Category Archives: GUEST POSTS

These histories have been written about Pine Mountain Settlement School, Harlan County, Kentucky and the local area by staff, students, visitors and others. The histories often reflect a specific time period or a personal perspective or experience. The histories, often autobiographical travelogues, end-of-life recollections, or work histories, record the school through many generations and link their experiences to their larger contexts. The reflections provide valuable insight into the school as a change agent and capture important lessons and events at the School. The HISTORIES are supplemented by photographs and by links to specific BIOGRAPHY and to the PMSS ARCHIVAL COLLECTIONS.

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Forest and Fires

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 11: Land Use
BLOGS

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Forest and Fires

p1130242

Forest fires along the Little Shepherd Trail above Pine Mountain School. Oct. 29, 2016. High tunnels for crops in foreground.

In 1922 an article appeared in the Harlan Daily Enterprise.

PlNE MOUNTAIN LADS LOSE TIME FROM SCHOOL WORK AND SLEEP.
REPORT OF FOREST FIRE IN VICINITY OF PINE MOUNTAIN SETTLEMENT SCHOOL

The total burned area of the last forest fire on Pine Mountain is 4000 acres. The cost $12,000.  (a very conservative estimate).  The Cost includes:

  • The destruction of half of the young trees forming the future forest crop.
  • The injury to the soil such as burning of leaves, humus [sic] and ground cover.
  • The injury to the standing timber by eating away the lower part of tree trunks until the wind blows the tree over or permits the entrance of wood-destroying fungi.

(signed) Leon F. Deschamps, Forester for the Pine Mountain Settlement School.

On  November 28, 1922,  the mountains around Pine Mountain Settlement School caught fire and threatened the entire community.  As reported in the Pineville (Ky.) Sun the terrible fire created a serious re-assessment of the forests and the threat of fire to part of the School’s important resources.  10 students at Pine Mountain, led by Leon Deschamps, the school forester and also the leader of the local Boy Scout troupe put forward a petition which they hoped to forward to Kentucky’s Governor Morrow. The petition was also signed by 19 girls, members of the local Girl Scouts and supplemented by a letter from their Scout Captain, Miss Lucretia Garfield, grand-daughter of President Garfield, who was on the staff of the School as a teacher and Scout leader from 1919 to 1922. The petitioners asked that the Governor establish a forestry service and a state forester to be appointed to Harlan County.  As part of the petition each of the boys who fought the fire, for an estimated 30 hours each, wrote of their personal experience fighting the fire in individual letters attached to the petition.

Mountain Day. Fire Tower in Kentenia State Forest.

Mountain Day. Fire Tower in Kentenia State Forest. c. 1953 (Putney Tower). No fire towers were available until after 1937-38. Today the tower no longer exists.

The student letters were prefaced by one from Lucretia Garfield.  She describes the fire:

From October 27 to October 31, 1922 Pine Mountain Settlement school was surrounded by forest fires. There were fires along Pine Mountain for many miles on either side of the School, fires down Greasy Creek below the Medical Settlement and fires between the School and Line Fork Settlement seven miles to the east, 

For a week the boys of Pine Mountain School had been fighting fires in the mountain now and then, but from October 28 to 31 they fought night and day. The dry woods burned fast and the fires were coming down the mountain toward the School. For hours the boys worked to rake large rings about each fire and then started back-fires to make the rings wider. Several times the fire broke over the rings and just as the boys were ready to come in at night another alarm was called. They say that one man near Nolansburg let out the fire that spread up Pine Mountain and westward along the top of the mountain, past the Dillon Trail, past Divide, and far down toward Incline.

The Line Fork fire which spread up Bear Creek burning on both sides for many miles was said to have been started by one boy who lit a brush pile for fun.

Her letter is followed by a summary of the time lost from school, work, and sleep by the boys of the Pine Mountain school, while they were fighting the forest fires.

The following is a summary of the time lost from school, work, and sleep by the boys of the Pine Mountain Settlement School while fighting these forest fires:

Average time spent by each boy fighting fires: 30 hours

Average time lost from school: 1-2 hours

Average time lost from work: 14 hours

Maximum time spent in fighting fires by any boy from October 27 to 31, 1922:  40 hours

But the best story of the fight the children made  is told by them, in their own way. Some of them have made written report of their part in the fight, as a requirement in their school work, and their story, brief, simple, but convincing, tells the story of the seriousness and danger better than any other version could tell, and a few of those compositions follow.

