Sgt. Alvin C. York, A Tennessee Hero
Sgt. Alvin C. York cast a big shadow across the rolling pastures of the Cumberland Plateau. His farmstead at Pall Mall remains much as it was when he lived there. The spring-fed Wolf River, the limestone cliffs, and the patchwork of farms called him home when fame might have lured him away from Fentress County.
Among the most decorated of America’s war heroes, Sgt. York came from humble beginnings in a one-room cabin. Born in 1887, he was a descendant of Tennessee’s earliest settlers.
In 1917 when the cry of war rang across the nation, he departed for Camp Gordon, Ga. The model soldier became a sharpshooter for Company G in the 328 Infantry of the U.S. Army. His skills were severely tested on the frontlines in France. On Oct. 8, 1918, he put out of commission an entire German battalion that was about to counter attack American troops near Chatel-Chehery in the Argonnne sector. He is credited with killing 25 of the enemy and marching more than 125 prisoners to American lines.
For his heroism, he received the Congressional Medal of Honor and the French Croix de Guerre. About a week after his returned home, he married his childhood sweet, Gracie, with the Tennessee governor performing the ceremony. The couple honeymooned in the Governor’s Mansion.
In gratitude for his incredible feats during the Great War, Sgt. York was given fertile farmland and a home place by the citizens of Tennessee. He and Gracie reared their seven children in the five-bedroom house. They raised cattle and pigs, grew crops, operated a motorized grist mill, and ran a general store that housed the Pall Mall Post Office. In 1926, he established the Alvin C. York Institute to improve the educational opportunities for the children of Fentress County. He led a life filled with speeches and fund-raising, particularly to support the U.S. troops during World War II.
Sgt. York died in 1964, but throughout his lifetime, people came by to visit. Their son, Andrew “Andy” Jackson York, now a host and ranger at the historic park, shares memories of growing up in the house, recalling when plumbing was first installed, swimming in the jade-colored river, and gathering together in the cozy parlor.
“My mother would insist that visitors stay and have something to eat, so the kitchen was always busy. When the food was ready, she would ring the dinner bell. People ate in shifts because often not everyone could fit around the table at the same time,” says Andy.
The white-frame house on U.S. Highway 127 still attracts visitors. It is now a state historic park because Gracie bestowed the property and buildings to the state of Tennessee. Everything is kept as it was back then, down to the wallpaper and cotton bedspreads. Andy talks so lovingly of his parents that one gets a feel of the gracious hospitality the couple shared with guests and the sensible lives they led.
Not only can visitors tour the house, but they can spend an afternoon at the picnic and playground area by the earthen red grist mill where the soothing sound of tumbling water fills the air. They can walk the fields and woodlands of the property. A trail follows the gentle curves of the Wolf River, where crows call from tall tree branches and a wooden swinging bridge creaks in the wind. The trail leads visitors to the couple’s grave site in a church cemetery.
Andy can’t tell you how many people come to visit every year, though he does remember the day when 400 came by. One of his most famous guests outside the realm of governors, etc., was Bruce Springsteen. He signed the guestbook with his name and “Thanks for preserving this small memorial of American heroism (Born in the U.S.A.).”