Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: Biography – Community Families


TAGS: Shell Family; Pine Mountain Settlement School; Pine Mountain Valley Community; PMSS Boarding School Students; Shell’s Gap; Civil War; Community Fair Days; land donations; Creech Cottage; Shell Creek; Evelyn K. Wells; Uncle John Shell (b. ; Old John Shell;  John D. Shell (b. 1847) ; Mary Ann Shell (1846-1917), “Aunt Polly” Shell (1846-1917), Shell’s Gap; Civil War; Community Fair Days; land donations; Shell Creek; Evelyn K. Wells; John D. Shell; Uncle John Shell; Mary Elizabeth (Nolan) “Aunt Sis” Shell; Shell Farm; Shell Farm;

John Dixon Shell Family

NOTE: The following list is not in chronological order. Also, this list does not attempt to distinguish “Old” John Shell (c. 1823-1922) from the younger “Uncle” John D. Shell (1847-1942) in cases where such a distinction was not clear in the original sources.

Members of the Shell Family who lived in the community of Pine Mountain since very early years likely return to a common pioneer ancestor. However, considerable confusion has been caused by two “John” Shells who are sometimes not disambiguated. The first is “Old” John Shell whose cabin, now a National Heritage Landmark sits not far from Pine Mountain Settlement School in Leslie County. The second is John Dixon Shell, whose family lived not far from the School. This Shell family is related to the Nolan and to the Day families in the area.

According to Cora Richardson, whose great-grandmother was Sara Jane (Shell) Nolan: “The Shell family owned lots of land on Pine Mountain and Shell’s Gap is located on top of Pine Mountain west of PMSS on Little Shepherd Trail.” John D. Shell is buried in 

Several Shell family members attended Pine Mountain Settlement School in 1939 through 1949 which was during the boarding school years. Chester, Emily Mae, Napoleon, Tressie

Go to for a detailed family tree, beginning with Samuel Shell of Leslie County, Kentucky, born in 1782.

For additional assistance in locating histories of families in Eastern Kentucky see:

Harlan County, Kentucky Genealogy – FamilySearch Wiki

Recently (8/8/2019) Roger Gilbert provided information regarding the two John Shells that helped clarify the two John Shells.  He wrote
[The photograph] John Shell and his wife on their front porch with Watch, their dog. [cropped]
John D. Shell and wife Aunt Sis.

John D. Shell and Wife Mary Nolan “Aunt Sis” Shell on their front porch with Watch, their dog. Before 1917. mccullough_II_47a_full-view

Roger Gilbert continues


Cora Richardson, who photographed the tombstone seen above, is a great-great-grandchild of John Dixon Shell., and advises that “this John D. Shell is not to be confused with with Uncle John Shell who lived to be really old. He always went by John D.”

Born in 1847 (date is sometimes given as 1848 – see gravestone), John Dixon Shell was the son of Solomon Shell and Tabitha (Dixon) Shell. (Solomon was the son of Samuel Shell, c. 1782-1841, and Mary Ann Fry Shell.) Solomon and Tabitha had 10 known children, including John’s brother, Henry Dixon Shell, and sister, Mary Ann  “Aunt Polly” Shell (1846-1917) who married William Day. Mary Ann and William were the parents of “Black” Sol Day (1880-1955)and several other children. 

The photograph below of Mary Ann “Aunt Polly” Shell Day and the Jasper Days,” would date before 1917, the year of Aunt Polly’s death.

“Aunt Polly” (Mary Ann Shell) and the Jasper Days.” Man (Jasper Day) . Photograph before 1917. and woman (Mary Ann “Aunt Polly” Shell Day) with three children, standing outside with log structure to the far right. FN Vl_35_1144a

The photogrpah of Mary Elizabeth Nolan Shell known as “Aunt Sis” is shown in the following photograph shearing sheep with Mrs. Day (with hat and to right).