By Clarence Dozier ; Grade VII: November 3, 1922.
Sunday morning there was a fire on top of the Pine Mountain. Mr. Deschamps who is the Boy Scouts Master took ten or twelve Boy Scouts to fight fire. We took our dinner and stayed there until 6 o’clock Sunday night. We came off the mountain and ate our supper, the five boys went back to make a fire-line around the fire. They stayed until midnight. The next morning when they got there the fire had broken over and was coming over into the school ground. One of the boys came back to tell Mr. Deschamps about the fire. Before he got down the mountain he met Mr. Deschamps with some of the boys. They fought fire until dinner. Then some of us went back and made a fire-line from the top of the mountain down to the Lime Stone Cliffs. After we got through with the line we went back to the top of the mountain. And three of the boys went over the fire line. One of them came back where the boys were waiting for him and he said, “boys the fire has broken over the line.

We went to the fire and raked as much as we could. After a while a  man came to help us fight the fire.

I fought fire 40 hours. Time lost from school, three days. Time lost from work, three days. Hours lost from sleep, five.


Discovering a Fire

By Roy Redwin, Grade VII; November 3, 1922.
One morning when I was working for Miss Pettit who is my house mother, we noticed the smoke rising up behind Pine Mountain. Mr. Deschamps who looks after the forest at Pine Mountain, took me with two other boys to the top of the mountain to investigate the smoke. He climbed a tree to see if he could see fire. When he got down he said that he could “see fire i the distance.” Then we went on out a piece farther ad burnt a fire line so that if the fire came dow there it could not get over into the school grounds. We stayed all night and next morning we came back about 7:30 o’clock smoke was rising very fast ad some boys went up to try to put it out. This was the beginning of a forest fire which lasted about seven days. I spent about twenty-six hours fighting fire. I lost about seven hours fro school. I lost about eighteen hours of work time. The fire has destroyed many fine trees ad killed many young ones.


How I Fought Fire

By Watson Caudill, Grade VI; November 3, 1922.
Last Sunday with some other boys I went to fight fire on the Pine Mountain, on top of the mountain, where the Nolansburg trail crosses. We started raking a fire-line on top of the mountain down towards Nolansburg. We went half way down the mountain ad burnt it so that it would not catch over. When we had burnt it off we came back to the top of the mountain and it had caught over this side. We worked about two hours more before we got it stopped. And then we came to the house and went to bed at one o’clock that night. The next morning it had caught over again and we had to take up the fight again. I missed school two days and sleep two nights. I fought fire about 22 hours in all.


By Harry Callahan, Grade VII;  November 3, 1922
One afternoon Mr. Deschamps who is the Boy Scout Master at Pine Mountain Settlement school came in and said he wanted some one to go and fight fire with him. He just took three boys at first, and after a while he came back after some more boys to help him. He just took three boys at first, and after a while he came back after some more boys to help him. He said that the flames were crossing the line ad that evening some of the Boy Scouts went and stayed out all night fighting fire.

The next day was Sunday and just as soon as the boys got back they saw that it was across the fire-line and they had to go back and fight all day Sunday. When Mr. Deschamps came in that night he asked for volunteers to go and stay out that night and fight fire.

One night we ate supper and went back and fought fire till about 10 o’clock that night. All the time we fought fire amounted to about six days of hard fighting.


By Gardner Combs, Grade VI; November 3, 1922.
Sunday a fire broke out in the forest and the boys at Pine Mountain were asked to help put it out. One party of boys went Sunday and another at night. 

The fire was coming up the other side of the mountain when we got there, and we began to rake a fire-line around the fire. When the ring was all way around the fire, we set fire to the leaves, next to the ring, to meet the fire coming. Then we came home at one o’clock in the night. 

The next day the fire broke over the time [sic line] and most all the boys went out to put it out. We raked a ring all the way around the fire, but it broke over again. Then we all went up and raked another ring and this time we put it out. I worked about thirty-four hours in all. I lost about 13 hours from school. I lost about 14 hours of work. I lost about six hours of sleep.


GALLERY


p1130319

Forest fires above the Chapel, Pine Mountain, KY. Oct. 30, 2016.

