Efforts to save, restore school built by Sgt. York extend across the globe

 

Though Sgt. Alvin C. York’s efforts, which included fundraising on a national scale and twice mortgaging his own home, the school of which he had dreamed, York Agricultural Institute, opened in Jamestown in 1925. York, wearing a white shirt in the center of this vintage photograph, was involved in every aspect of the building's construction, including digging its foundation. More than eight decades later the Sgt. York Patriotic Foundation is fighting to save the building from demolition and restore it for adaptive reuse as an educational facility. (Photo courtesy of Sgt. York Patriotic Foundation)

Though Sgt. Alvin C. York’s efforts, which included fundraising on a national scale and twice mortgaging his own home, the school of which he had dreamed, York Agricultural Institute, opened in Jamestown in 1925. York, wearing a white shirt in the center of this vintage photograph, was involved in every aspect of the building's construction, including digging its foundation. More than eight decades later the Sgt. York Patriotic Foundation is fighting to save the building from demolition and restore it for adaptive reuse as an educational facility. (Photo courtesy of Sgt. York Patriotic Foundation)

PALL MALL (TN)-Assistance from throughout the world is being sought to ensure that the school built by WWI hero Sgt. Alvin C. York is saved from demolition.

The National Register of Historic Places-recognized York Agricultural Institute building (circa 1925), which was slated for demolition by its owner, the State of Tennessee Department of Education, was the subject in 2008 of numerous news stories throughout the country and several emotion-filled public hearings on Capitol Hill in Nashville.

After months of struggle, the State agreed to turn over the building to the Sgt. York Patriotic Foundation, a 501c3 organization formed 15 years ago by descendants of Sgt. York, including his three surviving children, and many devotees of the reluctant young World War I soldier from Pall Mall, Tenn., whose resolve in battle brought him world-wide recognition. 

However, instead of personally capitalizing on his military accomplishments, one of the most highly decorated American soldiers to serve in the First World War, looked to the future. 

“When I went out into that big outside world I realized how uneducated I was and what a terrible handicap it was,” York wrote. “I was called to lead my people toward a sensible modern education.”

Though York’s efforts, which included fundraising on a national scale and twice mortgaging his own home, the school of which he had dreamed opened in 1925.

“His vision was not limited to the education of children from the remote Cumberland plateau region,” said Dr. Michael Birdwell, Associate Professor of History at Tennessee Technological University and Archivist of Alvin C. York’s papers. “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.”

York 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. When the building was replaced with a more modern facility, neglect took a serious toll on the venerable structure.

“The foundation he helped dig and walls he helped build remained solid, though bricks were falling from its façade,” Birdwell commented, observing that “glass remained in few windows, and birds nested in the building’s rafters. The building which should have been a monument to that achievement, sat as a derelict shell of what it should be.”

With the commitment of the Sergeant York Patriotic Foundation and the cooperation of the State’s education department, the building is currently being stabilized and will be restored for use once again as an educational facility, both preserving York’s legacy and fulfilling his dream.

A celebration honoring the legacy of the Upper Cumberland’s own Sgt. Alvin C. York is set for July 25 in Cookeville at Southern Hills Golf Club. The York Summer Ball, the first of what will become an annual event, includes a reception, auction, cash bar and full catered dinner, followed by live jazz Among the items donated for the auctions are antiques, art, trips, dinners and more.

“We are accepting donations of items or services suitable for auction at this special event,” explained Sgt. York Patriotic Foundation Executive Director Claudia Johnson-Nichols. “All proceeds from the night’s festivities benefit restoration of the original structure that housed York Institute in Jamestown.”

Deadline for ticket purchases or Ball auction donations is July 15.

“Support for the York Summer Ball will help the Foundation meet our agreement with the State,” Johnson-Nichols said. “Support can mean purchasing tickets, donating items for the auctions or just making tax-deductible contributions to the Foundation, either earmarked for restoration of the York Institute or for our many other initiatives that honor the life of Sgt. York.”

For a downloadable invitation to the ball, visit www.sgtyorkpatrioticfoundation.blogspot.com. Contact Johnson-Nichols at 931-347-2664 to offer support. Visit www.sgtyork.org to learn more about the Foundation and the progress being made at York Institute.