Mary Elizabeth Nolan “Aunt Sis” Shell (left) and Mrs. Day (in hat, right). [045_VI_FN_pg7a_055.jpg]

Margaret Motter recorded a story of the atrocities committed by Rebels and local people during the American Civil War. The story was told to Motter by an anonymous person who heard it from his grandfather Nolan and Billy Shell. MARGARET MOTTER WRITINGS “AROUND 1865…”

Emily Shell is listed under “Students” in the May Supplement to CONIFER – 1949.

William Creech wrote to Katherine Pettit on November 30, 1911, that Mr. Shell will help with building a school, probably by leasing land. CREECH LETTERS 1911. On August 5, 1912, Creech wrote that Mr. Shell will give land and timber to the School. CREECH LETTERS 1912.

Evelyn K. Wells wrote home in 1916 about visiting Uncle John Shell “whom we found splitting kindling. He was most entertaining, telling us all about the game one used to be able to catch, and conditions when the country was really wild.” She writes that later, while riding pass Uncle John Shell’s, “I saw a quaint procession passing, through the bottomland. Aunt Sis stalking along, behind her Uncle John with his beard and slouch hat, and after them a boy driving a sledge drawn by a team of oxen. They are getting in their corn because the sheep are eating it….” EVELYN K. WELLS 1916 Excerpts From Letters Home.

John Shell’s (This is Old John Shell) bear story is recorded in the March 1927 issue of Pine Mountain Settlement School Notes, page 1. Henry Shell is mentioned on page 2. NOTES – 1927.

In a report on the 1944 COMMUNITY FAIR DAY, Alice Cobb described an exhibit of vintage household items, which included “the bed that Uncle John Shell (based on date, most likely John Dixon Shell made for Aunt Sal (Creech) when [she and William Creech] were married, maybe eighty years ago.” Also published on pages 1-3, NOTES – 1944.

Creech Cottage was built by Charles Creech and Ruth (Smith) Creech on land once owned by John Shell. It sits some distance from the main campus along Shell Creek, near the current beaver ponds. According to a DEAR FRIEND letter of November 14, 1914, “We are still borrowing from Uncle John Shell the little grey cottage where we first lived. With two tents for satellites, it makes another home center…” in the beginning days of PMSS.

Mae Shell was among those who graduated from Pine Mountain Settlement School in May 1941. 1941 GRADUATING CLASS.

Evelyn K. Wells, in a narrative on religious life at PMSS, wrote “In 1924 the double wedding of Allene Nolan to Dillard Metcalf and Hazel Nolan to Pearl Shell took place in the Chapel. Mr. Fields of Big Laurel married them, and the Laurel House girls were the ‘waiters.’” WELLS RECORD 18 RELIGIOUS LIFE 1913-1928…

Evelyn Wells’ 1919 letter home mentions Pearl Shell, who drove his grandparents, Aunt Louize and Uncle John Fiddler Nolan, in a wagon harnessed to mules, to the polls to vote. EVELYN K. WELLS 1919 Excerpts From Letters Home.

Evelyn K. Wells, longtime PMSS secretary, wrote home in 1915 about celebrating Christmas: “…we took the little Christmas trees to Aunt Sis Shell [Mary Elizabeth Nolan Shell] and Aunt Polly Day [Mary Ann Shell Day]. We cut the trees along the way and trimmed them by the roadside, and then bore them to the houses…” EVELYN K. WELLS 1915 Excerpts From Letters Home

In 1918, Evelyn Wells wrote to her family, “The other day I called on Aunt Sis Shell [Mary Elizabeth Nolan Shell]. She took me into the bedroom to see her wool, the fleeces of 50 sheep, black, Southdown and white, piled high on three feather beds, we have picked out some fleeces — mine, a lovely Southdown, gray-brown, to be woven into a linsey skirt for next winter.” EVELYN K. WELLS 1918 Excerpts From Letters Home.

