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National Register: Keith House

Alexander H. Keith House, 110 Keith Lane, Athens built 1858

The Keith House is being nominated under National Register criteria 6 and C for its local

historical and architectural significance. The house is important for its association with the Keith family, one of the first to settle in McMinn County, Tennessee. Architecturally, the house is significant as a residential example of architect/builder Thomas Crutchfield's work in the Greek Revival style. Although the house has undergone some 20th century changes, it retains its original integrity and massing. Interior details such as doors, woodwork, molding, and fireplace mantels remain intact as does the floorplan and walls of the main portion of the house. The rebuilding of the service ell in 1936 replicated the original in location, exterior material, and function. The replacement of the porch on the front elevation executed the original plans. These changes have not adversely affected the architectural integrity of the house and in the 50 years which have passed, they have acquired their own significance.


Alexander H. Keith was the son of a prominent early settler to McMinn County, Judge Charles Fleming Keith. Born in Virginia in 1781, C.F. Keith was a close relative of the Chief

Justice of the Supreme Court, John Marshall. Keith was a practicing attorney in Jefferson

County in the early 1800's and was an active participant in the early sessions of the Tennessee legislature. He was also instrumental in the purchase of the Hiwassee District

from the Cherokee. As payment for laying this land off in sections, the U.S. Government

awarded Keith a land grant a short distance northeast of Athens on Oostenaula Creek.


Alexander Hume Keith married Sarah Ann Fore in 1841. Sarah Ann was the daughter of Dr. Augustine and Nancy Fore. Dr. Fore, a physician was one of the first settlers to McMinn County. The Fores migrated from Jefferson County, Kentucky c.1835 and built a frame house adjacent to the present site of the Keith House. Nancy Fore is responsible for the first Methodist Church in the area. Dr. Fore died in 1840.


Alexander H. and Sarah Ann Keith lived with Mrs. Fore until the Fore frame house was

destroyed by fire in 1856. Keith hired Virginia architect and builder Thomas Crutchfield

to build a new brick house adjacent to the ruins of the Fore home.


Thomas Crutchfield was born in Virginia to Robert and Mary Nuckols Crutchfield. He worked for a Botetourt County, Virginia carpenter, builder, and brickmason named Samuel Cleague from whom he learned the building trade. In 1820 Thomas married Samuel's daughter, Sarah. Three years later the two families left Virginia and headed for the Hiwassee District of East Tennessee. Along the way, they built brick houses for prosperous farmers. After settling in McMinn County, Tennessee, Cleague retired to take up farming and Thomas formed a partnership with Cleague's sons, David and Alexander.


By the 1830's Crutchfield was one of the most popular builders in the state. He reportedly built at least eight East Tennessee, county courthouses (.including McMinn), the early buildings of East Tennessee University and was instrumental in the erection of the city of Chattanooga during the 1840s.


Thomas and Sarah had three sons who became well-known in local politics, carried on his father's trade as a builder in Jacksonville, Alabama. John Crutchfield Construction on the Keith House began in 1858 and according to family history, was designed to have the full height entry porch and columns which were not put on until the 20th century. Before the porch was completed, the Civil War was raging and soldiers supposedly burned the massive columns for fuel. A photograph of the house taken after the war shows the house with a modest one story porch which remained until 1936.


Alexander H. Keith farmed over 300 acres while Sarah Ann was actively involved with the

Methodist Church. They often shared their new home with young, unmarried Methodist ministers for the duration of their pastorate. In 1874, the Keiths donated a sum of money to replace the original log church (built by Sarah's mother, Nancy Fore) with one of brick.

Alexander H. Keith died on December 31, 1876. In 1904, Sarah donated land for the construction of a parsonage and was instrumental in providing a home for the ministers. Sarah Keith died on April 3, 1913.


Ownership of the house passed to one of their sons, Alexander M. Keith, and his wife, who were living with Sarah at the time of her death. Alexander and Louise Keith had three children who lived to adulthood: Marshall, Alexander, and Catherine. Alexander M. Keith died in 1933 following surgery and his wife passed away the following year. They were buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery in Athens.


Marshall J. Keith and his wife, Gertrude, lived at the Keith House for several years while

their house was being built. After the death of his mother, Marshall bought out the

interests of his brother and sister although Catherine continued to live with them in

the house.


When Marshall and Gertrude took possession of the house, the porch and rear ell were

badly deteriorated and the interior needed to be modernized. Marshall hired a descendant of Thomas Crutchfield to oversee the work to make certain the architectural integrity of the house was respected.


The rear ell and porch were torn down and the sunroom and new service ell built in their

place. The original brick was used to rebuild the ell. A garage was added to the west

end of the ell. The entry porch on the facade was removed and the columns and rails were used on the balcony on the facade and the porch on the ell. Inside, modern plumbing was installed in the changing rooms between the upstairs bedrooms and one of the downstairs rooms. A furnace was also added. Presumably, the two fireplaces upstairs were also enclosed at this time for reasons unknown.


Out of gratitude for their many years of support, the church was renamed the Keith Memorial United Methodist Church in 1939. Marshall served as Chairman of the Athens Utilities Board, Director of the First National Bank and Athens Savings and Loan and established the Athens Motor Company. He also donated land to the Methodist Church from the family farm. After Marshall's death, Gertrude and Catherine continued to share the house. After Catherine's death, Gertrude lived alone until failing health recently forced her to move to a nursing home. Several years ago she donated a tract of land adjacent to the house to the city of Athens for the construction of a new junior high school.


Historically, the Keith House has long been associated with one of the earliest families

who settled in McMinn County. Each generation of the Keith family has made substantial

contributions to the growth of Athens and the quality of life there.


The Keith House is architecturally significant as a residential example of Thomas

Crutchfield's work, as a mid-nineteenth century upper class planter's home, and as a house which is clearly Greek Revival in style. According to Patrick, "There is a relative scarcity of residential examples belonging unambiguously to the Greek Revival...'

0981:129). Even though changes were made in 1936, they do not adversely affect the

architectural integrity.

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