According to historian George E. Thompson, in his 2009 publication, You Live Where?, Harlan County, in 1913, was the first county in the state to create a forest fire protective association. The first state forest in Kentucky was also created in Harlan County in 1919, the Kentenia State Forest.

By 1925 the President of the United States had issued a Proclamation that declared April 27- May 3rd to be “American Forest Week”.  He stated that “I desire to bring to the attention of all our people the danger that comes from the neglect of our forests.” His proclamation was an enlargement of the “Forest Protection Week” that had been in place for several years.  It was clear that all was not right with American forests in the 1920’s, what Coolidge called “unwise dissipation of a great resource.”

Even in these early years the people of Harlan County recognized and wanted to protect their forests.  One of those Harlan County natives, Grover Cleveland Blanton, a grocer from Wallins Creek, near Harlan, had a particular love of forests and continued to purchase forest land to add to the Blanton forest all his life.

One piece of land Blanton was particularly fond of was a tract that showed no signs of logging or removal of trees. It was that particular tract that became a focus of energy for conservationists. Just four miles west of the town of Harlan, Blanton forest is literally a national treasure. It is one of the oldest forests in America that is designated “old-growth” forest. Many of the trees, some over 150 feet high and some four feet in diameter have weathered many fires over the centuries.  And, there have been many centuries.  Some estimate many of the trees of 25-30 different species, are 300 to 400 years old.

This large forest, the “Blanton Forest,”  is comprised of 2,350 acres, of which 1,075, the least disturbed portion, has been set aside for a nature preserve. This important section is positioned on the south flank of the long Pine Mountain range that stretches through Harlan County, the longest of Kentucky’s counties (some 50 miles long by 20 miles wide). Marc Evans, working for the state Nature Preserves Commission to inventory the state’s forests,  is credited with the “discovery” of this remarkable old-growth” forest.  Marc is currently a Pine Mountain Settlement School board member.  When he walked into the area in 1992 he was astounded by what he saw and began a campaign to recognize and preserve the forest. In 1995 working with the Nature Preserves Commission, and with William Martin, then the Natural Resources Commissioner, about half of the Blanton Forest was purchased for $750,000.  This was the 1,075 acres identified as critical to preserving. The care given to this forest by the Blanton family and the care given to other forests in Eastern Kentucky, particularly Lilly Woods, and the forest in the Bad Branch area of Letcher County, are treasures that are very susceptible to fire.

The forest surrounding Pine Mountain joins this remarkable gathering of unique and irreplaceable forest lands in Eastern Kentucky and particularly in Harlan County. Since 1913, when the School was founded, there have been fires in the forests of the school like the one mentioned above. Most of them were the result of careless behaviors. William Martin, an expert in old-growth forests and former Natural Resources Commissioner for Kentucky in the early 1990’s, once remarked, “A tree doesn’t care how long a human being lives …”  But, it is clear that we humans need to heighten our understanding of the life of trees.  In many ways, they are our legacy. Today, along with fire, a recurring challenge to forests in Harlan County is irresponsible timbering. Grover Blanton made it clear throughout his lifetime that his forest was “More than timber.” “This is for saving,” he told his daughters, Nora and Serena Knuckles.

Today, along with fire, a recurring challenge to forests in Harlan County is irresponsible timbering. Grover Blanton made it clear throughout his lifetime that his forest was “More than timber.” “This is for saving,” he told his daughters, Nora and Serena Knuckles. They did that and continue to advocate for their father’s legacy.

The care given to this forest by the Blanton family and now the Nature Preserves Commission, and the care given to other forests in Eastern Kentucky, particularly Lilly Woods, and the forest in the Bad Branch area of Letcher County, near Pine Mountian School, cannot be underestimated. These forests are treasures that are susceptible timbering and to fire but are in many ways they are less susceptible than new forests.  Many of the old-growth forests have a built-in fire protection.  Many of them have large “boggs” and a moist understory that holds moisture when other forests have succumbed to long periods of drought. As we struggle with Global Warming, this feature of old-growth forests will become increasingly important. The forest surrounding Pine Mountain is joining this remarkable gathering of unique and irreplaceable forest lands in Eastern Kentucky and particularly those in Harlan County. Since 1913, when the School was founded, there have been fires in the Pine Mountain Settlement School forest like those described above. Most of them were a result of careless behaviors.

