DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Community – What is Community?

Pine Mountain Settlement School
DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH: Community – What is Community?
Series 16: Community – Celebrations (Guide to Special and Annual Events at PMSS)



Labeled, “Our Neighbors,” this group photograph taken by a staff worker at Pine Mountain is difficult to read. What was the intent of the photographer, the labeler? What does the image say about “community” when it was taken and what of “community”, today? [Vl_34_1102_mod.jpg]

“Community” is generally defined as a social unit of any size that shares common values. Embodied or face-to-face communities are generally described as small and the interactions, in a face-to-face manner, are unlike the larger or more extended communities such as a national community, international community, or a virtual community. Virtual communities are communities where the members rarely meet. Further, “Social network” is often used to describe the myriad virtual communities of today. In their most basic sense all these communities can best be described as “imaginary communities.”

Sometimes “community” is used to define those who fall outside of a mutual spirit or a geography of place. Community can be a way to define a value system or an interest of a specific social unit but it can also be used to define and to isolate “other.” A community is both inclusive and exclusive. A “community” is never neutral.


Pine Mountain Settlement School Workers, Leon Deschamps to far right. Maya Sudo, third from left.  [sudo_album_030a_mod.jpg]

“Community” is a word that frequently appears in the literature by and about the Pine Mountain Settlement School. It is most often used to describe the people and geography surrounding Pine Mountain School. “Community” used in this manner was not an intentional excuse for defining “other,” or those persons not included within the boundary of the Pine Mountain Settlement School site, but it sometimes finds that definition. It is most often described in that manner by those “outside” the “community.”

In the early years of the School, the community was an idea, not an ideology. It was most frequently used to define all the social interactions that came together within the broad geography that extended out from and included the Settlement School and the Settlement satellites of Big Laurel and Line Fork. It was grounded in the idea of Uncle William Creech‘s imaginary community, a school he hoped would make a “bright and intelligent people … ” and such people were found within his identified, face-to-face community but also within his imagined community of influence   — the kind of influence that a school would have.

His community included all those people who could benefit from the lessons a school would share both locally and “here and across the ocean …”. For Uncle William, “community” was written with a large “C” in his active imagination.


During the early years of the School “Community” was a much-used word by staff at the School. Further, it was and is an idea central to most discussions of settlement work and education, whether rural or urban and it is frequently referred to in settlement school discussions. A community is what most members of a community can intuit but which evades succinct definition. It can be the memory, loyalty, the shared practice of everyday life, an abiding hope, the Eternal….but it is not any one of those singular things. It is none of those things alone.

On May 20, 1942, the Boarding School students in the Co-op class at the School wrote a narrative to accompany a film made by Ray and Virginia Garner who came to Pine Mountain under a grant from the Harmon Foundation. The film was charged to depict the programs at the School and particularly the student cooperative and the community jobs the students were required to do as part of their curriculum. The following is a short excerpt from their narrative:

Master of ceremonies (Hattie Sturgill, seated in center) speaks:

Generally speaking, our Community Group is concerned with anything but dry figures and facts. However, we have compiled a few and we want you to know that:

Home visitors [students] visit approximately 100 families weekly.

One girl averages 15 visits on each field day or about 600 visits during one year.

Six home visitors make about 3600 home visits per year.

Each girl averages walking 12 miles on her field day, 72 miles per week for six girls, or about 3000 miles per year for the group.

Each girl puts in about a nine-hour day, which amounts by the end of the year to about 2000 hours for the group.

Each girl puts in about a nine-hour day, which amounts by the end of the year to about 2000 hours for the group.

“School visitors (3 persons to a squad) visit five schools weekly, covering about 25 miles weekly, or about 1000 miles per school year (these are pre-rubber rationing figures, you know when we could still use the bus). Each person puts in about 100 hours per year at the work, or 1400 hours aggregate for the group.

Lela Christian, Nan Milan, Stella Taylor, Nancy Jude. Community Service Workers, c. late 1930s. [duplicates_069.jpg]

“Early in the year five girls traveled weekly to 4 clinics, each traveling an average 12 miles per trip, 1200 miles for the year, each putting in eight hours per trip, 40 hours per week for the group, 1200 hours for the year.

Our packhorse librarian has been able to function only intermittently (due to Sunny Jim’s [the horse] infirmities) but we figure that he has traveled about 15 miles per week for about 26 weeks, or 625 miles, distributing about 40 books and periodicals, or 1000 for the year, putting in about 200 hours.

Ruth Shuler on horseback, delivering books as part of the library program. c. late 1930s. garner_006 (122)

One girl and sometimes two per week spend a day at the Infirmary, 6 hours each, about 360 hours per year serving about 5 people during the day. 

