Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Legacy: Pickett County economy before Dale Hollow Lake

Lana Rossi

With the hilly land not much good for row cropping, the bounty of the hardwood forest has traditionally been the mainstay for the inhabitants of the Pickett County region, with native trees – white oak, ash, beech, black walnut, hickory, cherry, chestnut and tulip poplar – playing an important role.
The earliest European industry was most likely hide tanning. Next came the making of whiskey, gunpowder and mills for the manufacture of furniture and for the grinding of cornmeal. Cordell Hull’s father, a colorful character known as Uncle Billy Hull, got his grubstake making moonshine whiskey in what is now Bunkhum Cave in the Cordell Hull Museum State Park. He paid a $50 fine and sold the rest for $1,000, which he used to buy a stand of timber for what was to become a very important industry for the area. Dr. Jonathan Hale, a native of New Hampshire, had a furniture mill on the Wolf River. Since Dr. Hale was a staunch Union sympathizer, Champ Ferguson’s men burned the mill during the Civil War.
Timber was used for firewood, fencing, furniture and buildings. Not until a short time after the Civil War did a market emerge as a few men, including Uncle Billy Hull, began buying and processing logs and shipping the lumber from Celina, the junction of the Obey and Cumberland rivers, to Nashville. As early as 1885 most of the local mills closed, finding it more profitable to float whole logs to Nashville mills than to ship sawn lumber by boat. In his book “Cutting, Rafting and Running Logs Down the Obey River” Jess Rich states that more than 100 million board feet of lumber was produced between 1900 and 1904, but getting the logs to Celina was an adventure that was not for the faint of heart.
First the timber had to be cut, a feat accomplished by at least two men and more often four with a large two-handled crosscut saw and axes. Gravity and resourcefulness were used to get the logs to a holding place close to the river. When the logging business first started the logs closest to the rivers or streams were cut. As time went on they had to go higher on the hillsides to access the finest timber. The trees were cut and after a heavy rain when the ground was muddy and slick the logs either rolled or slid to the bottom of the hills where they were snaked out by oxen or mules to a holding or skidding place.
The bluffs along the Obey and Wolf rivers made for some exciting action when it came time for the logs to go in the river. The navigability of the rivers depended upon the spring flood of “tide.”
In a story “How Grandpa Bought His Farm,” Joy Sisco relates that Millard Filmore Gunter paid for his 100-plus-acre farm, in large part, from timber that he and his boys cut and floated down the river. His son Ambers Gunter, then a teenager, helped cut and prepare logs for rafting. As the youngest he remained on top of the hill and pushed the logs down a 200-yard embankment into the Obey where others waited at a safe distance in a boat to “catch” the logs, transporting them to the other side of the river for raft construction.
Building a raft was an art in itself. Most hardwoods were “sinker” logs, so “floaters” such as poplar or ash were alternated in the raft, with large logs positioned in the front and the shorter logs in the back or stern and tied together with a perpendicular oak or hickory sapling about 6 inches in diameter. Holes were bored through this “whaler” at each log, and an 8-inch raft pin made of seasoned and hardened hickory was driven into the log below. The harder logs like oak required a metal chain with hooks on either end called a “chain dog.” Oars and poles, fore and aft, were used to guide the raft down the river.
The trips were dangerous and numbing, but Rich writes that at one time he had seen as many as 150 men and boys waiting at Eastport to make the trip. A trip from Eastport to Celina took at least two days rafting (it was too dangerous to raft at night) and a full day for the rafters to walk back home.
In the early 1900s the demand for railroad ties kept the market going until it slowly faded around 1920. The advent of roads and trucks ended the rafting.
With the River and Harbor Act of 1938 came plans for 11 dams along the Cumberland River for flood control, water storage and a cheap source of electricity. This was devastating to families who had built communities along the Obey and Wolf rivers. Graveyards had to be moved and in the case of Willow Grove, a whole town of more than 74 families was inundated. In 1943 Pickett County lost most of its best farmland and a quarter of its population when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Obey River, creating the Dale Hollow Reservoir.
The hardwood lumber industry still plays a role in the economy of Pickett County by adjusting to the needs of the market whether it be barrel staves, pallets, trusses or furniture. The moonshine making industry has nearly evaporated, and Dale Hollow Lake has turned into one of the top economic generators of Pickett County.

New Deal work programs leave mark on U.C. landscape

“The work programs of the New Deal provided income for hungry families, stimulus for a depressed economy and construction projects that have paid for themselves many times. Probably never has the tax money of the U.S. government been put to better use.”
– Dr. Calvin Dickinson

