Fentress County

The county was established in 1823 from Morgan, Overton, and White counties and is named in honor of James Fentress.

Historical Narrative

Continuing along SR 52, the Cumberland Historic Byway enters Fentress County through the southernmost leg of the Big South Fork National River and Recreational Area. Fentress County also marks the easternmost portion of the middle division of Tennessee’s three Grand Divisions. The county was established in 1823 from Morgan, Overton, and White Counties and is named in honor of James Fentress (1763-1843), who served as speaker of the state house, and encompasses an area of approximately 500 square miles on the Cumberland Plateau. The county’s gently rolling landscape is crossed by the Wolf, Obey, Clear Fork, and Clear Creek Rivers, with the valley known as the Three Forks of the Wolf River being the most fertile lands in the county. Fentress County is also characterized by its numerous caves, two of which were mined for saltpeter (potassium nitrate) to manufacture gun powder during the Civil War: Saltpeter Cave, located four miles west of Allardt, and Buffalo Cave, situated one mile northeast of Helena.

Fentress County contains eight properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places: Allardt Historic District, Allardt Presbyterian Church, Alvin C. York Agricultural Institute, Alvin York Historic District, Gernt Office, Bruno Gernt House, Old Fentress County Jail, and Youngs Historic District. The county also includes one National Historic Landmark, the Alvin C. York Farm. In addition, 261 architectural resources are located within the one-mile buffer of the Scenic Byway. These resources were originally surveyed by Tennessee Tech University in 1991. 

Tennessee Historical Commission historical markers located along the route include:

1. Alvin C. York – The marker is located on US 127 in Jamestown and describes the exploits of Alvin C. York and post-war contributions to Fentress County.

2. Mark Twain Spring – Located on North Main Street in Jamestown, this marker identifies a spring that early settlers used as a source of drinking water. The marker mentions that Mark Twains’ parents lived in Jamestown between 1827 and 1832 before moving to Missouri in 1835.

Located on SR 52 and Base Line Road, the Allardt Historic District was listed on the National Register in 1991 for its architectural significance. Overall, the district contains the most intact collection of late nineteenth and early twentieth century vernacular architecture in the area. The historic district includes eleven contributing buildings and their outbuildings that represent the district’s period of significance from 1881 to 1930. Prevailing architectural styles exhibited in the district include homes designed in the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles. In addition, the district features many traditional L-plan houses. The Allardt Historic District also includes the house of Allardt founder, Bruno Gernt.

The Bruno Gernt House was listed on the National Register in 1987 for its historical association with Allardt’s founder, Bruno Gernt. Born in Dresden, Germany, in 1851, Gernt emigrated to the United States in the mid-1870s as the spokesperson for a German colonization group. Gernt initially established the settlement of Saxonia in Sanilac County, Michigan, before moving south to Tennessee. According to local tradition, Gernt received the inspiration for starting a new settlement in Tennessee following a visit to the Rugby Colony is nearby Morgan County. Soon afterward, Gernt became the land agent for Cyrus and James N. Clarke of Nebraska who held title to large tracts of land in the Cumberland Plateau region. As land agent, Gernt promoted settlement of the area and the exploitation of its natural resources. Through Gernt’s efforts, he helped settlers finance the purchase of land in the area that eventually developed into the town of Allardt.

Another National Register-listed property linked with Bruno Gernt is the Gernt Office, which was listed on the National Register in 1991 for its association with Allardt’s commerce history and for its association with Bruno Gernt. Constructed ca. 1898 by Emil Steinert, the building served as Gernt’s business office, where he managed the land sales responsible for the development of the town of Allardt. Following Gernt’s death in 1932, the building continued to be used for commercial purposes by decedents of the Gernt family until the early 1970s.

The National Register-listed Allardt Presbyterian Church is recognized for its local significance in the areas of social history and architecture. Completed in 1903, the church is associated with the region’s German heritage, as it was designed by Max Colditz and constructed by Otto Basese, Emil Steinert, and Andrew Lake. Architecturally, the church is an excellent example of a Gothic Revival influenced church, which features detailed interior woodwork similar to that found in the NRHP-listed Gernt House and Gernt Office Building.

The town of Allardt also includes the Youngs Historic District, which was listed on the National Register in 1991 for its association with the historical development of Allardt. In addition, the district is architecturally significant for its collection of commercial and residential buildings that were constructed between 1903 and 1925. Prevailing architectural designs exhibited in the district include twentieth century commercial vernacular, bungalows, and Four Square style residences. The Youngs Historic District features two businesses that were originally owned by Joseph Youngs, a prominent Allardt business man during the early twentieth century.

