Tag Archives: community

VALENTINES From the Past

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: BIOGRAPHY – Staff, Students
Valentines from the Past



TAGS: valentines from the past, staff, students, community, valentine cards, excerpts, Stapleton reports, sugar-cookies, valentine parties, Pine Cone, Alice Cobb, Edith Cold, crafts, Community Group, Co-op program, Margaret Kraatz Wright, love letters


In various ways, the PMSS staff, students and community of the past have sent us valentines. Through letters, narratives, publications, photographs and reports, they told us who they were and how they lived and worked. And throughout the 100-plus years of the Pine Mountain Settlement School’s existence, forward-thinking people saved these treasures so that succeeding generations may gain a deeper understanding of days gone by.

To celebrate Valentine’s Day, here are a few valentines from the past … about valentines:

STAPLETON REPORT 1928 – February

Valentine, c. 1930. Source: Chordboard [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Ira Stapleton and Rev. Robert Stapleton worked at the Line Fork Medical Settlement from 1926 through 1937. Dr. Stapleton sent reports back to their employer, Katherine Pettit, and the PMSS Board of Trustees on a quarterly and monthly basis. The reports detailed much about dealing with the many health issues they encountered but they also recorded their daily interactions with members of the local community. In a 1928 report, Dr. Ira Stapleton wrote:

I made some Valentine sugar-cookies and they were so good Grandpap and Bennet “‘lowed they must have come from the store.” I felt quite complimented as I do not make cookies very often….Finding two heart-shaped cookie cutters among the kitchen furnishings I was tempted to make some for the school children at Bear Branch and there was enough for the birthday-man also. The smaller was placed on top of the larger one and when baked stood out in a pretty relief.

Valentine Party: PINE CONE 1933 March

Scan of a Valentine greeting card depicting Cupids circa 1900. By Chordboard - Self, from material in my possession. Public Domain.[https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4310719]

Valentine, c. 1900. Source: Chordboard [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

THE PINE CONE was a literary publication written and published by PMSS students during the Boarding School years and intermittently printed in later years. The Pine Cone was also printed as a general newsletter with the first publication produced in 1929. Here is one of the articles appearing on page 3 in the March 1933 issue.

Great was our delight when we each received an invitation to go the Valentine Party in costume Saturday night, Feb. 18. We went and had a good time playing games. Refreshments were served and prizes were given for the funniest, best costumed, prettiest and those who came the nearest pinning on the tail of a donkey in the right place. There was a good place for fishing so we fished for our fortunes. My! I hope some of them don’t come true.

Valentine Cards: ALICE COBB STORIES Handing Over Divide Sunday School to Miss Cold, June 1937

Scan of a Valentine greeting card circa 1920. VALENTINES from the Past

Valentine, c. 1920. Source: Chordboard [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In Alice Cobb’s letter to Edith Cold, who was replacing Miss Cobb as a Sunday School teacher, she describes the part of the Sunday School schedule during which the children do “handwork.”  

There are plenty of scissors, crayons, and pencils in the Sunday School shelf, a few Sunday School papers, lots of blank paper, and some valentine, birthday, and Easter cards. I use the Christmas cards every week. They simply love them, and look forward to a card with the paper. To show how much they treasure even the most worthless thing — I gave one of the little boys a handful of scraps from the drawer to put in the stove, and he asked if he might have them to take home!

Valentine Cards: COMMUNITY GROUP ASSEMBLY May 20, 1942

Valentine, c. 1915. Source: Missouri History Museum via Wikimedia Commons

First-hand accounts, written by students and presented at the Community Group Assembly, describe their part in the work of the Community Group and the Co-op program at Pine Mountain that took the students out into the community to work with families. Here is an excerpt from a report presented by Flora Mae Ford:

School is no more than well started when along comes the succession of holidays — Columbus Day, Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine Day, and Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays, Easter — and the teachers are anxious to have room decorations made, the children want to make mementos of those days to take home, too. … Of course there is no greater joy for us than when we prepare a Christmas treat for each child and deliver it on the last visit before the vacation — unless it’s when the valentine box is opened and we find lots of valentines (the kinds we have taught them to make) addressed to us.


In the mood to read love letters? The letters of Margaret Kraatz Wright, an eager PMSS teacher during the early 1930s, tell that kind of story. Romancing her future husband through correspondence, Margaret takes a journey that is humorous, touching, incomprehensible, and often maddening, but a journey that eventually won her a lifetime partner.

One of the larger collections of personal letters in the Pine Mountain staff holdings is digitized at MARGARET KRAATZ WRIGHT Correspondence 1930-1932, providing images of the letters and accompanying summaries. If the reader follows the summaries or is patient with the idiosyncrasies of her handwriting in the images, the stories will charm and engage.