Dr. Calvin Dickinson
One of the first major objectives of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal program was to find jobs for workers.
Success of this objective would stifle unrest among unemployed persons by putting them to work and would stimulate the economy by putting money into circulation. It would also generate good will for the Democratic Party.
Civilian Conservation Corps [CCC] was the first employment program. Public Works Administration [PWA] was the second, and in 1935 the Works Progress Administration [WPA] combined all the employment programs. The WPA employed every type of worker from basic laborer to skilled artisan. Musicians, authors, artists and playwrights, as well as carpenters, electricians, plumbers and manual laborers, worked for the WPA. Critics of the program carped that “WPA" meant “We Poke Along," but the standing achievements of the agency are testimony to its accomplishments.
There was a national administration for the WPA led by President Roosevelt's controversial favorite Harry Hopkins, but each state operated its program. In Tennessee Col. Harry Berry, a World War I hero and very capable executive, was named administrator of the program.
Most of the state parks in the Upper Cumberland were originally work projects of the CCC, but when that organization was integrated into WPA in 1935 work on the parks continued and was completed. Pickett Park in Pickett County, Standing Stone Park (Overton), Cumberland Mountain Park (Cumberland) and Fall Creek Falls Park (Van Buren) were all work projects of the CCC and then of the WPA. Pickett, Standing Stone and Cumberland Mountain all had log cabins for tourist use. Fall Creek Falls was later developed in the 1970s into a luxury park with a golf course, restaurant, modern tourist lodging and cabin housing.
Sgt. Alvin York was at one time construction manager for Cumberland Mountain Park. School construction was a major emphasis of the WPA program in Tennessee. Statewide 123 new schools and 480 renovated schools were completed by the agency as of 1938. Classrooms, auditoriums, cafeterias, gymnasiums and athletic fields were included in the program. Textbooks and library collections were also financed by the WPA. Many of the smaller schools were frame, while the larger ones were usually brick and concrete.
The architectural styles of the new buildings were usually Colonial Revival, Classical Revival or a modern design. Liberty Elementary School in DeKalb County was constructed of locally quarried and shaped stone. Built in Colonial Revival style in an H-shape this distinctive school was later part of a National Historic Register District. Two other WPA schools were constructed in DeKalb County.
In Jamestown the agricultural building of the Alvin C. York Agricultural Institute was financed by the WPA in 1935. It was built from ashlar cut sandstone in a modified H-plan. The Alpine Institute School and gymnasium, successor to other schools in this small Overton County community, was constructed in 1935 in a H-design of Crab Orchard Stone. Three years later a gymnasium was added. WPA also constructed Oak Grove School in Overton County of Crab Orchard stone.
In Putnam County the New Deal constructed schools at Double Springs and Gentry. Tennessee Polytechnic Institute (now Tennessee Tech University) benefited with the construction of a football field, and the New Deal actually paid students to attend Tech and other state colleges. In Smith County the influence of U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull and U.S. Congressman Albert Gore Sr. secured federal monies for a new Art Deco-style high school and gymnasium in 1940.
Public buildings was another category of WPA construction in Tennessee. Several such structures, some still in use 70 years later, were built in the Upper Cumberland region. In Livingston the Bohannon Building was constructed in 1936. Using Crab Orchard stone and an Art Deco fa├žade, the structure provided space for retail businesses on the first floor and county offices on the second. On the other side of the square WPA built a new post office in the Colonial Revival style. The interior was decorated with a mural, “The Newcomers,” painted by New York artist Margaret Covey. Both of these buildings are still in use.
A new post office in Crossville, built in the same style, is now used for a museum, but its mural, “The Partnership of Man and Nature,” by Marion Greenwood, was moved to the new post office 50 years later. In Rockwood the WPA post office was highlighted by a ceramic sculpture by New York artist Christian Heinrich. It was called “Wild Life” and it depicted a family of deer at rest. This post office is still in use. The WPA post office in Sparta still stands, but its use has changed.
The largest and most radical New Deal project in the region was the Cumberland Homesteads settlement south of Crossville. Developed by the Department of the Interior, Homesteads was one of 100 such projects planned across the nation, most of which were never realized. The federal government purchased approximately 28,000 acres and moved 230 unemployed or underemployed families onto the Cumberland County land with its newly constructed houses and barns.
The work programs of the New Deal provided income for hungry families, stimulus for a depressed economy and construction projects that have paid for themselves many times. Probably never has the tax money of the U.S. government been put to better use.

Calvin Dickinson is professor emeritus of history at Tennessee Tech University, a member of the board of directors of the Tennessee Historical Commission and the author or co-author of nearly two dozen books on various historic topics. For additional photographs of WPA projects in the U.C. visit www. cbjlegacy.blogspot.com.

Business support has been integral to WCTE’s Great TV Auction for 25 years

Twenty-five years ago the staff of WCTE decided that holding a “Great TV Auction” on air would financially benefit the small public television station and help with normal operating expenses. The first auction was held at the Cookeville Drama Center and lasted for three days. Richard Castle, who was station manager at the time, had participated in auctions at other stations and knew it might be a great fundraiser. Becky Magura, who is now WCTE’s general manager, was a brand new employee and was chosen to spearhead the first auction. When 360 donated items brought in $23,440, it was a boost to the WCTE budget and deemed a success.
For the first auction donations came in from businesses, artists and others who appreciated having a public television station in the Upper Cumberland. Major donors that first year who continue to support WCTE to this day included the four big banks at that time – First Tennessee, Bank of Putnam County, First American and Citizens Bank – and businesses like Borden’s Jewelry and Deuel’s Creative Photography. The Tennessee Tech Athletic Department always donates game tickets and visits with the team. Other names on the first donor list include Bowling World, Cracker Barrel, Chris Koczwara, Laverne and Janet’s Jewelry and the YMCA.
The staff of WCTE, of course, could not have an auction without community and volunteer involvement. The phone bank, which now has to be manned eight nights, is usually underwritten by businesses that can provide enough volunteers to answer the 20 plus phones. Food is also vital to the auction, especially when phone bank and other volunteers are stuck in place for four to five hours. Many restaurants generously donate food for the volunteers, and most have donated for a number of years. Dairy Queen and Coca-Cola have provided drinks for all 25 years, and Foutch’s continues to donate coffee for volunteers.
Boards are underwritten by a variety of businesses desiring television exposure, and most notably, Chuck Johnson Garden Center has underwritten the popular “Firehouse Quickie Board” for all 25 years. Other companies come and go, some change names and some change owners, but most new owners continue to recognize the value of donating and supporting WCTE. This year the staff hopes that additional businesses will participate to mark the occasion of the auction’s 25th an
niversary. And as WCTE moves toward the FCC-mandated conversion to high-definition, the money raised by the auction continues to be vitally important.
For the first TV auction, the staff decided that incentives were needed to encourage overbids and to also encourage bidders to pick up their merchandise at the Cookeville Drama Center. Baskin Robbins and Letter Perfect signed up to donate sundaes and monograms the first year and continue to offer these perks today. Another loyal auction contributor is Jim
Crabtree of The Cumberland County Playhouse in Crossville. Tickets to his summer venues have always been a part of the Great TV Auction.
Another integral part of the auction is all the individual volunteers who have helped over the years. Early on Romola Drost and Lois Fronfelker of the Cumberland Art Society solicited art, displayed it in the society’s gallery for previewing during the month of May and joined other members of the society manning the art board during the auction. There have been a number of other volunteers over the years, some of which work all eight nights at the auction. It sometimes is a family affair.
According to Joyce Hunter, WCTE auction director for 17 years, more than 750 businesses and individuals donated merchandise and money to the 2006 event, which raised more than $100,000. Although the viewership for the auction has never been m
easured by a ratings system, the numbers of bids have been counted and many people participate. This year the staff of WCTE-TV will be interested to see how many Dish Network and DirecTV customers become auction bidders, since WCTE is now on Dish Network and DirecTV in the Nashville market.
The 25th anniv
ersary edition of the Great TV Auction is airing nightly beginning at 6:30 from May 31 to June 3 and from June 7-10 on WCTE.
Donna Castle, Pr
ogram Director/Promotion, WCTE-TV

