Alvin York is one of Tennessee's great heroes. The best place to learn about him is where he lived most of his life. Near Pall Mall, in Fentress County, you can visit the Alvin C. York Historic Park. We did, and we're going to tell you all about it.
First of all... Who was this person?
Library of Congress photo
York was born dirt poor, one of eleven children raised in a two-room log cabin. When he was first drafted into the U.S. Army in 1917, his initial reaction was to say that he was religiously opposed to the idea of killing others. But he did go. And the next year, in the Battle
of the Argonne Forest
, York and others killed an estimated 25 Germans and captured 132 prisoners.
We should point out here that although many accounts talk about what York did "single handedly," there were others involved in this battle. Since battlefields are bloody, confusing places, it is impossible to know exactly how many people York killed. York, meanwhile, was reluctant to talk about what he did in battle, leaving that to others. But from the moment he turned up with all those German prisoners, York was a hero. For one published account of what Alvin York did in battle, click here
For his bravery, York received the Medal of Honor, an extremely rare award. When he came home from the war, parades were held in his honor all over the country. Because he was so famous, York was frequently offered large amounts of money to make speeches or to endorse products. However he refused to accept money for speaking about the war or writing about it, because he thought it was wrong to profit from serving his country. “This uniform ain’t for sale,” he told someone once.
When he got back to Tennessee, York tried to return to a normal life. But people everywhere were proud of him and wanted to do things for him. The state gave York some land in Pall Mall, on which the Nashville Rotary Club built him a home in which to live. This home is the centerpiece of the Alvin York Historic Park.
When you get to the York home, you'll probably be greeted by a friendly tour guide who will tell you a bit about the place. The first room you'll see is a porch that is full of photographs and displays about York, his life, and his career. Take your time. This is a good place to learn about his early life, the war in which he fought, and the many honors that were given him when he came home.
Then you'll move into the other rooms, where you'll see the house exactly the way it was when Alvin York lived there from the 1920s until his death in 1964.
York had a lot of books. "And he read them all," our guide informed us.
Don't hesitate to ask questions! The reason we emphasize this is because two of the tour guides at the Alvin York home are related to Alvin York. One is Park Ranger Andrew York, Alvin's son. The other is Margaret York, Alvin's daughter-in-law. So when they tell you about the house, they are telling you about a place they know pretty well!
The grist mill
After you've seen the house, venture across the street to the grist mill. This mill, located on the Wolf River, is one of the prettiest sights in Tennessee. York purchased it in 1942 and operated the mill for about ten years. Today it's a great place for a picnic.
The interior of the mill
Do take the time to explore the mill, ideally with someone who knows about the process of grinding corn into corn meal. All the parts of the operation are labeled.
We also suggest that you take a short drive, or walk, to the cemetery in which York was buried. Situated in a fertile valley, York's grave may very well be the prettiest of all the graves of important people that you will find in Tennessee.
PHOTO: Alvin York Historic Park
For information on how to plan a trip to the Alvin York Historic Park, click here