Here, near the small county seat of Byrdstown, is a group of buildings well worth exploring. The log cabins are exact replicas of the birthplace of Cordell Hull, one of the greatest statesmen in American history. Beside them is a museum that houses artifacts from his remarkable life and career.
Hull was born here in 1871 and educated in a one-room schoolhouse in a nearby town of Willow Grove (a town that was flooded by the creation of Dale Hollow Lake.) Hull did very well in school, and by the time he was 20 he was a practicing lawyer; a state legislator at age 21; then a judge at 31. Hull later was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and then the Senate.
But today he is mainly remembered for the years he served as U.S. Secretary of State under President Franklin Roosevelt.
For 12 years Cordell Hull was the international face of the United States. He spent much of the 1930s in an effort to try to stop another world war from taking place. Once that war came his focus shifted to shaping the postwar world. He and President Roosevelt were convinced of the need for an international organization that would be stronger than the failed League of Nations that predated the war. Out of these efforts came the United Nations. In fact, Hull is rightfully considered the Father of the United Nations.
Hull never forgot Pickett County. Throughout his lifetime, no matter how deeply he was involved in Washington politics or international diplomacy, he kept up with events at home and with people he knew here. When he died in 1955 he left many of his possessions to the citizens of Pickett County. Many of those citizens later formed a group called the Friends of Cordell Hull. The Friends of Cordell Hull later developed this site, while most of the possessions Hull left are on display at the museum here.
In his lifetime much was made of the fact that Hull had been born in a tiny log cabin. The cabins that you see here aren’t the exact ones that Hull lived in; they are replicas. But they look exactly like the one Hull would have lived in, and they are furnished the same way as well.
Since the Cordell Hull Birthplace and Museum is located so far away from any city, you may ask yourself how his father made his living. “Uncle Billy” Hull, as he was known, did a little farming, and apparently a little moonshining (more on that later). But his main occupation appears to have been logging. He owned land near here and made money cutting down trees, then floating them down the Cumberland River to Nashville, and then selling the lumber.
In fact, one time Judge Cordell Hull was entertaining some of his important political friends at a hotel in Nashville known as the Maxwell House when in walked an unkempt older man. The staff of the hotel started to kick the man out. And then Cordell Hull came over, put his arm around the man, and started introducing his friends to his father.
After seeing the cabin, it’s time to explore the museum.
You’ll find a lot of artifacts here, such as newspaper articles about Cordell Hull; paintings and photographs of the man; his family’s Bible; furniture; letters written to him and more.
The Friends of Cordell Hull, which owns this collection, actually has the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Hull in 1945 for helping to create the United Nations. For security reasons, however, the actual prize is not on display; but a duplicate of it is.
While you are at the museum, ask to see the short film about the park and the life of Cordell Hull. The staff will be glad to set it up in the park’s office building.
After you leave the museum, there is still more to see. Across the street from the Cordell Hull Birthplace and Museum is a trail that leads to Bunkum Cave. The trail will take you about 20 or 30 minutes one way, but it’s worth the hike.
With an entrance measuring 100 feet wide and 50 feet high, Bunkum Cave is quite a sight. And it played an important part in the Cordell Hull story.
According to family story, Cordell Hull’s father Billy made moonshine in the cave before he went into the lumber business. In fact the money that enabled him to get into the lumber business may have actually come from moonshining.