Photo: WCTE archive
Noted Cookeville artist Chris Koczwara donated her painting “Blue Mist” to WCTE’s First Great TV Auction in 1983. Nobel Cody, then chairman of Tennessee Savings and Loan where the painting was displayed, was photographed with Koczwara and auction coordinator Becky Roberson (Magura) to publicize the fundraising event.

Attractions and museums strengthen tourism heritage industry in U.C.

Kacee Pennycuff Harris

As the words “heritage tourism” buzz across the travel industry, the Upper Cumberland is one step ahead of the game with many historic attractions drawing visitors from near and far. The attractions included in this article are not presented as a comprehensive list of the region’s historic attractions in the region. They’re merely a sampling of how the U.C. is finding the future of tourism in the past.
Fentress: World War I hero Sgt. Alvin C. York called Fentress County home and much of his legacy is still available for the curious visitor to explore. The gristmill that York ran upon his return from the war and his country home are open to the public.
Cannon: The Arts Center of Cannon County displays a wonderful assortment of white oak baskets and rocking chairs that played a large role in getting local residents through the Great Depression. These goods served as barter for those essentials that couldn’t be grown on the family farm.
Clay: The Dale Hollow National Fish Hatchery has been protecting the future of the U.C.’s aquatic life for 42 years in Clay County. By ensuring that waterways are healthy and full of native fish, the hatchery continues to play a role in sustaining water recreation in the region.
DeKalb: F. Z. Webb and Sons Drug Store has served downtown Smithville for almost 126 years. As the oldest family-owned drug store in Tennessee, this charming DeKalb County icon is a local and tourist favorite with its unique specialty gift shop, friendly service and hometown feel.
Macon: Visitors should not visit Macon County without visiting the historic trio of hotels in Red Boiling Springs. The town gushes with history just like the healing sulfur waters that made it a health resort Mecca in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Visitors can watch a documentary on the history of the resort boom at the Donoho or see a play at the Thomas.
Cumberland: Cumberland County is home to the Homesteads Tower Museum. Built in the late 1930s as part of the program to help rural folks survive the Depression, the stone tower was the administrative center of the 250-plus farms that made up the Cumberland Homesteads. Brave visitors may climb the 97 winding steps to enjoy the view.
Bonus stops: War Museum, Crossville; POW Camp, Pomona
Jackson: Stepping onto Clover Street in the historic riverbank town of Granville in Jackson County is a trip back in time. The true gem is the Granville Museum with racks of family history waiting to be discovered. An historic attraction himself, be sure to speak to the curator, Mr. Joe.
Bonus stop: Courthouse Third Floor History Museum
Overton: The Governor A.H. Roberts Law Office in Livingston preserves the history of the Overton County native that served as Tennessee’s governor from 1919-1921. His term dealt with issues like Prohibition and women’s suffrage, making this mini-museum an interesting stop.
Bonus stop: Overton’s new history museum
Pickett: The U.C. pays homage to another hometown legend at the Cordell Hull Birthplace in Byrdstown. Visitors can see where the “Father of the United Nations” was born and raised while browsing a wide collection of artifacts and historic items.
Putnam: It’s all aboard for a fun history lesson at the Cookeville Depot Museum. Built in 1909 by the Tennessee Central Railroad Company, the depot has model trains and exhibits that illustrate the impact the railroad had on our economy and history. Kids of all ages can climb aboard the steam locomotive and two cabooses located on site.
Bonus stop: Putnam County History Museum
Smith: The Smith County Heritage Museum is a hidden treasure for history buffs, featuring fascinating exhibits on agriculture, industry, the Civil War and everyday living in the past. A special exhibit on the county’s Century Farms garnered the new museum its first statewide award from the Tennessee Association of Museums.
Trousdale: The Hartsville Battlefield in Trousdale County serves as a reminder of the region’s role in the Civil War. Visitors can overlook the battlefield and graveyard. A monument stands to honor the fallen soldiers.
Bonus stop: Hartsville Depot Museum; Pioneer Village
Van Buren: Van Buren County hosted the first coeducational college in the South. Burritt College, founded in 1848, closed briefly during the Civil War to house Union troops. Today, visitors can visit the old campus where there’s the original entrance archway and a historical marker.
Bonus stop: Gilbert Gaul Homestead in Fall Creek Falls State Park
Warren: Cumberland Caverns in Warren County offers visitors an up close view of saltpeter mining operations from 1812. This National Natural Landmark is Tennessee’s largest show cave and boasts some of the largest underground rooms in the eastern United States.
White: A few miles east of Sparta sits an old building that served as a stagecoach stop and an early American Frontier home. The Rock House Shrine, built in 1835, sits along the old Wilderness Road that led travelers to broader horizons in the West and back.
Bonus stop: John White house, Fairgrounds, Sparta

Kacee Pennycuff Harris is executive director of the Upper Cumberland Tourism Association. To learn more about these historic attractions and others, visit www.uppercumberland.org and click “News Room.”