Percy MacKaye’s book, Tall Tales of the Kentucky Mountains, includes a story “told in the mountain vernacular by Solomon Shell, a legendary figure.” See chapter ‘King Solomon’s Power Pump,’ p. 57 (full-text not available online). MacKaye, a poet and dramatist, visited PMSS in the summer of 1921. Tall Tales of the Kentucky Mountains is also known as “A Mountain Munchhausen.” It was first published in the Century magazine VII, p. 9-185) (July-November, 1924) PERCY MACKAYE. Percy MacKaye was in residence at Pine Mountian  Settlement in the early 1920s. Due to copyright restrictions the full text of this book is not available online.

SHELL FARM FIELD PLAN, 1948, displays a map, hand-drawn by William Hayes, farmer, 1939-1953, depicting the layout of the PMSS farm that included leased Shell farm property.

Members of the Shell Family are mentioned in the article “John Shell: Latest Study of Oldest Man…,” such as John Schell  [sic] and William C. Shell (his eldest son), Allen H. Shell (William’s only child), Polly Huff (John D. Shell’s daughters ?), Stewart Shell (son of Allen and grandson of William Shell). Old John Shell had approximately 11 children. LOCAL HISTORY SCRAPBOOK: JOHN SHELL.


Shell John D. 1927 COBB STORIES ” “John Shell…“; “Logging in Gabes…” John D. Shell
Shell Henry 1927 COBB STORIES ” “John Shell…”
Mr. & Mrs. Shell Bradley 1934 – 1942 MAP OF COMMUNITY RESIDENTS 1934 – 1942
Mrs. Shell Mary Elizabeth “Aunt Sis” (Nolan) Mrs. John D. Shell 1916 1916 CHRISTMAS AT PMSS “The Beginning” John D. Shell  Has 3 children at PMSS school.

Shell Family: PMSS WORKERS

NONE FOUND  Pearl Shell [?]

Shell Family: PMSS BOARDING STUDENTS, 1921-1949


NONE FOUND (See Nolan and Day families)

See Also:

ALICE COBB STORIES John Shell in Notes 1927

JOHN D. SHELL Biography
FARM: Shell Farm Plan, 1948


CALVIN NOLAN Biography [Calvin’s sister Mary Elizabeth Nolan (Aunt Sis) married John D. Shell.]
ELHANNON MURPHY NOLAN Biography [Spouse: Sarah Jane (Shell) Nolan]

[Sol Day’s mother was Mary (“Aunt Polly”) Ann (Shell) Day.]



Shell Family




Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY

Alt. Creator

Ann Angel Eberhardt ; Helen Hayes Wykle ;

Subject Keyword

Shell Family ; Shell’s Gap ; Civil War ; Community Fair Days ; land donations ; Creech Cottage ; Shell Creek ; Evelyn K. Wells ; John D. Shell ; Uncle John Shell ; Aunt Sis Shell;  Shell Farm ;

Subject LCSH

Shell Family.
Pine Mountain Settlement School (Pine Mountain, Ky.) — History.
Harlan County (Ky.) — History.
Education — Kentucky — Harlan County.
Rural schools — Kentucky — History.
Families — Kentucky.
Schools — Appalachian Region, Southern.




Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY


Cora Richardson, Corbin, KY, 2018; a great-great-grandchild of John D. Shell.
Peter Rogers, Pine Mountain, KY, 2018.


Collections ; text ; image ;


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


Series 09: Biography – Community Families




Is related to: Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections, Series 09: Biography – Families

Coverage Temporal

1911 – 1949

Coverage Spatial

Pine Mountain, KY ; Harlan County, 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 the Shell Family ; clippings, photographs, books by or about the Shell Family ;




“[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

2018-08-06 aae ;



”Shell.” PINE MOUNTAIN VALLEY COMMUNITY RESIDENTS LIST 1910s-1940s ; GUIDE TO BOARDING SCHOOL STUDENTS, 1929-1949. Series 09: Biography – Families. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY. Internet resource.


Wallace, L. E. T., & Wright State University (Dayton, Ohio). University Library. Department of Archives and Special Collections. (1993). John Shell of Leslie County, Kentucky: (a compilation of papers useful to researching John Shell). Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah. BIBLIOGRAPHY HARLAN COUNTY, KENTUCKY. Print.

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