The Cumberland Historic Byway turns north at Jamestown onto US 127 / SR 28. Here, at the county seat of Jamestown, is located the Old Fentress County Jail, which was listed on the National Register in 1984 for its architectural and historical significance. Architecturally, the building represents one of the oldest examples of the use of quarry-faced sandstone as a primary building material. Historically, the Old Fentress County Jail is the oldest public building in Fentress County, replacing a small log structure built in 1827 that served a similar function. Constructed in 1898, the jail served the needs of the county’s penal system from 1898 to 1979.

Nine miles north of Jamestown on US 127 and near the town of Pall Mall, lies the Alvin Cullom York Farm. The property was listed as a National Historic Landmark (NHL) in 1976 for its association with famed World War I hero Sgt. Alvin C. York. In a brief biographical sketch of the man, the authors of the NHL nomination wrote:

York indelibly left his mark on the annals of American military valor in the Battle of the Argonne Forest on October 8, 1918, when almost singlehandedly he killed 25 Germans, took 132 prisoners, and knocked out 35 machine guns – a feat that Marshall Ferdinand Foch, Commander of the Allied Armies, labeled as ‘the greatest thing accomplished by a private soldier of all armies of Europe.’ York’s name became a household word in America. Awarded the Congressional Medal Of Honor and many other decorations and deluged with many opportunities to capitalize financially on his fame, he chose to return to his home in the Tennessee hills, marry and raise a family, and strive to improve the lives of his neighbors.

The Alvin Cullom York Farm includes 16-acres that contain York’s post-World War I home, built in 1922, and nine outbuildings. York resided in this house until his death in 1964. The Alvin Cullom York Farm lies within the larger Alvin C. York Historic District.

The Alvin C. York Agricultural Institute Historic District was listed on the National Register in 1991 for its association with Sgt. Alvin C. York. Constructed between 1927 and 1929, the York Institute consists of a high school and an elementary school that was constructed at the direction of Alvin C. York. The York Institute represents the culmination of York’s desire to provide local children with better quality of education. Located near Pall Mall, the Alvin C. York Institute lies within an eight-acre parcel and contains three buildings and a sign spelling out “York Institute”.

In 1973, the Alvin C. York Historic District was listed on the National Register for its association with the famed World War I hero Sgt. Alvin C. York. The historic district lies within the Pall Mall community on roughly 680 acres and contains several buildings and sites associated with the life of York. The district includes:

The Francis Asbury Williams House – a three-room log and frame house that was the birthplace of York’s wife, Grace Williams.

John Frogge House – a two-story frame house built ca. 1850 by John Frogge, a local attorney who York consulted with prior to his service in World War I.

York Springs – a brook that flows from the base of Frogge Mountain and is the settlement site of York’s great, great grandfather, Conrad Pile. According to the nomination form, Pile lived in a cave above the spring while constructing his cabin.

Erasmus Pile House – a two-story frame house built by Ras Pile, a descendent of Conrad Pile, in 1880. The house served as the starting point of York’s wedding procession to the rock ledge where he and Gracie Williams exchanged their wedding vows.

Marriage Rock – the rock where Alvin York and Gracie Williams were married by Governor A. H. Roberts.

York’s First House – the first house occupied by York and his Gracie Williams. The one-and-one-half-story frame house was built by York in 1920.

Wolf River Methodist Church – the church where York pledged to refrain from drinking and gambling. York attended church services here until the construction of York Chapel in 1926. The adjoining cemetery contains York’s burial site and the graves of many of his relatives.

The Grave of Alvin C. York – in the cemetery of the Wolf River Methodist Church.

Williams-Pile House – a two-story frame house built in 1896 by Elijah Williams. The property contains an adjoining farm where York worked before joining the military.

Post Office – a one-story frame building constructed by York in 1920. The building served as a general store and post office where York worked following the war.

York Chapel – Constructed in 1926 by York, the church served as a meeting place for the Church of Christ in Christian Union. York attended church services here until his death in 1964.

York Bible School – Completed in 1943 from funds raised by York, the building served as a religious school until 1960.

York Grist Mill – Constructed in 1880 by James Conley and William Rankin, the mill was powered by water from the Wolf River. York purchased the mill and operated it until his health failed in the early 1960s.

Sgt. York Home – Built in 1922, funds for the construction of the two-story house were raised by Nashville Rotary Club and the Nashville Banner newspaper.

In the northwest corner of Fentress County, the Scenic Byway passes through another National Register-listed historic district. The Forbus Historic District was recognized in 1991 for its association with the historical development of Fentress County. The historic district includes six contributing buildings that represent the district’s period of significance from 1892 to 1940. Architecturally, the district is a representative example of a rural commercial center and features a general store, a house, and four support buildings. The Forbus Historic District is situated in the community center of land that was originally owned by John M. Clemens, the first postmaster of the Wolf River area.