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Banking historically an important industry in U.C.

by Claudia Johnson, editor
Cumberland Business Journal

The oldest continuously operating bank in the Upper Cumberland appears to be First National Bank (of McMinnville), established in 1874 by Warren County native William H. Magness. However, there are a number of other 19th and early 20th century banks that have survived depressions, recessions, mergers and a plethora of changes in the region’s financial climate.
In 1807 the Bank of Nashville was the first state bank established in Tennessee, operating until its failure in 1819. Two more attempts at establishment of a state bank failed, but in 1838 eight branches were created by an act of the Tennessee legislature, one of which opened in 1840 in Sparta. Although it survived the Civil War, the Sparta branch closed in 1866 along with all the state banks in Tennessee. No other banks organized in White County until January 1885 when the Bank of Sparta was chartered, bolstered by coal mining and the success of the railroad. Soon shareholders wanted a connection with the national bank, and in December 1886 the First National Bank opened. The bank operated until the late 1980s when it merged to become part of Dominion Bank, the first in a number of mergers.
Bank of Hartsville was established on April 21, 1884, and has undergone several name changes, including Community First, AmSouth and currently Peoples State Bank of Commerce. Another old Trousdale County bank, The Citizens Bank (Hartsville), celebrated its 100th year in 2006.
Jackson Bank & Trust began as the Bank of Whitleyville in 1916. On Aug. 31, 1933, the Bank of Whitleyville changed its name to the Jackson County Bank and opened its main office in Gainesboro. On Dec. 20, 1934, Jackson County Bank purchased Security Bank & Trust Company of Gainesboro. In July 1995 Jackson County Bank changed its name to Jackson Bank & Trust, preparing the bank for expansion into Putnam County.
Red Boiling Springs Bank opened July 1, 1919, with a paid-in-capital of $12,500 and 56 stockholders. During the construction of the branch in Lafayette, which opened in 1965, the name of the bank was changed to Macon Bank & Trust Company. In October 2001 Macon Bank acquired a branch office of Union Planters Bank in Celina.
Citizens Bank (Lafayette) was organized under state charter on April 10, 1909, and incorporated for $12,000. There were 83 original stockholders who each purchased $100 or $200 worth of stock. A Red Boiling Springs branch opened in 1977. In 1987 a branch was opened in the Siloam Community but was moved to Westmoreland in 1994. In 1986 the stockholders voted to form a one-bank holding company, Citizens Bancorp, which purchased the stock of Dale Hollow Holding Company. Dale Hollow Holding Company owned all of the stock of the Bank of Celina, and the two banks merged in 1987. In August 1993 Citizens Bancorp purchased the assets and liabilities of Smith County Bank from SunTrust Bank of Nashville.
Citizens Bancorp purchased the majority interest in Liberty State Bank, DeKalb County's oldest bank, in July 1999. Liberty State Bank traces its origin to the Bank of Liberty, formed in 1898 by A. E. Potter, the father of the late J. Edward Potter, founder of Commerce Union Bank of Nashville. In 1918 the Bank of Liberty and American Savings Bank merged into Liberty Savings Bank, which remained open during the Great Depression. Edgar Evins, father of Congressman Joe L. Evins, obtained an interest in the bank, with the family leading it until April 1969 when J. Roy Wauford, Jr. acquired the Evins' interest. At that time, the total assets of the bank were slightly more than $1.3 million. In February 1973 the name was changed to Liberty State Bank and in November 1973 the first branch opened in Alexandria. In March of 1982 First National Bank of Lebanon was acquired by Liberty State Bank. Current assets are in excess of $96 million.
Early Putnam County banks were the Bank of Cookeville, which operated from 1890-1910, Peoples Bank (1906-1911) and The Cookeville Bank (1911-1914). Farmers State Bank was organized in 1910 but never opened. The Bank of Algood existed from 1910-1930. Baxter Bank and Trust Company operated from 1906-1932. Bank of Buffalo Valley survived from 1912 until 1926. Buffalo Bank organized in 1919 but did not open. At some time in the 1920s the Bank of Monterey had a branch near Wilder in Fentress County called the Bank of Laurel. Union Bank and Trust Company was formed in 1922 and merged into Bank of Monterey in 1931.
The oldest surviving bank in Putnam County originated as Bank of Monterey in 1901. In 1976 it merged with Bank of Cookeville (established 1968) and became Bank of Putnam County. First National Bank of Cookeville (established 1910) became part of First Tennessee in 1972. Citizens Bank (established 1914) was acquired by Union Planters (now Regions Bank) in the 1980s. Those three were the only banks to survive the 1930s depression and were the only banks in the county from the 1930s until 1968.
James W. Dorton founded First National Bank of Crossville in 1900. When he died at the onset of the depression, his son Moses E. Dorton was only 20 years old, rendering him legally underage to operate a bank. Special legislation declared him legally of age, and the youngest bank president in the state continued in his position for 55 years. Four generations of the Dorton family were at the helm of the bank during its existence. It was the only bank in Cumberland County for six decades. In 1960 Highland Savings and Loan and Cumberland County Bank (now part of Bank of Putnam County) opened. First National Bank of Crossville sold in 1987 to Union Planters but continued to operate under its own name and charter until 2000, when it finally adopted the Union Planters name.
Jamestown’s Union Bank was established in 1933, the result of a merger by Bank of Jamestown (1904) and Farmer’s Bank (1922). Currently the bank employs 45, has resources in excess of $153 million and operates a main office in Jamestown, a branch in Clarkrange and mortgage offices in two locations.
Citizens Bank (Carthage) opened in Oct. 26, 1929, and the stock market crashed three days later. But the bank survived the Depression, has expanded with nine offices in Smith, White and Putnam counties, has never merged and remains the largest independent bank in its service areas with $450 million in assets and a capital of $65 million, according to W. G. Birdwell Jr., whose father, Walter Birdwell, Sr., organized the bank with 59 original stockholders and original capitalization of $30,000.
Overton County’s oldest bank, Union Bank & Trust Company, was chartered on Oct. 25, 1932, and formed by the uniting of Old Farmer's Bank and Citizen's Bank with capital stock of $50,000.
In Cannon County both Braxton and Gassaway had early banks, neither of which remain. The first bank organized in Cannon County appears to be the Bank of Woodbury, which opened Feb. 11, 1888. It was purchased by local investors in 1941 and the name changed to Bank of Commerce. Later it was purchased by Union Planters Bank who recently sold to Regions Bank who currently operates it today.
Van Buren Bank in Spencer began circa 1906 with D. L. Haston owning 50 percent of the shares.

