The Settlement at Hamilton Crossroads

Photograph Courtesy of David Lay

It appears that THE William Hamilton was already in the vicinity of Hamilton Crossroads by the time Tennessee became a state in 1796. All this area was Hawkins County until Knox County was carved out of Hawkins County, then Grainger out of Hawkins County in 1796.
In 1794 William Hamilton received a land grant from the Governor of North Carolina. This land grant included Hamilton Crossroads, which was in Knox County from 1792 to 1796. Then in Grainger County until 1850 when Union County was carved out of Grainger, Anderson, Campbell, Claiborne and Knox Counties. He controlled 1,400 acres bounded by Log Mountain on the south and Hinds Ridge to the north. Hamilton Gap and Raccoon Valley

Old deeds refer to “the waters of Bull Run. The April 10, 1794 issue of the Knoxville Gazette [Source: Tennessee Ancestors, December 1987 and December 1988] noted that . . . the Indians have stolen nine horses from William Hamilton . . . . The August 12, 1794 edition of the Knoxville Gazette:

On the 12th instant, about 10 0'clck at night, a party of Indians, consisting of fifteen, attacked the Bull Run Blockhouse sixteen miles north of this place, at which a non-commissioned officer and ten privates are stationed for the defense of the frontiers, and continued around it until the arrival of Captain Beard with a party of the neighboring militia . . . The next day, Captain Evans . . .fell on the trail of the Indians who stole Hind’s, Barton’s, and Hamilton’s horses from Hind’s field on the 10th; and pursuing the trail into Cumberland Mountain, overtook the Indians, killed one, and regained the horses.”

Although “the crossroads” has not been referred to as a “station,” Ernest Hamilton, who lived on the old homeplace as a boy until the family left in November 1901, remembered an ancient “strong house..” In a 1967 letter he said, “It was large, no ceiling in it, some poles went across, and some across them, to store things on. Up near the top of the wall was kind of a walkway, and some holes cut through the wall so they could put their rifles to shoot at the Indians.

Jim Lay’s old store building still stands at the Crossroads.

Grandsons of Alexander Hamilton and Susanna Adamson and William Lay and Sarah Capps Hamilton Lay and children of Alexander Hamilton, Jr. and Casandra Lay Hamilton are:

William Lay Hamilton m. Nancy Buckner; Frances Marion Hamilton m. Matilda Hill; John Alvis Hamilton m. Mary (Polly) Yadon; Aaron Hamilton m. Phoebe Catherine Yadon; Alexander Lafayette Hamilton m. Mary Beeler; and Jasper Tennell Hamilton m. Betsy Beeler
All six sons were born at Liberty, which later became Maynardville.
Among the Hamiltons and Lays, they owned about 2,000 acres of land reaching from Raccoon Valley to Grainger County.
In 1967 Ernest Hamilton drew a sketch of the Hamilton Crossroads settlement as he remembered in 1901. There was a saw mil, ten homes, a blacksmith shop, two stores, two churches, probably more than one spring and a cemetery.

The land in the sketch is now owned by Lay family descendants. There appears to be several historic landmarks and structures still intact that could be added to the National Register of Historic Places should the owner decide to apply for this status.

Just north of the Crossroads on Kettle Hollow Road is the 40-acre Hamilton-Tolliver Farmstead, which was a part of the original William Hamilton land holdings.

The property's original owner, William Hamilton (1755-1828), was awarded in 1786 a land grant for his service in the American Revolution. By 1794, Hamilton settled in the community that would bear his name, Hamilton's Crossroads, at that time within the boundaries of Grainger County. Hamilton's property totaled some 1,629 acres and was among the largest landholdings in the area. Besides an active life in local political and civic affairs, the Hamilton family patriarch built a gristmill in the Hamilton's Crossroads community. William's eldest son, Alexander Hamilton, inherited most of the future Union County land his father had amassed, served as the local Justice of Peace and in the local militia. After Alexander’s death, the land passed to the third generation; and during the tenure of Alexander Hamilton, Jr. (1812-1863) the current log house is believed to have been built. Subsequently willed to Alexander,Jr.'s eldest son, William Lay Hamilton, the property temporarily passed out of Hamilton family ownership in 1875 when William Lay Hamilton sold the house and property to Crecy Hundley.