In 1995 two fourth grade classes at Wallins Elementry School received a $500 grant from the Kentucky Environmental Council to develop games, a study guide, and other activities to heighten awareness of the unique forest in their back-yard and to educate for that legacy we need to acknowledge.

Because fires in Eastern Kentucky are usually fires in the understory, the huge fires in the tree crowns as found in the Western United States do not usually come to mind. However, it only takes one fire such as the one recently seen in the Great Smoky Mountains at Gatlinburg when all the elements conspire to create a conflagration, to remind us of the danger of fires in the mountains. The following photograph taken in a very dry year in the early 1940s shows a particularly fierce fire on the ridge-crest of Pine Mountain.

Forest fire on the ridge-top of Pine Mountain, c. 1945

It is now October 2016 and the Pine Mountain is again on fire.  A series of small fires deliberately set along the Little Shepherd Trail have grown into large fires that now creep down the mountain. Today we don’t send small boys up to meet the growing danger, but we watch warily as the forest clears its under-story making ready for the seeds of Spring. With each increase in the wind we grow anxious and continue to wonder what it is in our common community that still finds pleasure in setting things afire.

An editorial in the Lexington Herald, November 20, 1994 “Arsonists rob E. Kentucky of its verdant forests,” by Doug Crawford, wondered this, as well. He said, “…it is difficult to understand how one element of Eastern Kentucky’s own could be so disillusioned, so ostracized, so contemptuous that it could willfully destroy the region’s greatest and most lasting natural resource.” He goes on to muse that the

“... epidemic of arson fires would seem to be a symptom of something still larger, reflecting a mentality similar to those who thoughtlessly trash the roadways and countrysides of Eastern Kentucky ….the people who are doing this have no respect for themselves or where they come from …The motivations for such behavior one can only speculate. Revenge? Contempt? Power? Kicks? ….whatever the reasons, getting at the root of this self-destructiveness is growing more crucial to the survival of Eastern Kentucky.”

p1130268

The Pine Mountain ridge in full Fall color. Late afternoon as fires begin to grow on South side of mountain.. October 28, 2016.

Pine Mountain Settlement School continues their environmental education work with a year-round Environmental Education program which began in 1972 and which offers students from throughout the state and beyond, the opportunity to study forest ecology, biodiversity, stream ecology and other aspects of environmental education for short or week-long sessions and for public and private schools. Environmental education offers hope for a way out of the cycle of senseless crime and despair. It is never too early or too late to learn and to devise ways to cope with the environmental changes occurring around us.

[Contact Pine Mountain Settlement School for information on educational programs or visit https://www.pinemountainsettlementschool.com/   for a list of programs and workshops.]

GALLERY

 

 


GO TO:   

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH – ABOUT

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH  I – GUIDE

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Weaving at PMSS Beginnings

WEAVING AT PMSS – BEGINNINGS

One might say that Pine Mountain was conceived among coverlets.  Weaving at Pine Mountain Settlement School certainly was encouraged by the re-discovery of the craft of coverlet weaving and the enthusiastic collecting of mountain weaving near the turn of the last century.  Katherine Pettit, founder of Pine Mountain Settlement School and earlier of Hindman Settlement School, was an avid collector of “kivers.”  Her interest in the exquisite craft of coverlet weaving kept her roaming the mountains in the early years of the twentieth century in search of new patterns and techniques.   It was the search for beautiful mountain “kivers” that kept Pettit journeying across the Eastern Kentucky region and eventually to the Pine Mountain valley in Harlan County, Kentucky.  There, in the long valley on the north side of the Pine Mountain she established one of the most unique of the Appalachian settlement schools.

Vl_34_1099a_mod

Neighbors in the Pine Mountain Valley with coverlet hanging behind mother, two children and dog. c. 1920s.

Pettit often traveled from Hindman in Knott County, where she had established her first school in the early years of the twentieth century.  Even before the founding of Hindman, in 1901, Pettit was into her third summer season in the eastern Kentucky mountains at a location known as “Sassafrass.” She and her adventuresome colleagues had already journeyed to many of the remote valleys and hollows of nearby Harlan, Perry and Letcher counties where she frequently came into contact with mountain weavers.  She soon began to search for coverlets to purchase and also found her interest in the craft gave her a sound introduction to many mountain families. While looking for homespun coverlets she soon discovered more than the coverlet.  She discovered the weavers and their humble but rich skills, their ancient culture, and their stoic resourcefulness. Theirs was a life-style that she would soon come to cherish, partially adopt and commit to “raising up.”