Author's note: The information contained in this article was provided by various individuals throughout the Upper Cumberland at the request of the CBJ. According to CBJ research, no comprehensive history of early U.C. banks exists, and this Legacy series installment is not presented as such.

York Institute—A Legacy in Distress

by Dr. Michael Birdwell
Known as the greatest hero of World War I, Alvin C. York avoided profiting from his war record, choosing, instead to give something back to his nation and his home state. (On 8 October 1918, Corporal Alvin Cullum York and sixteen other men under the command of Sergeants Harry Parsons and Bernard Early were dispatched to capture the Decauville railroad near Chatel-Chehery in the Meuse-Argonne. After a brief firefight [nine Americans died in the melee] the confused Germans surrendered to what they believed to be a superior force. In all 132 Germans were captured and delivered to U.S. Army headquarters by the seven survivors led by Corporal York. The army singled out York as the hero of World War I and presented him with the Congressional Medal of Honor.) Upon his return to the United States, York found himself being wooed by Hollywood, Broadway, and various sponsors who clamored for his endorsement. York turned his back on quick and certain fortune in 1919, and went home to Tennessee to resume private life and pursue a dream that consumed the rest of his life.
The story of York Institute is one filled with triumph and tragedy, and deserves greater circulation. When Alvin York responded to his draft notice, he typified the underprivileged, undereducated conscript who traveled to France to "keep the world safe for democracy." Possessing what he called a third grade education--a subscription school education which amounted to only nine months’ total schooling over three years--York discovered a larger world beyond his ken in the army. Before leaving for Camp Gordon, Georgia, and beyond, York’s world consisted of the area within a one-hundred mile radius of his home (the furthest he had been from home, had been Albany, Kentucky to the north, Celina to the west, Jamestown to the south, and Harriman, to the east where he boarded the train bound for Atlanta, and basic training).

The war introduced him to a progressive, mechanized, industrial world, and prolonged exposure to it made him realize the important contributions education could make for his friends and relatives at home. Literally a stranger in a strange land, York recognized that he was ill‑equipped to fully understand or appreciate his foreign surroundings. Initially, he immersed himself in the Bible, hoping that his simple religious faith would see him through, but by the war’s end he longed for something more than just his faith.
Largely unknown to most Americans, and, sadly, many Tennesseans, was the fact that York returned to America with a single vision. He wanted to provide a practical educational opportunity for the mountain children of Tennessee. Understanding that to prosper in the modern world, people needed an education, York sought to drag Fentress County into the twentieth century. Thousands of like-minded veterans returned from France with similar sentiments and, as a result, high school and college enrollments shot up immediately after the war.
The very thought of this barely literate veteran launching a campaign for education was fraught with difficulty, for it struck most of Fentress county’s political and social leaders as ludicrous that York could build and administer a school. Possessing no background in education or administration, his intentions, though noble, struck them as absurd because his ability to evaluate instructors, curricula, textbooks, and administration was nearly non‑existent. While regarded as a hero across America, at home York was seen as a threat to the county’s Republican party political structure. Celebrity made it possible for the Sergeant to express his desire for education to the world at large but gave him little clout when dealing with the old guard Fentress County elite.
As early as 1920 York formed a non-profit organization, the York Foundation, and embarked on a series of speaking tours on its behalf. Just as he had no experience as an educator or administrator, he had no background as a public speaker or in fund-raising. Though both initially hampered his progress, York learned how to be effective as a speaker and an educator. Undaunted, he intended to provide the boys and girls of his native region with "liberating influences and educational advantages which were denied me."

