Sarah Foster Kelley
James Robertson House
SARAH FOSTER KELLEY -- a seventh-generation descendant of James and Charlotte Robertson through their youngest daughter, Lavinia Beck Craighead -- was born May 25, 1939, the fourth of five children born to Jesse Paul and Lavinia Hill Foster of West Nashville. She attended West Nashville schools and earned a B.S. degree from Nashville's George Peabody College for Teachers. Beginning in the late 1960s, she devoted half her life to recording the history and genealogy of the James Robertson family, as well as to the preservation, then replication, of the pioneer double-log Robertson house in West Nashville.
Sarah was the widow of the late Ernest Starnes Kelley; mother of one son, Ernest Starnes Kelley, Jr. (wife: Karen), of College Grove, TN.; and grandmother of Dylan Starnes and Nolan Blake Kelley. Three brothers survive her: Dan and Sam Foster of Stewart, Tennessee, and Alvan S. Foster of DesMoines, Iowa.
Her genealogical research served as the foundation for Sarah's interest in preserving the history of James Robertson's life and times. She chartered the General James Robertson Descendants and Kin Association with the State of Tennessee on June 1, 1971, and served as the first chairman of the board of directors. The Association under Sarah's leadership served as host of the Robertson Family Reunion in Nashville in June, 1972. (Sarah also was the instigator and hostess of the June, 2001, Robertson Family Convention held in Nashville.)
Sarah's interest in preserving the 1779 James Robertson double-log home on Richland Creek led to her alliance with Nashville's Gladys Hamilton, founder and president of Historic Landmarks Association, in 1970 to have the restored Robertson house as a component of H.L.A.'s proposed Tennessee Towne (see WNFM History for early history of that preservation movement).
Sarah Kelley (center) joined Betty Gower (left) and Gladys Hamilton (right) on the board of directors of Historic Landmarks Association in 1970. They were photographed in December, 1971, while preparing for H.L.A.'s "Typically Tennessee Christmas" celebration slated for December 5-6 in Nashville's historic McGavock Mansion, "Two Rivers."
Although Tennessee Towne had failed to become a reality at the time of the death of H.L.A. President Gladys Hamilton in 1985, Sarah held fast to her vision of reconstruction of the Robertson double-log house. She organized the West Nashville Founders' Museum, Inc., in 1986 to revive the movement (click here to see a listing of Log_Donors ~ Honorees ), and in 1996 the replica was constructed in Metro Nashville's H. G. Hill Park on Charlotte Avenue. The James Robertson Log House was formally dedicated on May 11, 1997.
Sarah Kelley's many civic activities included her serving as co-chairman of West Nashville's observance of "Tennessee Homecoming '86" and of the 1987 West Nashville Centennial Exposition. While serving as secretary of the West Nashville Community Council, she and Ilene J. Cornwell organized the first Richland Creek Cleanup Campaign in 1989. From 1987 to 1992, she served as editor of the West Nashville Digest, a community newspaper published by community leader and former-councilman Ralph M. Cohen. Other memberships included the Tennessee Historical Society, the Tennessee State Museum Foundation, Ladies Hermitage Association, Belmont Mansion Association, Friends of Nashville City Cemetery, James Robertson Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Kate Litton Chapter 597 of the Daughters of the American Confederacy, Middle Tennessee Genealogical Society, National Trust for Historic Preservation, The Library of Congress Associates, Clan Donnachaidh of Scotland, George Peabody College for Teachers of Vanderbilt Alumni Association, and Cohn High School Alumni Association.
Sarah Foster Kelley was the author of numerous genealogies and eight books: Scotch-Irish Origins of General James Robertson, West Nashville: Its People and Environs, Children of Nashville: Lineages of James Robertson, General James Robertson:The Founder of Nashville, The Family Tree of General James Robertson, The Family of Captain James Bosley--Nashville Pioneer and Trader, The Family of Ellen Mordant Davis--Wife of Dr. Peyton Robertson, Nashville Physician, and The Family of Ann Robertson Johnson Cockrill--Nashville's First School Teacher.
After an eight-year battle with cancer, Sarah Foster Kelley died on July 16, 2002. Graveside services were held July 19 in Nashville's Woodlawn Memorial Garden.
Sarah's son, Starnes Kelley, has requested that any memorial gifts be made to the West Nashville Founders' Museum for perpetual care of the James Robertson Home.
"What was is as important as what is." Ralph Cohen, WNFM President
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Website graphics and content copyright © 2002-2003 by West Nashville Founders' Museum, Inc., 4908 Charlotte Pike, Nashville, Tennessee 37209. World rights reserved. Revised: September 6, 2003