So we estimate a total of over 5000 hours work, some 6000 miles covered.

About 1,800 contacts made annually at clinics.
About 18,000 contacts made annually at schools.
About 20,000 contacts made annually at homes.
About 3,000 contacts made annually by packhorse librarian and infirmary girls.

A grand total of 42,000 contacts. [annually]

We learn In sociology that every contact with another person has something to do with making us what we are, so surely those 42,800 contacts have done more to us and to those we have met and known than we can begin to realize right now.


A Nurse tends to children. [rood_012.jpg]


In the June 1975 Notes Alvin Boggs appealed to the community to assist Pine Mountain in development of a kindergarten program:

 We are particularly proud of community initiative and responsibility in projects of long-time concern to us. Some of our neighbors have asked for help in continuing kindergarten service for their youngsters, as a reduction in federal funds threatens to restrict the public school kindergarten program. We must again be alert to community needs as we explore every possible way to help our youngsters.

The idea of community has a peculiar relationship to time. It can stand in relation to the nature of the time-process but, generally, it is outside that time-process — that number process. It is timeless. It is political, religious, and social, and is strongly governed inside those ideological sets by a personal time-sense.

Even narrower is the individual sense of community as it relates to place, family history, tribal loyalty, sexual orientation, church affiliation, political party, etc. Califates are communities, as are political parties — Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, Green, etc.. Time, or this non-time, can change the membership of specific organizations and dictate the organization of that membership — that community in the specific time. Being timeless it can reveal the spirit of place within a group and lead to a discussion of the “old times”.

The timeless idea can immediately evoke nostalgia for certain values held by a community. This tangled time in communities allows the folding back of values and views. In the time of one lifetime it would be very rare to find individuals who only participated in one community. It is just as unlikely the community stayed the same through measured time.

Line Fork community, dancing during the Baker years, early 1940's. [line_fork_005c]

Line Fork community, dancing during the Baker years at the settlement extension -early 1940’s. [line_fork_005c]


How did Pine Mountain come to its view, or views of “community?” How did it define its community? What were the sources of influence on those definitions? How has the sense of community at Pine Mountain changed through the years? These were and are questions important to the School’s sense of mission, to its sense of place and to its future survival. Yet, Pine Mountain Settlement School, as an educational facility, has been remarkably consistent in its conception of community.

This consistency can be seen in where it drew its information, its sources of influence and it can especially be seen in the photographs taken through the years. Photographs provide a graphic record of change in community. The literature read by the staff and administration of the School reveals other consistencies, other avenues of exploration. What the community wrote and read is rich with consistencies, — as well as enigmatic inconsistencies.


The sources contributing to the understanding of community also draw from the practical and historical roots of the many families who were served by the School and by the cultural artifacts they continue to carry forward or have treasured through time. Community is a process that always looks forward and looks backward.

Today, the School reaches far beyond the roots and the geography of the early community members and seeks to support and build a larger self-aware community of environmentalists, civic-minded citizens of the world, and caring neighbors. America has joined a growing worldwide community that advocates the value of ecology over that of economics. But, economics is often in the driver’s seat. In many ways, we have circled right back to Uncle William’s vision of a school that has some purpose or value to the larger world. Yet, as we circle back, we spiral forward. The history of community at the institution? It seems remarkably consistent in its deepest values — that of staying connected with what we commonly call “place.”

While much of what we call community moves forward with its familiar artifacts, institutions often move along with a remarkably consistent body of literature about “place”. In the case of Pine Mountain school, it is a literature very concerned with the many levels of the community place.

For example, Josiah Royce (1855-1916), philosopher and ideologue, shows up frequently in letters and quotes of staff. Royce struggled with the idea of community in his lecture, “The Community and the Time-Process,” from The Hope of the Great Community. This was Royce’s last work, published in 1916, just three years after the founding of Pine Mountain Settlement School. It captures the sentiments of the time. For Royce, “community” is that thing which allows us to study the world of the spirit [Roth, John K. The Philosophy of Josiah Royce, p.368].

Royce explains:

The psychological unity of many selves in one community is, bound up, then, with the consciousness of some lengthy social process which has occurred, or is at least supposed to have occurred. And the wealthier the memory of a community is, and the vaster the historical processes which it regards as belonging to its life, the richer — other things being equal — is its consciousness that it is a community, that its members are somehow made one in and through and with its own life. [Roth, 361-2]

Royce, the ideologue, was interested in the imagined community. Uncle William was interested in living it. Royce was words on a page while Uncle William was sorghum in a boiling vat and a walk through a cool forest of trees. Through its history, Pine Mountain’s relationship to the concept of community often vacillated between the imagined and the living.