Vl_34_1089c_mod

A Pine Mountain neighbor with her spinning wheel. c. 1915.

In Harlan county she  found the distance from the rapidly industrializing world she desired and she expanded on her Hindman experiences.  She  rapidly reached out to her many contacts and built a rustic home and a school dedicated to serving the people of the remote Pine Mountain valley and nearby hollows. She did not, however become a recluse.

When she came to Pine Mountain in 1913, and with the help of William Creech and the families living in the valley, Pettit established a school founded on the principles of the more urban settlement houses found in Chicago, New York, Boston and other locations. She recruited educators and workers from those early urban settlement schools and women’s colleges and sowed the seeds of a progressive educational program.  What she created was a settlement school that adopted a unique response the urban settlement house ethos.  While weaving in the urban settlements had often depended on teaching weaving that was modeled on practices found in the Arts and Craft’s Movement and in Scandinavian models, Pettit’s models were already established in the mountains of Kentucky and other areas of the Southern Appalachians.   Weaving for Pettit and for the Pine Mountain community was an integral part of a response to the legacy of many families and the demands of a rural environment that was still in a pioneering and subsistence mode.

Beating flax using a wooden flax beater. Ethel de Long [?] X_099_workers_2527l_mod.jpg

Farming was the other foundational principle she integrated into the school’s core mission. Weaving and farming go together well and well they served Pine Mountain for many years.  Pettit’s interest and promotion of weaving pre-dates the important work of Eliza Calver Hall and her 1912, A Book of Hand-Woven Coverlets.  No doubt Pettit was strongly influenced by Hall’s book, which she owned, and the work of the weaver Anna Ernberg who had assumed the position of superintendent of Fireside Industries at Berea College, Kentucky in 1911, but she was embedded in the idea of weaving and settlement-work much earlier and had early connections with women who would later shape mountain weaving into an industry.

VI_36_1184c_mod

Pettit made the Pine Mountain valley and the Settlement School her home and along with Ethel de Long, whom she had recruited away from Hindman Settlement School, she began to build the second of her schools in the region.  Pine Mountain soon became one of the most unique and viable of the Southern Appalachian rural settlement schools. In that school the sound of the batten, weaving away, has rarely ceased it’s tempo.

Vl_35_1127a

At Pine Mountain Pettit and her staff did not live in isolation but challenged the people of the region to look beyond the walls of mountains surrounding their valley, to the flood of ideas, economies, and beliefs that would prepare the people of the region for the inevitable changes coming to the mountains.  Following the turn of the century, industrialization was moving ever closer to the Pine Mountain Valley and Pettit recognized the need to develop a marketing strategy for the mountain crafts to bring money into the area.  Weaving was part of her plan at “raising-up” the mountain people and she set about finding looms, building looms and establishing weaving as part of the school program.

0050b P. Roettinger Album. “Swinging flax. Aunt Sal and Lizzie [Elisabeth Roettinger on right.]” [roe_017a.jpg]

Founded in 1913, Pine Mountain is now celebrating its 100th year of existence.  Katherine Pettit retired from the School in 1936 but the school archive contains numerous directives, letters, invectives, and suggestions that show her connected to the School until her death in 1938. The models of education, farming, health-care, and civic responsibility that Pettit and others at the school provided the people of this long valley, to Eastern Kentucky and to the state, promised a rich future while preserving the best of the earlier cultural legacy. Weaving at Pine Mountain has had a continuous association with the school since it’s founding and today it continues to inspire ideas and pride in it weavers.

The beautiful homespun coverlets discovered by Pettit on her mountain rambles became a visual passion for Pettit and for others who saw them.  It is impossible not to have a deep appreciation for the skill and artistry of the craft of weaving and for the women and men who wove the exquisite and complicated patterns found in Pettit’s collection of coverlets. The mountain coverlet in all its complexity and subtle colors has a deep and extended history in the lives of mountain families with a weft that stretches back to Ireland and to Scotland, to France and to England.   The coverlet is a visual testimony to the people’s deep intelligence, creativity, and manual skills,  Often described as “asleep”, “apart”, “lazy”, “dull”, or worse, the early mountain weavers produced some of the most elegant and complex and extensive repertoires of coverlets.  The Pine Mountain archive has long been the keeper of much of the history that documents the exquisite legacy of weaving in the Kentucky mountains.