See Also: 
LETTERS to a Sweetheart

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH The Stir-Off Sorghum Molasses

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 16: Special Events


The following account details a “Stir-off” in 1944 at the home of “Uncle” Henry Creech, son of William and Sally Creech who lived approximately a mile northeast of the settlement school. “Uncle” was a common form of both respect and affection. Henry Creech, son of William Creech gave his land that Pine Mountain might begin its work educating families in the Pine Mountain valley in Harlan County, Kentucky. But,  Pine Mountain soon learned that education was born a twin and that they had much to learn from the community. The Creech home was a favorite gathering place for many who worked at the School and a rich learning environment for those interested in mountain ways and customs.  Uncle Henry was a man of many talents and one of those was his understanding of what makes a good batch of sorghum and more importantly, what makes a good neighbor.

A “stir-off” was a common community event in the early years of the School and one eagerly looked forward to by the children.  The warm, sweet sorghum, dipped out on long canes cut from the sugar cane stalk was enough to satisfy even the most discerning “sweet-tooth”.

[From 1944 NOTES]


Children's Stiroff - Mable and Ralph Cornett, Helen and Steve Hayes, David Barry, Mr. Creech, Kathy Barry, Elizabeth Dodd. September, 1946. nace_1_047a.jpg

Children’s Stiroff at Uncle Henry’s House – Mable and Ralph Cornett, Helen and Steve Hayes, David Barry, Mr. Creech, Kathy Barry, Elizabeth Dodd. September, 1946. nace_1_047a.jpg



“You who have been using the 1944 Pine Mountain calendar have during October looked many times at the picture of a “stir off” at Henry Creech’; place. When sorghum is plentiful, and the weather is right it is Henry’s good custom to invite the whole school for an evening “stirring off”. Early in September we began asking each other when the cane would be ready, and presently on the heels of our wondering. came the invitation. All of us knew that that day since dawn, cane cutting had been going along down on Isaac’s Creek, and all being well, we would “stir off” about eight o’clock.

We tramped up the creek as dusky dark changed to night, and our torches were stars strewn all down the road, from the speedy vanguard to trailers clambering over the stile above Big Log House, a shouting, singing crowd. We rounded the last bend to see the
fire glowing in a gulley below, close to the creek, and Henry Creech’s dark figure weaving shadows with the swinging lantern. Early arrivals clustered about the fire, whittling ends of cane for us to dip the foam with. While we waited for the foam to be ready the group settled here and there to sing -ballads or run sets on the grass. The steady hand-clapping of the dancers and the shrill calls of the leader accompanied strains of “Sourwood Mountain” and ‘The Ground Hog”.

As usual there were newcomers to the mountains who had never heard of a stir off and we asked Henry if he would tell the new ones all about the process.

“You have to cut the cane and then strip the stalks and seems like one or two men working on the job can do more than all the women you could set to it in a day. I don’t know why, but it’s that way. You have to put the stalks in the cane mill, and then hitch up the horse, so he pulls it around and around, and then the cane juice drips down the spout in the tub and you pour it in the trough here.”

He paused to adjust the lantern, and we looked at the trough, which was like a wide flat boat, divided into two sections, and about three quarters full of dark liquid, now beginning to foam on the top. It was not yet ready because the foam was still green, although some of us were licking green foam to Henry’s mild disapproval. He said it “would cause stomach complaints” before it was ripe.

‘Then you cook it, and it has to cook for about eight hours, ’till it boils up and foams over the top, and when the foam comes on you skim that off and throw it away—and finally it’s a nice yellow foam, and that’s when it’s good for licking—and then you decide when it’s done and pour off the molasses in a lard can, and that’s all.’

It was not all really, for by the end of the explanation the foam was ready for dipping. This, we should explain. is done with paddles, which are cane stalks with flattened ends, used like spoons. (To be sure it takes time for the uninitiated to get used to the idea that everybody can hygienically dip into a common trough of boiling sorghum.) 120 paddles dipped, 120 eager tongues tasted and licked. Before sorghum melted in the trough before our eyes.

But we tasted more than sorghum. We tasted the joy of a real country function. Here in the mountains our social occasions are made of simple homely happenings…

… The stir-off ended. But the “sweetenin” we eat some dreary day next February will bring back the wood-smoke and firelight.”

[Recounted by Robert Creech, son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Creech, grandson Of Uncle William. Killed in action in the South Pacific area on Sept. 27th, 1943 [?]. Written by Alice Cobb [?]  From: NOTES – 1944]


Friends & Neighbors – VI-51 – 1717. “Black” Sol Day and family.

Sol Day‘s stir-off.  Behind the house, they had set up a great trough on stones, under which they kept a long line of fire. Three or four men with lanterns (this was an evening affair) were keeping the sorghum from burning, by stirring it with paddles and the sweet smell just filled the air. All around were neighbors with sticks of sugar-cane, which they dipped in the foam on top and then sucked — good, but awfully sweet! The moon came up and lighted the sugar patch on the hilltop where all the sweetness came from.  Finally, they drew the trough off the fire and poured the liquid off into buckets, and then we all went down to the sawdust pile and watched the set-running. A set is really a quadrille, only danced as fast as you can do it, the boys snapping their fingers to speed things up and calling out the figures, “Wild Goose Chase,  “Home Swing”, etc.

[From Evelyn K. Wells’ Transcription 1915 of her letters home.]