Community gathers to celebrate commemorative historical marker for Crabb-Stewart-Key-Dotson estate
The Hartselle and Morgan County community gathered Dec. 8 at the bottom of Wilson Mountain on Nat Key Road to celebrate the unveiling of a historical marker commemorating the Crabb-Stewart-Key-Dotson Home.
Attending were several local and state officials, along with members of the Hartselle Historical Society, but the event focused on the families connected to the home and how the community has embraced the historic homestead’s rich tales from the past.
“It means so much to the county. Everybody around here is aware of it. We feel comfortable with it being here because everybody feels like they own it, and they take good care of it,” said Janice Dotson, who – along with her husband Robert Dotson – purchased the homestead in 2015. Robert served 26 years in the United States Army. Though they grew up in Hartselle, the couple traveled with the military for about 20 years. While they were gone, they gradually purchased tracts of land on Wilson Mountain, where Robert grew up, and some adjoining lots. They came back to Hartselle after Robert retired from the military.
The couple purchased the property on Nat Key Road as a southern border to their property but did not realize the historical significance until some time after they purchased it.
“They told me that the house was of no value because it was eaten up with termites. It wasn’t,” Robert said. “I didn’t think too much of it at first, but I knew I wasn’t going to destroy it when I found out that it didn’t have termites.
“If I was going to burn it or tear it down, I would have probably jumped right in behind it because the community likes this house,” he joked. “If somebody comes by, and they see a strange car here, I get a phone call, ‘You’ve got somebody down at your house.’ They kind of adopted it as theirs, and I like that.”
The Dotsons began preserving the home, but Robert said they got the Hartselle Historical Society involved shortly after noticing scribed glyphs on the outside of the stone chimney. Historical Society members Lee Y. Greene Jr. and David Burleson began researching and investigating the history of the home and estate.
Greene said the research and process to have the Crabb-Stewart-Key-Dotson home and estate registered as a landmark has been “the coolest thing” he’s ever worked on.
“Really what it means to me is that we finally have gotten to learn the history about it and how it was made,” Greene said. “We’re still trying to figure out why it’s here, but it’s just been an incredible story of the families that have lived in it all the way through the years and how beautiful it is and how well it was made.”
Greene gave much credit to consultant Gene Ford, who helped get the site added to the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage and the national register.
“It’s in the national register of historic places; it’s in the state register of historic places; and we have an Alabama Historical Commission marker, which is cool because the other ones we’ve gotten (for the City of Hartselle) were all tourism markers,” Greene said. “It’s just amazing to be affiliated with something like this and get to help.”
The inscription on the marker, located in front of the home, reads:
Alabama Historical Commission
The Honorable Thomas D. Crabb, Legislator and Alabama Constitution Signatory, established title to this property on July 10, 1818. It is believed the existing structure was used for treaty administration, a stagecoach stop, a store, and a home. The University of Western North Carolina confirmed the glyphs in the chimney are Cherokee symbols that predate the Sequoyah syllabary of 1821. The home is located on Stout’s Road, the first state road traveling north to south, which was later renamed Nat Key Road. A natural spring providing water for generation and a family cemetery are also located on this site. In 1850, prominent merchant Histapas Stewart purchased the property from the Crabb estate. His three deaf and mute daughters administered the Stewart estate and the property passed down to their descendants Nathaniel, Arthur, and Eula Key until the Dotson Family Farm purchased the property in 2015.
Listed in the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage, June 14, 2018
Marker erected in 2019 in Honor of Alabama’s Bicentennial by The Hartselle Historical Society
The unveiling event included lunch sponsored by The Cattlemen’s Association, a cake cutting by representatives of all of the home’s namesakes and various speakers noting the home’s history.
Among the speakers was Dr. Mary Yarbrough, who lived in the house as a child.
“I know that my grandfather, who was Nat Key who lived here, would be so appreciative of this,” Yarbrough told the crowd. “He used to tell me about how he would sit on the front porch and how people would go by in their wagons and stop and talk. That was a slower-paced time, when they stopped and visited on front porches … He loved people, and he would love knowing that this was going on.”
The Dotsons said they are humbled by the outpouring of support from local community members and their care for the home and their community. They plan to maintain the preservation of the homestead, as well as allow tours of the property.
“The people built this community, the roads, the recreation we have, the schools, the churches … We didn’t get to do part of that because we were gone,” Robert said. “But it was here when we got back, and we were welcomed. This is our way of giving back.”