Navy Commodore Who Was Aide To Teddy Roosevelt Built Home High Up On Cameron Hill

Friday, May 20, 2022 - by John Wilson

A distinguished Navy Commodore who had been a close aide to Teddy Roosevelt built a home high up on Cameron Hill just before World War I. Commodore Albert Lenoir Key was a son of David Key, who had an illustrious career. He was Chattanooga's first federal judge, was appointed Postmaster General and was a U.S. Senator. David Key lived for many years at Fourth and Chestnut at the base of Cameron Hill.

The Commodore Key home was on Cameron Drive that led to Boynton Park at the northern peak of the hill. In 1906, only Joseph R. Johnson lived on Cameron Drive. Afterward, the Ernest Holmes family and several others built there. The Albert L. Keys lived for a couple of years at 1 Bluff View next to the Ross Faxon home that became the Hunter Museum of Art. They had quarters at the Mountain City Club while their home at 101 (later 401) Cameron Dr. was being built. 

Albert L. Key was born in 1860 while the family was at London. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1882, and then began his naval career.

From 1905 to 1907, he was naval aide to President Roosevelt. Later he was chief of staff of the North Atlantic fleet, then he was captain of the Navy yard at Charleston.

Commodore Key retired from active service in 1912, though he returned in service during World War I. Commodore Key married Grace Smith of Buffalo, N.Y. She was a sister of the wife of General Leonard Wood.

Grace Smith Key only got to enjoy the Cameron Hill home for a few years. She died Feb. 20, 1918. She had previously suffered from heart afflictions, but seemed to have gotten better. She was at the Boston Navy Yard holding a wire during an X-ray when she received a strong shock. She afterward developed pneumonia and then died. The couple had two sons, David and Albert Lenoir Key II. 

In Chattanooga, Commodore Key became president of the Volunteer State Life Insurance Company. He also was over the Key Hotel that was built at the triangular corner of Georgia Avenue and Cherry Street after the Keystone Block had been taken down. The seven-story hotel had 95 rooms and cost over $100,000 to build.

Albert L. Key lived for some time in New York, while he was president of the Signal Mountain Estates. The Key home passed to his relative, Garnett Andrews Jr. By 1955 when the stately Cameron Drive homes were near their end, S.H. Ford was the lucky occupant of 401 Cameron Dr.

Commodore Key was in Washington, D.C. when he died Jan. 26, 1950. He was buried at Arlington Cemetery.

His son, Albert Lenoir Key, married Julia Bowdoin. He was an investment banker and stockbroker who helped the New York Historical Society through a turbulent period. Another son, David M. Key, lived at Vero Beach, Fla.


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