By CHAD FRED BAILEY
On Friday, May 31st, the Keebler-Keefauver House at 632 Hales Chapel Road, Gray, received the 57th Tennessee Historical Marker placed within Washington County’s bounds, in a ceremony held by Johnson City officials who currently own the historic structure.
This marker stands proudly in the front yard of the home in the Keebler’s Crossroads community. Constructed in the 1850s – while some historical writings suggest construction as early as 1842 and others show completion as late as 1860 — the Keebler-Keefauver House is a grand example of federal-style brick homes that dot the county’s landscape. James Keebler (1789-1859) of Berkeley County, Virginia, had the four-room structure built of hand-made brick and hand-blown glass windows, which was possibly constructed by slaves owned by Keebler, as well as an outdoor kitchen, which was later used as a smokehouse.
In 1923, the large kitchen, dining room, bathroom, and two porches were added, and some additional additions made at later dates.
James Keebler first married Mary Rector and had seven children: Rector, Malinda, Oziah, Sally, Mary, James Jr., and Enoch. After Mary’s death, he married Sarah Haws (1795-1888) in 1827, with whom he had seven children: Catharine, Volentine, John A., Benjamine, and Sarah. Joseph and Sarah are buried on the property in the Keebler Cemetery, established circa 1850s. According to the WCCL – a survey performed by the WPA in the 1930s, four Keebler family members’ graves were found in this cemetery along with graves of slaves.
In the 1940s, the cemetery was cleaned off with permission of the Keebler family, yet James and Sarah’s markers survived and are housed on the property today.
In 1950, Weldon Faw and Malinda B. Keefauver purchased the farm from Joseph G. “Joe” Keefauver, which began the legacy of the Keeland Dairy Farm. With the purchase of the farm, the Keefauver’s began purchasing registered Holstein cattle, which they showed in many fairs all across the region winning many ribbons and awards.
In 1963, the farm was sold to their son and his wife, William “Billy Joe” J. and Jean Leonard Keefauver. In 1987, the dairy herd was sold, while some Holstein heifers and beef cattle remained.
In 2009, the City of Johnson City purchased the farm to create a new city park, which never has come to fruition due to new annexation laws that have been passed since the purchase.
Nearly a decade later, city officials continue to debate ideas for use of the old farm that include: a city park, a history museum, a new subdivision, and/or an agricultural education center.