The later years leading up to World II (1931 – 1941), were under the administration of Glyn Morris. These years are often referred to as the “Boarding School Years.” During this time there were common threads of sentiment found in the School literature and in the books read by staff and administration. One such author stands out in the library of books belonging to Helen Bray de Long, sister of Ethel de Long, co-founder of the School. That author is Hugh Black, (March 26, 1868 – April 6, 1953), a Scottish-American theologian and writer who immigrated to the United States in 1906 where he was invited to teach at Union Theological Seminary in New York. There, he was appointed the Chair of Practical Theology. He taught at the school until his retirement in 1938, crossing with Glyn Morris who studied at Union and came to Pine Mountain following his graduation in 1931.

Black received an honorary degree from Yale in 1908 and from Princeton University and from Glasglow University in 1911. He also served as the pastor of the Congregational Church in Montclair, N.J., where Helen Bray de Long, lived and the de Long family was centered. The titles of Black’s many books speak to his philosophical and religious focus: Friendship (1898) ; Culture and Restraint (1900) ; Christ’s Service of Love (1907) ; The New World (1915) ; The Adventure of Being Man (1929) ; and Christ or Caesar (1938). The last book brings his discussion back to the conflict of ecology and economics which continues to occupy both religious and philosophical debate at the school and abroad.

Sprinkled throughout the writings of both of the founders of Pine Mountain, Katherine Pettit, and Ethel de Long Zande, and so many others, are passages that ring familiar as themes in the philosophy of Royce, of Black and other “communitarians.” The idea of community was, for many of the turn-of-the-century authors, a quasi-utopian dream and the ideological theme of community runs throughout many of the works of authors of the time.

At Pine Mountain, the idea of community is like a weft that weaves its way throughout the one-hundred-year history of the School. However, community at Pine Mountain always seems to maintain a remarkable balance with it’s pragmatic warp, introduced by Katherine Pettit and tempered by Ethel de Long’s urge to celebrate.

The idea of community may be a weft, but it is also what binds the whole cloth of the physical Community with a large “C”. It is a weaving colored by the black of coal, the sap-green of the summer forest, the red of weathered barns or morning fog, and the brilliant orange of October maples. Pine Mountain is a community that hears the whippoorwill and weeps, yet, clatters its pots to send the birds from the garden. It calls forth the Great Horned and the Bard Owl with digital sounds on night-time walks or imitates bird calls in quiet forest walks and is tricked by the mockingbird. It is a community of corn-pone and colloquilisms.

The Pine Mountain community is not, as some want to foreground, just a people of corn-pone, shucky-beans and fat-back. but, it is also the people of a busy Wal-Mart and Food City on Saturday morning carting home fast food and beer. It is Pine Mountain’s coarse entire wheat bread and it is a fat fried chicken on Sunday and last night’s leftover squirrel and gravy and the Butterball turkey and marshmallow sweet potatoes on Thanksgiving.

Community is also the secret still on the hill and the gun that killed the revenuer, or the neighbor, and also the ABC (Alcohol and Beverage Control) store and the oxycodone or meth deal on the lonely road to drug addiction. It is family lies and secrets, loves and deceits. It is J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy (2016) and it is Horace Kephart’s Our Southern Highlanders ( 1913). It is the new-born and the “Funeralizing.” It is the set and turn-single, the musician and the song and the American Idol newly crowned. It is the gentleman come a-courtin’ and the “hook-up” online. It’s the ancestor who was a mail-order bride and it is Match.com. It is the child named “Alfreda” for the School doctor that delivered her and it is also “Brittney” — as in Spears and the now common “Justin” — as in Beaver.

It’s vegetables and flowers from shared seeds and the new canning techniques learned from extension workers and from Grow Appalachia, the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture project and the new-old “farm to table” ethos. It is the wedding in the Chapel and the divorce in the County Court House. It is a community we all recognize and yet, so many find unique. A community is a kind of celebration. It is always time folding back on itself and captured in the lens of the day.


A newly married couple in the Pine Mountain community, standing next to a well. [Vl_34_1111_mod.jpg]


Community is the marriage that brings people together in celebration of their own memories. Celebrations often can mark the seasons. In the history of Pine Mountain, there are many celebrations: Fair Day that shows off the Fall harvest; May Day that remembers the European origins of many who live in the community. Community is also communion with others of like faith. It is the baptizing in the creek and the loud “Amen” in the church service. It is speaking in tongues and celebrating High Mass. It is the boiling down of sorghum and the “black-strap” in the bottom of the pan.

