Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: BIOGRAPHY – Staff
Series 19: STUDENTS
Jess Patterson, Student, Worker, Dulcimer-Maker
Jess Patterson (1909-1983)


Jess Patterson (1909-1983), dulcimer-maker. Source: “Country Miles Are Longer Than City Miles” by Craig Evan Boyce (Ward Ritchie Press, 1976). [patterson_jess_022.jpg]

TAGS: Jess Patterson, Edna Mae (Metcalf) Patterson, students, Glyn Patterson, William Emmit Patterson, workers, farming, woodworking, crafts, chairs, tables, dulcimers, Craig Evan Royce, Country Miles Are Longer Than City Miles


Student, Worker, Dulcimer-Maker 1930s – 1960s

Jess Patterson (1909-1983) was a staff member for 30 years at Pine Mountain Settlement School in the 1930s through the 1960s, working as a bus driver, maintenance and farm worker and also as an expert craftsman and sorghum maker at the School.

JESS PATTERSON Staff: At Pine Mountain

Throughout his years at the School, Jess performed many and varied tasks around the campus but found his true calling in the wood shop. There he began to apply some of the tools he used as a handyman to constructing furniture and dulcimers. Craig Evan Royce describes in Country Miles Are Longer Than City Miles (Authorhouse, 2007) how Patterson’s interest in woodworking began:

As a young man, Jess Patterson worked the coal of Harlan County….to support his young family…. It was not until he began to drive the school bus at Pine Mountain Settlement School, a truck with two seats, that his interest in wood began to grow. 

Royce quotes Patterson:

I lived down by Little Laurel and would walk three miles to the school and drive the school bus, wait around for the afternoon to drive the bus again, then walk home in the evening. The director said, ‘Jess, why don’t you go up in the wood shop and make something?’ Well, Boone Callahan was wood shop boss. I went up and talked with Callahan and I was watching them and I asked if I could learn to make something. They taught me to turn on the lathe and use the tools.

As Patterson worked for the School, he continued to develop his woodworking skills. His tables, crafted after the large “tilt-top” tables in the Laurel House dining room, became much sought after. He was one of the few staff members who could instruct in the craft of hickory chairmaking and hickory caning (weaving strips of hickory bark for the chairs’ seats). He learned the art of “riving” (splitting) boards, which he used to re-shingle Creech (Aunt Sal’s) Cabin.

Royce writes that the School “helped tie Jess Patterson to the history of his immediate environment and taught him lessons vital to his creating,” such as the importance of making things that are durable, wasting nothing, and appreciating the “beauty of things natural.”


Jess became well-known for his beautifully constructed dulcimers. According to Craig Evan Royce, he had made over 500 dulcimers in his lifetime. They continue to be highly regarded to this day, not only because of the traditional techniques that he used to maximize tonal quality but also for their unique designs.

Dr. Alice Cobb, a longtime PMSS teacher who had returned to the School for a visit, wrote of her impressions concerning a seminar at Pine Mountain and included a mention of Jess Patterson. The meeting consisted of a group of college students from nine different states who came to learn about Appalachian culture. 

One of the seminar students wanted to make a dulcimer. His teacher was Jess Patterson, whose whole family, as students or as staff members, have connections with the School in all phases of its history. (NOTES – 1976 April, page 2.)

Craig Evan Royce writes:

Jess Patterson allows nothing to stand in the way of creating in his dulcimers the most perfect harmony he can, both in melody and appearance. He will go to great lengths to smooth a knot in wood he finds aesthetically pleasing. He goes to the heart of the tree for the most beautiful and expressive wood, to the soul of the man for the most beautiful and expressive melody.

JESS PATTERSON: His Life and Family

Jess Patterson was born on January 13, 1909. He was the son of George S. Patterson (born c. 1865), a farmer, and Martha Patterson (born c. 1879). Jess had two older siblings: Nora (born c. 1901) and Clarence (born c. 1899).

He was married to Edna Mae (Metcalf) Patterson (1910-2001) who was also a student and later a worker at the School, excelling in the art of weaving. The Pattersons rented a house on campus that was later known as Creech Cottage.

Edna Mae and Jess had two sons, Glyn (Glenn?) E. Patterson (born c. 1931; married Kay of Titusville, Florida) and William Emmitt Patterson. William Emmitt (1930-1993) was a member of the 1949 PMSS graduating class. He married Christine Kinnaird, who was PMSS teacher from 1953 to 1956.