His vision was not limited to the education of children from the remote Cumberland plateau region; he wanted to include interested adults as well. He set a tremendous example, for he reminded them when he spoke, of his own former limitations, but that by reading, thinking, and asking questions, he broadened his own understanding of the world. He hired a private tutor, Arthur S. Bushing, who played a crucial role in improving York’s education. A pamphlet issued in 1926 stated, ". . .it will be the aim of the Institute to afford an opportunity for mature men and women to get an education, regardless of how backward they may be, and also to send out only such graduates as are prepared to succeed in the work they have chosen to do." York realized that one is never to old to learn something new, and led by example.
As genuine as York’s mission was to reporters of the New York Times and other media organs, in Tennessee he encountered raised eyebrows, guffaws, and outright hostility. Parents eking out a living in rural areas needed their children to work on the farms since few families could afford to hire labor. They depended on their children to help plant crops, milk cows, slop hogs, and carry out all the other daily chores that made farm life. York’s proposal for a mandatory eight‑month school term angered a host of local farmers who perceived education as frivolous, impractical, and a waste of hard-earned money.
In 1925 the York Foundation drafted plans and proposed a site for the school one mile north of Jamestown near the newly constructed Highway 127. Taking the $12,000 he had raised on speaking tours, York purchased 400 acres, including the Poor House. (It housed students and classes while the new building was being constructed.) York called a national press conference and held a ground breaking ceremony on May 8, 1926, at the Poor House site before a crowd of 2,000, though Governor Austin Peay was conspicuous in his absence. The first students enrolled at York Institute began taking classes in the fall of 1925.
On Sunday January 16, 1927, the Nashville Banner announced the launching of a $100,000 fund-raising effort to insure York Institute’s completion. Supported by the recently organized American Legion, each post promised that it would deliver one dollar per member. University of Tennessee president H.A. Morgan pledged his unwavering support as well.
Pursuing his goal of improving the education of Tennessee’s youth never proved easy. York’s enemies launched a counter-attack to his ground breaking event, and were intent on humiliating him. They concluded that York, by holding classes in the old Poor House, was guilty of trespassing. Classes continued and construction on the new school neared completion. As construction continued, the state legislature passed the mandatory education bill of 1925, further insuring the success of York’s school. That legislation insulted many people in the county, for it stipulated that in order to teach in Tennessee public schools, teachers had to be certified and have degrees from one of the state’s normal schools. No one in Fentress County was qualified under the new rules, and the first teachers employed at York Institute came from outside the region, with degrees from Peabody Normal College in Nashville. Viewed with suspicion and outsiders, their presence added to the growing hostility against York and his dream for better and mandatory education of Tennessee’s children.
Attorney L.A. Ligon investigated classes being taught at the Poor House for the county, deeming York’s action as "unwarranted, unauthorized and illegal." The County Board of Education, served York notice to vacate the premises by July 11, 1927, or be forcibly evicted. At 5:15 on Saturday, July 9, 1927, York received the summons. York referred the matter to his attorney, focused his attention upon raising money, rallied supporters to his side, and hit the road again. For the first time in his public speaking career, York discussed his war record to insure that he would play to packed houses and garner much needed funds to continue his fight.
Encountering foreigners and people of other faiths for the first time in the military, York told audiences that his time int the service opened his eyes to an entirely new and exciting world. As he sailed to Europe it occurred to him that he was beginning to understand fellow soldiers who were Greek, Italians and Jews, who were “smart soldiers and pretty good pals too." As he concluded, York said he survived war and achieved fame because he had been chosen to perform a specific mission:
When I went out into that big outside world I realized how uneducated I was and what a terrible handicap it was. I was called to lead my people toward a sensible modern education. For years I have been planning and fighting to build the school. And it has been a terrible fight. A much more terrible fight than the one that I fought in the war. And so I head into the frontline and fight another fight. And I can’t use the old rifle or Colt automatic this time. And it has been a long hard fight.
York, by this time, was an accomplished, entertaining speaker, and by finally giving the public what it wanted--exciting war stories--he played to packed houses everywhere. Though he enticed the crowds with the recreation of his role in the battle on October 8, 1918, he always ended with a plea for support of York Institute. Unfortunately, the speaking tour proved lucrative and costly at the same time. Though pledges came in supporting the mission, York’s political capital at home continued to plummet. Local papers blistered York while praising his enemies. Articles argued that the children of Fentress County, would be endangered by York’s personal ambitions.
York continued speaking engagements throughout 1927 and 1928. New Englanders provided the majority of the financial commitment as well as the greatest interest in his endeavor. On Armistice Day he spoke to a packed audience at Carnegie Hall in New York about the importance of his work and the benighted souls who stood in his way back home, comparing the Fentress county elite to a pair of mules working against each other. His appeal to outsiders, especially northerners, further alienated York’s support at home.
After a protracted series of legal challenges, York opened the new school in the fall of 1929
The school’s opening coincided with the onset of the Great Depression, and in 1931 the state ended all appropriations for bus transportation, effectively crippling the struggling Institute. The very nature of the school‑‑a mountain school where children could come for a free education‑‑required buses. York went before the County Court and asked for help; the Court refused.
On two occasions, first in 1931 and then later in 1935, York secured a mortgage on his farm from his political enemy and banker, W. L. Wright--to hire drivers, buy buses, and even pay teachers’ salaries. This was true heroism, endangering the fate of his family to ensure that the school stay in operation. As the Depression worsened Wright badgered York, ultimately declaring him delinquent in his business transactions, and moved to foreclose on his farm. Had it not been for his longtime friend and neighbor, Susie Williams, York would have lost his farm, for she twice loaned him the money necessary to pay off his note.
Far from crediting York for his selfless efforts, the state never reimbursed York for his altruism. Rather, he was criticized for his behavior which led to a fact‑finding investigation in 1933, that resulted in York’s eventual removal from the school in 1937. The investigating committee recognized that York was the driving force behind the school and feared its demise if he were removed from the picture. They also acknowledged that if the school were turned over to Fentress County, the situation would be worse. As a result the state of Tennessee assumed control of the school and assumed operation of York Institute. They removed York as the school’s administrator, but named him "president emeritus," because he did not have a college degree. The title which recognized him as the school’s founder but stripped him of any power.
In spite of his loss of position, York continued to promote York Institute, raising private donations for expansion of the school facilities and, when possible, contributing his own money. Legislation forced the state to have a vested interest in its success and York’s dream of free education for Tennessee’s mountain children at last became a reality. He presided over every graduation ceremony until his stroke in 1948, but continued to make regular visits to the school up into the late 1950s, until he grew too frail.
York fought valiantly in a war waged not on distant battlefields in France, but on his own doorstep. Because his tenure in the military made him painfully aware of his intellectual limitations, York dedicated the remainder of his life to the improvement of education—his own, and his region’s. York Agricultural and Industrial Institute, north of Jamestown, stands as a monument to his embattled dream. Yet the condition of the building that he helped build, digging its foundation by hand, and overseeing every aspect of its construction, now stands in near ruin. Though it should be a lasting tribute to his hard work and dedication to assist the citizens of the state he loved, it is now on the brink of collapse. York lost many battles over the course of the war to build York Institute and make it viable. Though he lost control of the school in 1937, he continued to be its biggest booster, and dedicated his life to its success. Because of his vision, thousands of students have benefited from his largess. Eyes have been opened and imaginations given flight by his dream made reality. Thousands of York Institute graduates went on to become leaders of industry, bankers, lawyers, and educators.
The sorry state of York Institute’s original building is shameful. The foundation he helped dig, and walls he helped build remain solid, though bricks are falling from its facade . Glass remains in few windows, and birds nest in the building’s rafters. Alvin York, when asked “How do you want to be remembered?,” always replied, “For improving education in Tennessee.” The building which should be a monument to that achievement, now sits as a derelict shell of what it should be. Tennesseans should step up and help save the symbol of its greatest 20th Century hero’s life’s work.

