ALEXANDER CITY, Ala. — Jett Williams walked along the knotted pine floor imagining what her songwriting daddy, Hank Williams , must have felt when he penned “Kaw-Liga” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart” in this lakeside cottage in the summer of 1952.
Wide-eyed, she walked out to its front porch, where Kowaliga Bay lapped at the shoreline 15 yards ahead. “I’ve got goosebumps on top of my goosebumps,” she said as the lake breeze blew back her long blonde tresses. “This cabin represents the headwaters for me. My parents were here together.”
Williams was attending the June 21 dedication of the Hank Williams cabin off Highway 63 on the southern outskirts of Alexander City, Ala. The cabin has been restored to its original décor and waterfront location where Hank Williams and Bobbie Jett retreated for rest, relaxation and writing in August 1952 — just four months prior to the country music legend’s death. Bobbie was pregnant with their daughter.
Jett Williams toured the cabin with some of her Alabama-tied country music friends. Huddled with Hank Locklin , Freddie Hart and Jeanne Pruett in the den, they sang “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” in four-part harmony before stepping outside for a ribbon-cutting ceremony in front of a local gathering.
The cabin sits on what is now part of the Children’s Harbor, a non-profit organization that provides camping and adventure services for children with serious, long-term illnesses and their families. Williams, Locklin, Hart, Pruett and Razzy Bailey were to perform a Saturday night (June 22) Children’s Harbor fundraiser at nearby Lake Martin Amphitheater. Rain forced cancellation, but the show will be rescheduled.
When construction began on Children’s Harbor in 1989, the cabin was moved from this original site to another location, across Highway 63. It was returned to the Children’s Harbor campus in 2001. That’s when locals Ben and Luanne Russell began restoring the cabin to its 1952 appearance. With old interior photos for reference, the cabin is a virtual time capsule, appearing as Hank and Bobbie Jett found it with gingham curtains, old furniture, two bedrooms, a kitchen and den with closed-off fireplace. The only point of difference is the porch, which is no longer screened.
“I can see what daddy saw,” said Jett. “I walked where my mom and dad walked. I travel all over the world performing. People ask me about Kowaliga. This is known worldwide. It’s nothing short of a flat miracle this cabin is back here and been restored. Ben and Luanne Russell did a fantastic job.”
“Just looking out on that lake, you can see the inspiration he found,” said Jett.
Hank and Bobbie traveled to this little fishing haven just a few days after Williams and the Grand Ole Opry parted company. The late Bob McKinnon, an Alexander City disc jockey friend of Hank’s, received a call from Williams’ mom saying the singer was tired and wanted to get away.
McKinnon’s cabin was rented. But he called local car dealer Darwin Dobbs and arranged for Hank and Bobbie Jett to use his cabin. Between fishing, walks in the woods and sunsets, Williams found inspiration to write. During the stay McKinnon told Williams the legend of the Kowaliga Indians. Williams’ song would inspire the carving of a life-size wooden Indian, which today stands outside a restaurant across the highway from Children’s Harbor.
To understand Jett Williams’ emotional draw to this area off Lake Martin is to understand her saga. She was born Jan. 6, 1953, in Montgomery, Ala., — five days following her dad’s death — to Bobbie Jett. She was adopted by Hank’s mother Lillian and named Cathy Yvonne. The middle name came from Yvonne in the Hank Williams’ hit “Jambalaya.”
Two months after the adoption was finalized, Lillian Williams died. The Williams family made Jett a ward of the state and had her birth records sealed. She was eventually adopted by a couple in Mobile.
Rumors had surfaced that she could be the daughter of country music’s biggest star. With the support of her adoptive dad, Jett set out in the early 1980s to discover her true bloodlines. Documents would show that Hank Williams acknowledged her as his child and executed a pre-birth custody agreement with Bobbie Jett three months prior to his death that would have given him full custody of the child.
The courts declared her to be Hank Williams’ biological daughter and the victim of fraud and judicial error from the time of her birth. Jett was given her share of her father’s songs and half of his estate. Washington, D.C., attorney Keith Adkinson, who would become a dear friend and eventually her husband, represented Jett.
On Friday evening, long after the well-wishers had gone, Jett and Keith invited the country artists back to the cabin porch for a guitar pull of Hank’s best. The crickets provided vocal backup.
The guests then left, and Jett Williams, with all the bottled emotions of the day, retired for the evening with her husband. They would be the first to spend a night in the restored cottage. But as Hank would say in a line penned at that cabin, sleep wouldn’t come the whole night through.
“Jett, were you able to sleep at all,” the singer was asked the next day.
She held up three fingers. “Three hours sleep,” she said. “That’s it.”