Over several decades succeeding William Lay Hamilton's sale of the farm in 1875, the Hamilton-Tolliver property passed through a series of owners, each of relatively short tenure, until it was finally acquired by Emily Tolliver in 1909. Emily's youngest brother, George Tolliver, began farming his sister's property shortly after she purchased it. Besides growing wheat, cotton, and other crops, George Tolliver was an active merchant in the county, operating his first store in Hickory Valley and a second at Hamilton's Crossroads (now Walkers Ford Rd. and Mill Pond Rd.) which he leased from J.P. Lay. In 1913, George acquired the farm from his sister and integrated his farming and mercantile enterprises, constantly expanding these to include a highly diversified livelihood strategy that would assist the family in surviving the worst economic crisis in the country's history. It was during the period of history spanning George Tolliver's ownership of the property that it would evolve toward its current appearance.

About a month before her death on September 20, 2009, Betty Hamilton Bullen, nephew David Lay, and I had the privilege of talking with Jean Lay Palmer about her recollections of the Lay family and growing up at Hamilton Crossroads. Here are some of the gleanings from that discussion:

Highway 33 was not completed until 1921, so the road through Hamilton Crossroads was the main road between Kentucky and the train station at Luttrell. People forded the Clinch River at Walker Ford and came on down by the Lay homeplace.

Jean recalls sitting in the front gallery of the Lay home watching cattle and turkey drives along the road to the train station at Luttrell. The circus came by one a year with their colorful wagons, animals and elephants.. Gypsies also came through one a year and Jean especially loved to watch them.. They camped just across from the old store building. The women wore fancy clothes in bright colors with lots of ruffles and big sleeves. They would stay three days and cooked over a campfire whatever they could gather up to cook. They helped themselves to anything that was not tied down–hid things in these big shirts and sleeves. Jean said, “Daddy (Herbert) looked forwarded the them coming and they all enjoyed the visit.” “That was the only time daddy just left the “:hen-house door open.” They were a lively group.

There is a wetland close by and people would come and gather the willow to make Bent Willow furniture–tables, chairs and baskets. Neighborhood women frequently gathered will for toothbrushes. In the early days people brushed their teeth with soda and salt and a willow toothbrush.

The log house set in front of the Herbert Lay homeplace. The first Hamilton and Lay settlers came to the area from Wilkes County, North Carolina. The Lays and Hamiltons intermarried. As did the Yadons and Cooks. The Cooks lived in a large log house with a dog-trot near where Warren and Louise Lynch now live.

Thomas Lay, Revolutionary War soldier received a pension of $40 a month and his widow received it after he died. John Lay and ___ Capps moved to Missouri and did well working as a blacksmith. The West was opening up. They worked on wagons, made harness. John Lay later moved on to Montana and some of the lays to Oregon. Larry Lay, son of John, (not the Mayor) visited Jean a few years ago. John Lay is a relative to Mayor Larry Lay.

The old store was built about 1840 by Fate Hamilton (Alexander Lafayette) and he also built the house that Jean was raised in. The Herbert Lay family moved back and forth between the “big house” and the house that’s there now. The house was “L” shaped before it was built onto.

The Lay property early on was up Mill Pond Road where the Jim Lay house was. Jean doesn’t remember when the log house was torn down. It was half way between current house and Walker Ford Road. Herbert Lay bought the store and the Hamilton property when he was 18. He was born ca 1885. He worked at the distillery until prohibition. The distillery was then turned into a grist mill. Herbert had a distillery in Park City (Knoxville) on Lay Avenue for about 10 years. The distillery was in the basement of the house on Lay Avenue. It drained to a branch that hogs had access to so the hogs got soused on the waste.

Jean recalled that Herbert loaned his cousin T. L. Lay money to start Lay Packing Company at Knoxville. He was part owner for many years. He sold his interest and moved to Halls, then later to Hamilton Crossroads. Ira Lay was also a major owner of Lay Packing Company. They lived out Tazewell Pike in the Smithwood area.

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