Michael E. Birdwell, PhD, is Associate Professor of History at Tennessee Technological University and Archivist of Alvin C. York’s papers


by Richard C. Finch, PhD
Historian Will Durant said it best: “Civilization exists by geological consent….subject to change without notice.” The Overton county town of Wilder exemplifies Durant’s aphorism: once a thriving coal-mining town, it has now completely disappeared. Yes, all human society is dependent on natural-- and essentially geologic—resources: water, minerals and stone, soil, and energy. We tend to forget this, perhaps because a Cookeville resident can buy fresh produce from California, a Crossville dweller can buy cheap clothing made in Indonesia, folks from Gainesboro can buy wine from Chile, a citizen of Red Boiling Springs can buy a car from Korea, and everyone everywhere can go to “big box” stores to buy cheap Chinese gadgets.

It is true we are no longer as dependent on our own, local natural resources as were our forebears. But even if we are currently using up vast quantities of someone else’s natural resources (and this may well prove to be an anomalous blip in the course of human history), we are still just as dependent as ever on having access to these basic natural resources: water for drinking, farming, transportation, hydroelectric power, and many industrial processes; soil for growing food and forests for timber; minerals for the manufacture of countless thousands of useful items; stone for construction; coal, oil, gas, uranium and other geologic resources for energy. And if you don’t consider wind and solar energy “geologic,” you still cannot capture and use their energy without devices made from minerals!

The Upper Cumberland region, blessed with abundant springs, streams and fertile (though generally small) valley bottoms developed as a rural agrarian area. Beyond the use of streams and soils, the uses of more obviously geologic resources were very limited through the 19th century. Stone was quarried for local construction purposes. Nitrate-rich earth was mined from caves in the Upper Cumberland to make saltpetre for black powder. Coal was mined in Fentress County as early as 1850, and oil wells drilled on Spring Creek in Putnam County as early as 1866. But the region’s industrial development and large-scale production of geologic resources was largely held back until the coming of the railroads, such as the Tennessee Central in 1890. The Upper Cumberland remained primarily agrarian into the early 20th century.

The 20th century saw industrial development and large-scale exploitation of geologic resources in the Upper Cumberland, primarily coal and oil, and to a lesser degree, natural gas. Tennessee coal production topped seven million tons annually in the ‘teens, and the state was still producing that amount up until 1978, with the Upper Cumberland contributing to the total. However, by 2005 statewide production had declined to 3.2 million tons, with merely 80,000 coming from the only three mines remaining active in the Upper Cumberland.

Although Tennessee, especially the Upper Cumberland region, was an early producer of petroleum, it has never been a major player nationally in oil and gas, with a total cumulative production for the state at just 20.6 million barrels. State production reached an all time high of one million barrels statewide in 1982, but by 2005 production had dropped to less than a third of this peak. Five Upper Cumberland counties accounted for 62% of the state’s total, but the general trend in production has been downward. The region’s production of natural gas is much smaller, with only two counties producing in 2005, making up only 2% of the state’s total.

Rock and mineral resources that have seen commercial production in the Upper Cumberland include dimension stone, crushed stone, sand, clay, and sphalerite. In Cumberland County colorful banded sandstone, known commercially as “Crab Orchard stone”, has achieved regional fame as a building stone. Crushed stone, primarily limestone for building and agricultural purposes, is mined in many localities and used locally as well as exported from our region. A number of sand quarries are in operation in Putnam and Cumberland counties. Clay has been used from time to time in local pottery manufacture. Sphalerite, the primary ore for zinc metal, was mined in several major mines in Smith County during the 1970s-80s. They were long abandoned due to low zinc prices worldwide. However, one mine has announced plans to reopen.

In sum, although the Upper Cumberland region continues to be a producer of geologic resources, the contributions of these natural resources to the regional economy today is generally declining and it seems doubtful that the traditional extractive resource industries will ever again form a major part of the region’s economic and employment picture.

What is the outlook for the future role of natural resources in the economy of the Upper Cumberland? Can the region’s economy take advantage of our natural resources in some manner other than by extractive industries? Yes, indeed we can. Our soils are still productive, our mountains still grow fine timber. And the geologic scenery of the Upper Cumberland region is spectacularly attractive…where it has not been marred by extractive industries or poorly planned development.

The Upper Cumberland abounds with recreational lakes, scenic and whitewater rivers, impressive canyons, waterfalls, natural bridges, caves, cliffs for rock climbers, and beautiful forested mountains and valleys. These scenic natural resources –mainly geologic features— draw many tourists to our area.

Statewide, the tourism industry is an 11.4 billion dollar industry; Tennessee is the 11th most visited state in the US. The Upper Cumberland region has state parks and wildlife preserves, resorts and bed-and-breakfast inns, and many historic and attractive small communities (and communities which could be attractive if an effort were made to make them so). But are we making full advantage of our scenic resources? Are we fully promoting the existing developed scenic attractions? Are we taking adequate steps to preserve and protect our scenic resources, both developed and undeveloped?

Unfortunately, not only are we not doing enough to promote the growth of tourism in our region, we are failing to protect potential tourist attractions. Fanchers Falls, one of the most spectacular sets of waterfalls—six or more falls—in our region, and wild when I first saw it, has been despoiled in recent years by the building of private homes right up to the edge of the cliffs overlooking the main 110-foot high falls. Just last year the land on one side of Cummins Falls, long a popular local attraction and swimming hole, was sold to a developer and subdivided. Both of these lovely areas could have been preserved as attractions to draw in tourism dollars to the benefit of our regional community, but now are lost to private developers. One of the most spectacular properties in all of Tennessee, the Head of Sequatchie is currently for sale by a land company that is advertising nationally. This particular area of great scenic, historic, and cultural value is truly a state park quality resource. Will it wind up contributing to the pleasure and economy of our region’s people, or merely the playground of a wealthy individual from out-of-state?

