Historic store has been sitting at the Hamilton Crossroads for a very long time — but exactly how long?
The old Hamilton-Lay General Store in Union County, Tennessee, was built by by a man named Alexander Lafayette Hamilton — he went by the name “Fate” Hamilton — which was derived from his middle name.
Video: Join fine art photographer Keith Dotson as he photographs the old Hamilton-Lay store in Tennessee
Fate Hamilton was the great-grandson of William Hamilton, who received about 1,000 acres of this land in return for his service in America’s War of Independence.
The date the building was constructed seems to be debatable. Several sources claim the building was constructed in 1840, but as we show in the video, Fate Hamilton wasn’t born until 1847. Other reliable sources, including the National Register of Historic Places and the official website of the State of Tennessee, put the years of use from 1875 until 1948.
The Hamilton-Lay store was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011.
This area is called Hamilton Crossroads and it’s part of William Hamilton’s original land grant.
The Hamilton-Lay store was a focal point of the surrounding farms and communities. That’s pretty common for these old general stores. I’ve photographed a number of them and they were community gathering places, places to hear about news and gossip, and talk to your neighbors.
The current owners told us that the building once held the local Post Office and had the only telephone in the area. The second story was once a living space.
The current owner is a member of the Lay family, which also has roots back to another original Revolutionary War land grant in the region. As the two major landowners in the region, the history of the Hamilton and Lay families is intertwined.
Transfer to the Lay Family
The current owner’s great-grandfather –Jim Lay — bought the store from the Hamiltons sometime in the 1800s. In 1900, Jim Lay’s son, Herbert Lay, bought the store and it remains in the ownership of the Lay family to this day.
One interesting bit of local history that I found said that said local people would go to a nearby wetland to gather willow for bent willow furniture. They used willow for toothbrushes, with salt and soda powder as toothpaste. People were so resourceful in those days.
The Hamilton Cemetery is just a short distance up the hill. It’s the final resting place of many members of the Hamilton family, including Fate and his wife, as well as his father Alexander Hamilton, Jr.
Alexander Lafayette “Fate” Hamilton was third in a line of men named Alexander. There was Alexander Hamilton, son of the land grant recipient William Hamilton. Alexander Hamilton fathered a son named Alexander Hamilton, Jr., who was the father of Fate Hamilton, builder of the store.
When I first arrived in the cemetery, I was looking for the visibly very old headstones, because I knew Fate must have and old grave if he built the store in 1840 like so many people believe.
Initially, I thought the headstone of Fate’s father might be for Fate. The dates seem plausible, but online research identified this as the stone of Alexander Hamilton, Jr. It says:
bornd Dec 31
Deseest (sic) Oct 16
Below is the gravestone of A.L. Hamilton — Alexander Lafayette Hamilton — Fate.
He was born in 1847. If he indeed was the builder of the store, then it couldn’t have been built in 1840.
I’ve found other resources online that confirm these dates for Fate’s life as well.
It seems clear to me that the store was built by Fate Hamilton in 1875.
Black and white photographs of the Hamilton-Lay General Store
Fine art photographs of the Hamilton-Lay store are available as museum-quality art prints in a variety of sizes.
Bonus: Photographs of the Lays Gap School
Near the end of the video in the travel montage, you may hav noticed an old white schoolhouse along the side of a backroad. That’s the Lays Gap School near Liberty Hill, Tennessee. In spite of my best efforts to research it, I have no further information about the school.
Sources and Links
Find a grave. “Alexander Hamilton, Jr.”
Find a grave. “Alexander Lafayette Hamilton”
Historic Union County. “The Settlement at Hamilton Crossroads.”
Knox News. “Saving Union County relic: State will consider official historic status for Hamilton-Lay Store.”
National Park Service. National Register Assets. “Hamilton-Lay Store.”
Tennessee State Government. “Nine Tennessee Sites Added to the National Register of Historic Places.”
Wikitree.com. “Alexander Hamilton Jr (abt. 1812 – abt. 1863)”
Wikitree.com. “Alexander Lafayette Hamilton (1847 – 1929)”