Community is sometimes sweet like the boiling down of sorghum molasses in a community ‘stir-off’.  It is sometimes sour.  It is the mash of a mountain moonshine still turned into Saturday nights with a quart jar full of forgetting. In fall, it is the gathering of walnuts and hickory nuts and, in early spring and late winter, the gathering of the slow drip of maple sap for syrup.

Community and celebration have a close association with the idea of  “gathering.” It many ways it is like the unique “Funeralizing” at the end of life…. a gathering of memories and a summing up of friends and family long dead and recently brought among those who went before.


The ‘pragmatist,’ Josiah Royce, a friend of John Dewey, of William James and Charles Sanders Pierce, challenged his contemporaries to find the answers to some very tough questions. The most challenging of these questions  were those entangled with the idea of “community.” Royce wrote during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century — the years between the wars when communities were undergoing rapid changes due to industrialization. Katherine Pettit, ever the pragmatist founder and director of Pine Mountain Settlement School, was keenly aware of the shifting social, economic, and political climate of her time .

There is evidence that Pettit, and those she worked with on a daily basis, frequently questioned what it meant to be part of a community. As strong as her ideas and personality were reported to be, there is evidence that Pettit and other workers were not social dictators. They clearly sought to bring their views and their visions in line with those of the settlement’s service area —its community. They saw the Settlement School and its surrounding area as a fluid environment of ideas that drew its strength from varieties of ideas.

That the many Directors and Workers have passed along such a rich record of their celebrations and their efforts to “figure it out,”– this elusive “community” question — is a testimony to the strong spirit of community found throughout the one-hundred-year history of the institution and the surrounding area of Pine Mountain. It is no accident that the phrase, “In the Spirit of Pine Mountain,” has become such a favorite phrase in the literature of the last fifty years. The “Spirit of Pine Mountain” is pervasive,


A weaver in the Pine Mountain community. [sas_019.jpg]

Through Royce and others the questions around “community” are given complex theories and elaborate arguments. Royce and others in the formative era of the School tackled questions of moral values and of religious ideals, but at their most essential, Royce’s views  and those who shared his intellectual journey, his “community”, did not arrive at definitive answers but relied on the questions asked of each individual as they confronted the nature of their singular existence and the meaning of their singular lives. Royce and Uncle Wiliam Creech had this self-inquiry in common.

So many individuals who passed through Pine Mountain and came face-to-face with “community” in all its permutations both within and without the School were changed by their experiences. Many of these evolutions are captured in the writing of the workers at the School but also in the photographs they took, in the stories they re-told and the celebrations they mounted. Events that speak to “Community” within the Pine Mountain region are recorded by the many individuals who spent time at the School and also by their neighbors who lived nearby in the joined Community.


Staff workers at Pine Mountain, c. 1918. [sixteen_staff_mod1.jpg]

Royce reminds us that such personal recording of community events are natural outgrowths … “These events happened… These events belong to the life of this self or of this other self. . . The events have many varieties and the significance of the facts is not confined to the particulars nor are the events ignorant of the present variety of experience.” [Roth, p.365]


The following materials gathered under COMMUNITY CELEBRATIONS  and GUIDE TO FAMILIIES IN THE PINE MOUNTAIN VALLEY COMMUNITY, capture moments in the lives of hundreds of individuals who shared this special place, the Pine Mountain Settlement School and the Pine Mountain valley and surrounding hollows. The materials and illustrations pulled from the PINE MOUNTAIN COLLECTIONS reflect the response of an isolated region coming to terms with industrialization and later with technology. The visual images often hint at the shifts that industrialization brought to the peoples understanding of community but there are deeper shifts also at work in the later photographs.

More recently the changes in community are marked by the tensions of technology: the digital divide;  the distraction of television and games and other media formats ; robots and the loss of jobs; immigration; the collapse of coal in an undiversified economy; opioid addiction and other complex contemporary shifts.

Stream Ecology class. Environmental education class – St. Francis School

It is hoped that the illustrations found in COMMUNITY can bring us to a reflection on the time-process at work on our discreet memories and how those memories shape our present. The illustrations here include the rich and unique individual responses that are so very important to building a diverse community and world, while celebrating our shared humanity. As individuals, we continue to attempt to describe our own influences, places, people, ideas, and the ever elusive but inclusive “spirit” of places we hold dear. The Pine Mountain community paused briefly to remember the course of its 100 years  and then moved on. It is wished that the reader will grasp through the illustrations found in COMMUNITY – CELEBRATIONS what it means to both build community and to live within it in celebration of life as they move on through their unique life.

Helen Wykle