From booklets that detail vegetable dying, such as the Katherine Pettit Dye Book, to implements that can convey the tactile activity of the weaver’s art, to correspondence related to the marketing of mountain craft by novel cooperatives such as Fireside Industries , to the intimate stories of times spent in homes where weaving was done,  — the archives at the School are rich in weaving lore.

Shortly before Katherine Pettit died she left some of her weaving collections to Pine Mountain Settlement School but donated the bulk of her collection in May of 1936 to the Bradford Club of Lexington, Kentucky.  Eventually, this large collection found its way into the holdings of Transylvania College by way of the historic home owned by the college, the Bodley-Bullock House, and under the care of the Junior League.

The Bullock’s were Pettit’s family. The home was obviously an active intellectual scene, filled with books and art, enjoyed by the patriarch, Waller O. Bullock, his wife, and children. Bullock, a physician and a sculptor, knew well the education of joining head and hand and heart, and no doubt passed that along to his children, one of whom was Clara, the mother of Katherine Pettit.  The home, located adjacent to one of Lexington’s most impressive parks, Gratz Park,  is surrounded by the homes of Lexington’s creative and intellectual elite, such as Henry Clay, the early entrepreneur William Gratz,  John Wesley Hunt, the first millionaire west of the Alleghenies,  and others.

 

Many of Pettit’s coverlets and textile fragments in both the Pine Mountain collection and the Bodley-Bullock collection have, in some cases,  histories that go back some 200 years.  Some have stories, and others have their provenance waiting to be discovered by researchers.  But, all have a visual presence that cannot be denied and names that suggest ties with life in the family, region, and country as well as hints of ancient balladry and dance in the British Isles.

For example a beautiful peach and vanilla coverlet with a pattern called “Kentucky Winding Blades” in the Lexington collection, has the following attached note:

“This coverlet was made by Granny Stallard who was 110 years old when she died about 20 years ago [note:1936].  She sent this with a number of other coverlets and blankets with her great, great grandchildren to the Pine Mountain Settlement School to pay for their tuition.  she said that most of these were made when she was in the “rise of her bloom” — sixteen years old.”

Another textile, un-named, a very worn and modified blanket/shawl has a badly damaged note that reads:

“This shawl was willed to … Uncle Enoch Combs, when he was a young man, not quite 20. [When he was] starting [for war] his sweetheart Nancy St … him and gave him this shawl [to ….] him.  She told him to f… [when the] war was over.  This he [did ?] … Uncle Enoch wore the shawl [until he was] an old man with long white [hair].”

Even this fragmented note tells of a very precious warp that is woven with the weft of memories; love, and loss and return and loss, again.  So many of the weavings of Appalachia have these stories. They speak to what Eliza Calvert Hall calls the “Time Spirit” in her important 1912 book, The Book of Handwoven Coverlets. [1]  The “time spirit” is found in that object that cannot be handled without recalling the life of the past. Many of the names of the coverlets speak to the past times.  Stories, such as “Young Lady’s Perplexiuty,” [sic] “Lonley Heart,” “Youth and Beauty,” “Catch Me If You Can,” and “Lasting Beauty.”   “… the rise of her bloom”  is a mountain colloquial reference to the early adolescence of girls as it was often in early these years that girls began to learn to weave and to assemble their house-hold textiles for later marriage and their own homes.  It can quickly be deduced that coverlets were often seen as the dowry of young girls.  Certainly, they were the offerings that she carried into her marriage in her “Hope Chest”.

Eliza Calvert Hall has pointed out that the naming of coverlet patterns is a very imprecise practice. She says, ” … a design may have one name in North Carolina another in Kentucky, another in Tennessee, and still another in Virginia as if it were a criminal fleeing from justice.”

Enoch Combs [the same as mentioned earlier] and his wife Mary were a childless couple who lived at Sassafras, near Hindman.  They were the hosts for a group of young women who came to the third and final summer camp in Knott county prior to the establishment of Hindman Settlement by Pettit and Stone.  Katherine Pettit, of Lexington; Mary E. McCartney, of Louisville;  May Stone, of Louisville;  and Rae M. McNab, also of Louisville, traveled into what had become familiar, but still, very rugged mountains of eastern Kentucky.   Their summer school at Sassafrass in 1901 was the last of a series of summer camps that were established to serve the literacy-poor hollows in Knott County. The success of these summer camps and the enthusiasm of Pettit and Stone led them to the foundation of a permanent school at Hindman in the following year.

