt, Bessie Curlee, Mary McGiboney, Marie Smith, Mary Ella Vincent, and Jannette Pomery of Birmingham.
Messrs Gordon Averyt, Alvyn Averyt, George Averyt, John Curlee, Robert Barber, Dave Gray, Dick Webster, Earnest Busby, Charles Sparks and Fay Smith of Sylacauga.
The People’s Advocate,Thursday, February 8, 1912, FIRE DAMAGES SHELBY HOTEL.
On Thursday evening fire was discovered in the roof of the New Dannemora hotel, which came near resulting in total loss of the building. However, the quick work of the well organized firemen of Shelby Iron Co. saved the building after part of the roof had fallen in. Damage from water was considerable, owing to the fact that fire had to be fought entirely from the roof. The New Dannemora is owned and operated by the Shelby Iron Co. and is considered one of the most up-to-date little hotels in the state. The origin of the fire is unknown.