We moved to the Cumberland Plateau thirty-four years ago. It’s near Jamestown, Tennessee, in Fentress County and not far from the Kentucky state line on the edge of the Big South Fork. It has been the perfect place to raise our children. Jamestown, a rural mountain town, is the county seat for Fentress County. When we first moved to Fentress County, several side roads were gravel and there was only two stop lights in Jamestown — we now have four. Everything closed up by 5:00 p.m. and the stores were small enough that you could see from front to back so it was safe if your children wandered away.
Fentress County is steeped in history. From the days when the Cherokee Indians roamed free, settlers coming in to try and tame the wild mountain, blazing trails, coal mining, sawmills, Gernt (located deep in the Big South Fork) that became the main railroad junction and the first place to have electricity in the state, feuds, the long hunters, civil war unrest, home of the most decorated World War I soldier, and the Alvin C York’s high school that is the only school in the U.S. financed by the state government. Even today, Fentress County remains 90% rugged wilderness broken by steep bluffs, winding streams, and hairpin curves.
Even though some folks consider us to live in the middle of nowhere, as Jamestown lies forty miles north of the closest interstate, a steady stream of tourists each summer come to our area to visit the Big South Fork, Alvin C York’s home place, 127 longest yard sale that runs right through Jamestown, and the Allardt Pumpkin Festival on the first Saturday in October. There are also lots of horse-riding trails, nearby Pickett Park for camping, and our annual county fair. Each year Jamestown hosts a Jamboree on the square, Halloween booths, and Christmas Trees and Trails along with several parades.
The first thing that hits visitors to our area is the friendliness of the people. Everyone waves and says “howdy” in a southern mountain twang. Life here is slower paced. Today the biggest store is Wal-Mart, located right off the bypass, but shopping is slow as everybody knows everybody else so you constantly run into friends and catch up. Everybody is related so funerals and decorating the graves are always a big event. Jamestown may be considered small and off the beaten path, but folks here have a big heart.
Stories About Jamestown
We had the most amazing sheriff. His name was Mitch Stephens. He couldn’t read or write and had to sign his name with a mark. He had one of his fingers shot off by a criminal who fired a pistol at him. And he was one of the finest lawmen ever.
One day, Mitch was notified of a runaway car being pursued at high speed by the police. It had crossed over into our county in an attempt to escape Kentucky — and it was heading straight for Jamestown. Mitch told everyone to get off the street and that he would stop the car, as he wasn’t going to go through our town. My husband was working at a local business and watched as Mitch pulled his patrol car on a side street and when the fellow came roaring in, he drove right in front of the speeding car stopping it. Mitch got out, pulled the stunned fellow out of his car, and, holding him by the shoulder marched him down the street, kicking him all the way to the jailhouse. Needless to say we all felt safe. Mitch passed away in 2014, but he will always be remembered.
Another day, like a lot of locals used to do, a lady left her car running as she ran into the post office to get her mail. A fellow jumped into her car and took off. A block later someone noticed her car and saw that a stranger was driving it, so called the police. They stopped the fellow, arrested him, took her car back to the post office, and parked it in the same spot just as she came out. It took a couple people to convince her that her car had been stolen and was just returned. That’s what happens when you live in an area where everybody knows everyone else.
When I worked at the local hospital, an older employee, who was born and raised in the area could tell who was being transported by ambulance and what their problem probably was. Nursing staff updates were often lengthy as not only patient histories were given but the patient’s relatives (she is the fifth cousin of…and related to…) were discussed at length. Even patients would try and figure out who I was related to when I introduced myself — even though I wasn’t from the area. That’s how you get to know folks here in Jamestown, by who their kin are.
In addition to all this, we raise food for the needy and find homes for the homeless. Everybody is friendly and always ready to help. It truly is a blessed place.