The life of the Combs family and their skills at weaving were captured in a small album of photographs belonging to Katherine Pettit which she titled “Sassafrass 1901.”   In the small and fragile album, held in the Pine Mountain archive, members of the family and a young lady who was living with the Combs’ are shown shearing their sheep, washing the wool, drying the wool, picking and carding, dying the “hanks”,  and finally spinning the wool to be placed on spindles.  The images freeze this valuable pioneer process in time and allow the viewer to understand the many complex tasks associated with the manufacture of textile in the Appalachians.

FLAX

The processing of wool is just one of the complex tasks involved with Appalachian textiles.  There is another even more arduous series of processes associated with the flax plant. When Katherine Pettit came to Pine Mountain she met “Aunt” Sally Creech. In Aunt Sal she had one of the finest weavers and spinners as an accomplice in her search for “kivers.”  But, she also had a consummate teacher.  Aunt Sal was the wife of William Creech, the farmer whose vision of a school caught the imagination of Pettit and whose land formed the basis of the physical site for the Pine Mountain Settlement School. Uncle William grew flax and harvested it to process linen thread.  Katherine Pettit provided him with the seeds.

“‘Aunt Sal Creech – retting flax.” [nace_II_album_059.jpg]

The elaborate process of turning flax into thread was a process learned by many of the Appalachian families whose origins reached back to an Ulster-Scot ancestry. Many of the people of the Southern Appalachians had this ancestry. Ulster, in Ireland, was a center of linen production in Europe and many of the immigrants brought their knowledge of flax farming and linen creation to the New World. It continued as a viable occupation for the many Scots-Irish-English-French-Cherokee-German and African American families who lived deep in the Appalachian mountains.

At Pine Mountain, farmers who maintained subsistance farms in the small valley and hollows and on the steep slopes near the School sometimes found ways to extend their incomes by engaging in flax farming.  Flax was one of the crops that could be turned to income.  But, by the turn of the twentieth-century few of these resourceful farmers remained. Pine Mountain was fortunate that some of these flax farmers had passed down their knowledge in the family and there were families that were still growing and weaving with flax.

William Creech supervising the pulling of flax. [floral_III_020_mod.jpg]

When Pettit arrived in the valley she met families with names like Creech, Boggs, Turner, Couch, Combs, Coots, Day, Hall, and more, suggesting that the population was heavily indebted to England in its origins. A study of family names could shed light on possible English or Irish or Scotch origins of textile practice, but unlike tracing ballads or dances, or pageants, the trail for textile arts is not well developed. English families migrated to all areas of the British Isles but it is well-known that many Scots migrated to Ulster where they took up the practice of flax farming and production.  However the practice arrived in the Appalachians, the production of linen thread, an enormously labor intensive and complex process was passed along to Uncle William and Aunt Sal.  They knew the processes but the depth of their knowledge is difficult to determine.  Just how their processes compared to European practice invites further study.

Certainly Uncle William saw an opportunity to pursue his farming interests and to combine this with the practice of weaving, an art his wife Sally knew well.  Labor in the nearby school was available to him but he also had a sincere desire to improve the production of farmland, to educate, generally, and he, like Aunt Sal, was a consummate teacher.  It is also clear that he shared these interests in flax farming with Katherine Pettit.

The raising of flax and its processing for the weaving of linen cloth is another long weaving story. It is evident, however, that farming and weaving and education all make good partners. Whether, wool, flax, or cotton, “Summer Weave”, “Snail’s Trail,” or “Virgil”, or “Longfellow”, the threads come together.  It is true that the partnership of farming and weaving can be found repeated throughout the world, but the patterns derived from those partnerships are as diverse as the cultures that created them. Pine Mountain’s contributions to a weaving history are many and the contributions of Appalachia have their roots firmly planted in the long histories the earliest families brought to the region whether European, African, American Indian, or South American, or other cultures. There is strong evidence of cultural mixing in both practice and patterns and the research field waits for those who want a rich research project.

____________________________________

CRAFT WORKSHOPS AT PINE MOUNTAIN SETTLEMENT SCHOOL

For a schedule of events at the school , see:

http://www.pinemountainsettlementschool.com/events.php