Jess Patterson died on August 6, 1983, in Totz, Kentucky, at the age of 74 after a long illness and was buried in Resthaven Cemetery, Keith, Kentucky. He was survived by his wife and his two sons.

Jess Patterson was among those who were honored during a moment of silent remembrance at the August 13, 1983, Homecoming by attendees of the Association of Pine Mountain School Alumni and Friends. 

The Fall 1983 issue of Notes from the Pine Mountain Settlement School published the following on page 2: 

In Memoriam: JESS PATTERSON, a cherished employee of Pine Mountain Settlement School, woodworker and craftsman. Jess was the builder of our gift shop dulcimers, numbering close to 100 built before his death.


DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Dulcimers at Pine Mountain

For Additional Photos of Jess Patterson, see: PAUL LYNN Photograph Album

See Also:
EDNA MAE (METCALF) PATTERSON Staff Student – Biography
– Biography


Jess Patterson

Alt. Title

Jess L. Patterson ; Jessie Patterson ; Jesse Patterson ;




Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY

Alt. Creator

Ann Angel Eberhardt ; Helen Hayes Wykle ;

Subject Keyword

Jess Patterson ; Jess L. Patterson ; Pine Mountain Settlement School ; Edna Mae (Metcalf) Patterson ; Glyn Patterson ; William Emmit Patterson ; students ; workers ; farming ; woodworking ; crafts ; chairs ; tables ; dulcimers ; Craig Evan Royce ; Country Miles Are Longer Than City Miles ;

S ubject LCSH

Patterson, Jess, — 1909 – 1983.
Pine Mountain Settlement School (Pine Mountain, Ky.) — History.
Harlan County (Ky.) — History.
Education — Kentucky — Harlan County.
Rural schools — Kentucky — History.
Schools — Appalachian Region, Southern.
Handicrafts — Appalachian Region.


2017-08-26 hw


Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY


Cora Richardson


Collections ; text ; image ;


Original and copies of documents and correspondence in file folders in filing cabinet


Series 09: Biography – Staff/Personnel ; Series 19: Students.




Is related to: Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections, Series 09: Biography – Staff/Personnel ; Series 19: Students.

Coverage Temporal

1909 – 2001

Coverage Spatial

Pine Mountain, KY ; Harlan County, KY ; Totz, KY ; Keith, KY ;


Any display, publication, or public use must credit the Pine Mountain Settlement School. Copyright retained by the creators of certain items in the collection, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.




Core documents, correspondence, writings, and administrative papers of Jess Patterson ; clippings, photographs, books by or about Jess Patterson ;




“[Identification of Item],” [Collection Name] [Series Number, if applicable]. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY.

Processed By

Helen Hayes Wykle ; Ann Angel Eberhardt ;

Last Updated

2018-08-24 aae ;



Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed 17 July 2018), memorial page for Jessie L Patterson (13 Jan 1909–6 Aug 1983), Find A Grave Memorial no. 156643779, citing Resthaven Cemetery, Keith, Harlan County, Kentucky, USA ; Maintained by Cora L Richardson (contributor 48824391) .

“Jess Patterson,” 1983 ALUMNI RELATIONSNOTES – 1976 ; NOTES – 1983. Series 09: Biography – Staff/Personnel and Series 19: Students. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY. Internet resource.

“Jess Patterson” Obituary, Harlan Daily Enterprise, August 9, 1983. Digital image courtesy of Cora Richardson.

“Jess Patterson” in the Gallery on “Revels Music” website. [Accessed 2018-07-20.]

Royce, Craig E. Country Miles Are Longer Than City Miles: 30th Anniversary Edition. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2007. Print. PENDING PERMISSION.

“United States Census, 1910,” database with images, ( : accessed 17 July 2018), Jesse L Patterson in household of George S Patterson, Hyden, Leslie, Kentucky, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 134, sheet 10A, family 163, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), roll 489; FHL microfilm 1,374,502.  Internet resource.

“United States Census, 1940,” database with images, ( : accessed 17 July 2018), Jessie Patterson, Magisterial District 4, Harlan, Kentucky, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 48-33, sheet 8B, line 76, family 124, Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, NARA digital publication T627. Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790 – 2007, RG 29. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012, roll 1314. Internet resource.


Royce, Craig E., and Jeffrey Gitlin. Country Miles Are Longer Than City Miles. Pasadena, Calif: W. Ritchie Press, 1976. Print.

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