Pebble Hill The Scott-Yarbrough House was constructed in approximately 1846 as the centerpiece of a 100-acre plantation in Auburn, Lee County. Also known as Pebble Hill, it is home to the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities in the College of Liberal Arts at Auburn University. The Center’s mission is to work with students, faculty, the community, and outside consultants to document and preserve the history of Pebble Hill, its property, and families, as well as raise awareness to city, state, and regional histories. The house functions as a museum and together with an adjacent building hosts a variety of public and private events.
The Scott-Yarbrough House and offices that constitute Pebble Hill sit on land that originally belonged to the Creek Nation. The allotment was in possession of Creek Indian Nelocco Harjo until Paddy Carr, who was a Creek agent for land speculators, obtained it following the ratification of the Treaty of Cussetta (1832). When the Creek nation signed the treaty their claims to land titles were erased, but heads of households were awarded an allotment that could either be kept or sold. Fraudulent actions by land agents such as Carr following the ratification of the treaty prompted the Second Creek War. But, there is no evidence to suggest whether Nelocco Harjo sold his land or lost it.
In the 1830s, white settlers seeking new opportunities moved from the Carolinas and Georgia into east Alabama. Nathaniel and Mary Scott, both from Georgia, were among this wave of settlers. Along with their children and enslaved African Americans, the family settled in present-day Auburn in what was then Macon County. In 1846, Scott purchased approximately 100 acres of land just east of Auburn for $800, and the house was constructed shortly thereafter. Enslaved African Americans were central to the construction and function of the property. By 1860, the Scotts owned 63 slaves, some of whom lived with the family at the house and some of whom worked the farms on the outskirts of Auburn. Evidence indicates that the enslaved people who lived at the house were involved in domestic duties, gardening, and cultivation. The maintenance and repair of buildings and furniture was performed by enslaved blacksmiths, masons, and carpenters.
The home served as the primary residence for the Scott family until Nathaniel’s death in 1863. He had helped to organize the Auburn Female College (later Auburn Masonic Female College) and also the East Alabama Male College (present-day Auburn University) and was involved in local and state politics, supporting secession in the years leading up to the American Civil War. The Scotts’s two sons served in the Confederate Army, and one died in the conflict. Following the war, Mary and the remaining children attempted to run the home, but emancipation and financial struggles forced Mary to sell the property.
Until 1876, Pebble Hill was owned by absentee landowners. Then, Mary Virginia Riley purchased it for $2,250 and lived there until 1907. Cecil S. and Bertha Mae Yarbrough purchased the home from Mary Riley’s daughter in 1912; the Yarbrough family owned the home until 1982. Yarbrough, who was originally from Orion, Pike County, established a medical practice in Auburn following his marriage to Bertha Mae in 1903. Bertha Mae Yarbrough died in 1927, and the following year, Cecil married Mary Strudwick.
Similar to the Scott family, the Yarbroughs also were instrumental in the growth of the city and university, then known as Auburn Polytechnic Institute (API). Yarbrough served three terms as Auburn mayor. His first was from 1916 to 1918 after which he joined the Navy as a medical officer during World War I. His second term was from 1919 to 1928, after his return from service. His final term occurred from 1936 to 1944. He was instrumental in preventing API from moving to the state capital in Montgomery and he was involved in infrastructure projects that helped with the development of the city.
Pebble Hill, 1970s Following World War II, Auburn’s population grew with residents and students moving closer to the college, a situation that altered the land surrounding Pebble Hill. Between 1945 and 1980, Pebble Hill’s property was subdivided to accommodate the development of apartment complexes along Magnolia Avenue and also in residential areas to the east of the house. When Yarbrough died in 1946, his wife Mary moved to Mobile, Mobile County. After she died in 1967, their son, Clark S. Yarbrough, inherited the property. He owned it until 1974, when he sold it to the Auburn Heritage Association. In 1975, the Scott-Yarbrough House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Then, in 1985 it was donated to Auburn University when the Center for Arts and Humanities was established. In 2007, after a significant donation from her daughter, it was named in honor of Caroline Marshall Draughon, wife of Auburn University history professor and later president (1947-1965) Ralph Brown Draughon Sr.
The Scott-Yarbrough House is representative of antebellum plantation architecture in east Alabama. It was constructed around 1846 by planter Nathaniel J. Scott and his wife Mary in what was then Macon County. The Greek Revival style features a square, one-story, frame dwelling with a hipped, low-pitched roof that sits on a brick foundation. The entrance, reached by a pair of matching sets of stairs, is set in a small raised portico supported by columns and flanked by two tall windows on either side. The back of the house features a full-width porch also supported by columns. The front and back doors open onto a central hallway that divides the home, with two equal-sized rooms on each side of the hallway. A stairwell leads to an attic that was used as a servants’ room and later as a bedroom by Auburn students. The home’s high ceilings and central hallway help promote air-flow to cope with Alabama’s hot summers. The home stood within a complex of smaller buildings. One of the original buildings is now attached to the southeast corner of the main house. A second building was constructed in 2015 to house offices and event space.
William McIntosh One of the main attractions within the house museum is the McKenney and Hall lithograph portrait gallery. It includes prints of the delegation of Creek Indian leaders who travelled to Washington, D.C., in 1825 to negotiate terms of peace and regain titles to their land lost in the Treaty of Indian Springs. Thomas McKenney, the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the John Quincy Adams administration, was the chief contact for the delegation and interested in archiving portraits of Native Americans who travelled to the city. The portraits were painted in the studio of artist Charles Bird King. After Andrew Jackson was elected president, he fired most of the Adams administration, including McKenney. McKenney planned to use the portraits in a book about the history of Native Americans, but the portraits were the property of the federal government and he had problems accessing the gallery. Therefore, he hired artist Henry Inman to paint copies of the portraits in the gallery. From Inman’s oil copies, the publisher of McKenney and James Hall’s book, History of the Tribes of North America, used lithography, a new method of print reproduction, to illustrate color copies of the portraits. Lithograph copies, including one of Creek William McIntosh and most of the 1825 delegates, were presented to the Center.
The house also has a rare, numbered Steinway piano that was built in New York City in June 1858. It was donated to the house by John D. Ford. There are numerous donations of furniture, decorative antiques, artwork, pottery, and tools all with provenance dating back to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Today, Pebble Hill functions as a museum and hosts events ranging from book talks and poetry readings to concerts and weddings. Tours of the home are available upon request. The Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities organizes and hosts workshops sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, coordinates state and local history seminars, provides support to the Alabama Historical Association, works with local and state organizations on community outreach projects, and collaborates on projects with the Alabama Department of Archives and History and numerous colleges across Auburn University.