The same scenic resources that draw tourists to our region also make the Upper Cumberland highly attractive to retirees as permanent residents (e.g., Fairfield Glade, Tansi and Cumberland Cove communities in Cumberland and Putnam counties). In the newer Cumberland Lakes development 647 lots have been sold and some 40 homes built already, with an average value reported at $200,000 - $300,000, i.e., an investment of over $8,000,000 in the local economy.

Unfortunately, a portion of the Cumberland Lakes lots and homes are now threatened by the proposed opening of a new sand quarry adjacent to the retirement community. Here we have an example of incompatible land usage. The new quarry, representing a $3.5 million dollar investment that will generate 13 jobs, jeopardizes a larger actual investment in residential homes and a far larger potential investment in the economy of the Upper Cumberland.

Development, be it resource extraction, road building, housing subdivisions, or whatever, needs to be done in the context of what is good for our region as a whole. Proposed land usage needs to be compatible with existing usage. It makes no sense to open a quarry that will employ only a dozen people if that quarry is located where it will endanger the homes and investments of hundreds of people. The preservation of our scenic natural resources for the enjoyment of the people of our region, as well as for the region’s economy, needs to take a high priority in private and public planning; business and political leaders of the region have to work together to avoid such incompatible land uses.

The scenic natural resources of the Upper Cumberland can contribute much more than they already do to our regional economy, but only if we properly promote our existing facilities at developed attractions. If we take effective steps now to prevent the further loss of existing scenic attractions such as Fanchers and Cummins falls or the Head of Sequatchie, we can significantly grow our tourism industry in the future

Dr. Richard Finch is a retired Professor of Geology from Tennessee Technological University.

Legacy: A cultural retrospective

by Randal D. Williams

The Upper Cumberland region of Tennessee is poised for unprecedented economic growth and concomitant cultural changes and opportunities. Once the epitome of bucolic isolation, the Upper Cumberland is rapidly becoming a top-rated retirement and recreation area, while maintaining more traditional farming and manufacturing bases.
As citizens of this burgeoning region, we owe it to ourselves to understand the cultural milieu from which it developed, in order to better understand where we are now and where the future may take us. Examining the cultural and economic past of the Upper Cumberland will help all of us better understand and appreciate our unique region, especially those who are new to the area.
The Upper Cumberland region takes its name from the Cumberland River and refers to the navigable portion of the river between Carthage and Burnside, Ky. The name was given to this portion of the river by steamboat personnel of the 1820s. Surveyor and explorer Dr. Thomas Walker of Virginia named the river in 1750 in honor of the English Duke of Cumberland, who had defeated the Scottish forces of “Bonnie Prince Charlie” at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. The Upper Cumberland area is sometimes incorrectly referred to as the Upper “Cumberlands,” as if the region were named for the plateau or mountains rather than the river.
The Upper Cumberland lies mainly within the Cumberland Plateau and Eastern Highland Rim physiographic provinces, although extreme western sections fall within the Central Basin. These landforms are responsible for the Upper Cumberland’s dissected, hilly appearance.
The physical features of the Upper Cumberland were in large part responsible for shaping the cultural identity of the area and aligning it with the Appalachian highlands to the east rather than the plantation culture of the Central Basin. The highly dissected uplands and mountain areas of the Upper Cumberland were not suitable for large-scale, labor-intensive agriculture, which in the antebellum period relied on slave labor. As a result of this, the Upper Cumberland’s minority population has remained relatively small.
The Upper Cumberland was initially settled in an east-west pattern due to the difficulty of traversing the eastern escarpment of the Cumberland Plateau. Settlers followed easier inland and water routes into central Tennessee and worked their way into the Upper Cumberland from the west, where the terrain was much easier to negotiate. The land had been home to Native American groups for thousands of years, and during the historic period had served as a communal hunting ground for several tribal groups, although the entire territory was claimed by the Cherokee.
The first European settlers of the region were mainly English, Welsh, Ulster Scots and Germans, who began to enter the region in large numbers after the signing of the Third Treaty of Tellico in 1805 in which the Cherokee Indians relinquished all claims to lands in the Upper Cumberland. Roads were built to facilitate settlement and commerce. Chief among them were Walton Road, Kentucky Stock Road, Fisk Road and others.
As the Upper Cumberland was settled, communities began to develop throughout the region and subsistence farming was the principal industry of the area. Crops such as corn, wheat, rye and oats were grown, livestock was kept and the abundant natural resources of the area were exploited. In time timber, tobacco, small-scale coal mining, pottery and other industries based around the natural resources of the region became important to the economy of the Upper Cumberland. The settlers who entered this isolated area quickly developed an individualized, self-sufficient culture, which remained largely unchanged until the 20th century.
The coming of the Tennessee Central Railroad in 1890 opened the Upper Cumberland in ways that would not have been possible prior to that time. Manufacturing concerns began to move into the region, better roads were developed and new schools were established, including Dixie College, the forerunner of Tennessee Tech University.
By the 1930s the Tennessee Valley Authority had brought electricity to the Upper Cumberland, allowing for further development of the region. By the 1960s with the completion of Interstate 40, the economic and cultural transformation of the Upper Cumberland had begun in earnest at a pace that has continued until the present.
Today, the Upper Cumberland is no longer an isolated, cultural backwater. People are moving into the region from many different places to take advantage of the cultural and economic resources of the area, and the quality of life experienced in the Upper Cumberland is a powerful calling card.
Traditional ways are being augmented and altered by new approaches, but the Upper Cumberland maintains its fundamental cultural identity, which is its strongest selling point, and one that should be preserved and strengthened in order for the region to grow into the future.

Randal D. Williams is Historic Preservation Planner for the Upper Cumberland Development District.