Have far would you go to honor someone you've never met?
Tucked away in a small, quiet corner of Lauderdale County sits a stunning and spiritual place made purely of stone. It tells the story of one man’s dedication to a woman he never met. And it goes by a few names – The Wichahpi Commemorative Stone Wall or Te-lah-nay’s Wall.
But to the locals, it’s named after the man who built it.
This is Tom’s Wall.
Tom’s great-great grandmother, Te-lah-nay, was part of a Yuchi Indian tribe that lived along the Tennessee River during the 1800s. The Yuchi believed a woman lived in the river. And if you kept quiet, you could hear her singing her beautiful songs. Over time, it became known as “the singing river.”
But unfortunately, Te-lah-nay and the Yuchi people were forcibly removed from their homes during the Trail of Tears and made to walk to Oklahoma. Once there, Te-lah-nay visited the waters in her new surroundings, listening for a song. But none came. Believing she would die if she stayed, she made the decision to walk back to the singing river of Alabama. She was just 13 years old. And it took her 12 years to return.
As a young boy, Tom Hendrix was fascinated by the stories his grandmother (Te-lah-nay’s granddaughter) would tell him. Later in his life, Tom traveled to Oklahoma to visit with the Yuchi tribe in hopes of seeking guidance about how to honor Te-lah-nay’s story. While there, he met a tribal elder who set him on his journey.
“We each in our own time shall pass this Earth,” she told him.
“Only the stones remain. We honor our ancestors with stones.”
Over the next 30 years, Tom would move over 8.5 million pounds of stone to form what is now the longest unmortared rock wall in the U.S., and the largest memorial built in honor of a woman. It’s been profiled in the New York Times and London Times. It’s registered in the Library of Congress. And every week, tourists from all over the world visit.
And every time, right up until his death in 2017, Tom Hendrix would greet them at the gate, pull up a chair and tell them the story. About his wall. About his love for a woman he never met. That honor now falls to his son, Trace. Growing up, Trace learned the stories from his father. He was in his 20s when his father began building the wall. And over time, Trace learned why all this meant so much to his father.
You can visit the wall any day, free of charge, from 8-4 pm. And if you go on the weekends, you’ll likely find Trace sitting by the gate just like his father did for so many years.
Ready to pull up a chair. Ready to tell you a story about his father. About Te-lah-nay.
Because these stories can’t die. He won’t let them.
“If the legends fade, who will teach the children?”
13890 County Road 8
Florence, AL 35633
Open everyday from 8-4pm
Admission is free but donations are accepted