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DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH III – PLACE

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Blog: DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH – III

PINE MOUNTAIN AS PLACE
THE PHYSICAL SPACE OF AN IDEA
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LOG CABIN

Poem by Dora Read Goodale  (1863-1953), from Mountain Dooryards, Torch Press, Cedar Rapids, IA, 1941.

Little bitty ……. hit mought so be,
But it doesn’t look that way to me;
Ever’ log in it once a tree
That aimed at the sky ; the chimley-herth
Once a piece of the living yerth
And old Kentuck; and shutter and sill,
Puncheons, ruf-boards, or what ye will
Hewed and rived by my pap’s pap
When he was young an full of sap
Ther’es Coy’s fiddle — I tell you what! —
Mammy’s churn, and the big black pot
For Monday’s wash; and the shot-gun thar
Over the door, that’s kilt a bar;
Porch out front, and a picket gate
With flowers a-blowin early and late —
Why, ever’ one of em’s dear, so dear,
If I’d done been in Heaven a year
I’d still want out, to get back here.

                  Dora Read Goodale

Dora Read Goodale came to Pine Mountain Settlement School to teach when she was forty-seven years old.  She was born in 1866 in Mount Washington in the Berkshires .  Her arrival at the school in the founding year of 1913 provided her with a unique perspective of the school and community.   She came from a precocious Vermont family of writers and poets and brought those talents to her teaching at the school. Before she had reached adolescence she and her sister, Elaine Goodale [Eastman] had published extensively in national magazines and journals. and Dora, the younger of the two, continued writing poetry for most of her lifetime.  Her last work at age 75  was Mountain Dooryards  compiled while she was in residence at Pleasant Hill mission school, a Tennessee school, not unlike Pine Mountain. She served as the director of the Uplands Sanatorium in the late 1930s through 1941, a treatment center that was part of Pleasant Hill mission school.

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The 1920s view of the Settlement School above, shows the cleared areas and the site of the institution within the steep mountainous terrain. The wide angle view is deceptive, as the closeness of the mountain is missed in this panoramic view. Lower left is Old Log, the oldest building on the site.  The Tool Shed is to the middle left and the Office sits to its right.  Deep in the valley is the Burkham School House II and to its right is Old Laurel House.  The Barn,  sits high on the hill above the Office. The Infirmary (now Hill House)Practice House and Farm House were not yet built, nor were the Swimming Pool and the Draper Industrial Building.  Big Log is hidden in the middle distance of the photograph.  The Chapel is to the far right side and beyond, hidden by the dark knoll is Far House I. What stands out in this photograph is the large swaths of cultivated farm land. 

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Aerial view of Pine Mountain Settlement School c. 1941. Westwind is just under construction as the white patch to the right of the photograph. Again, cultivated fields stand out against the heavily forested area around the school. Today, most of the fields are overgrown with young timber and the cultivated land has been reduced to the central areas of the campus at the middle of the photograph. Photo, Arthur Dodd.

Pine Mountain Settlement School is nestled in the long valley on the north side of the Pine Mountain, a long continuous mountain chain on the Cumberland Plateau in the Southeastern United States.

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View down the Pine Mountain valley from the Westwind hill. c. 1920s.

The Cumberland Plateau encompasses some ten thousand square miles and contains nearly twenty counties in the eastern corner of Kentucky.  Pine Mountain Settlement School is in Harlan County, in the far southeast corner of the state where it borders on Virginia and Tennessee. The mountains in this area represent the most majestic in the state, particularly Big Black Mountain which faces the Pine Mountain range on its South side.

Harlan County was named for Major Silas Harlan, a commander in the Illinois Campaigns of 1779,  and was the sixtieth county added to the state.  It was formed from parts of Knox and Floyd counties. The county was one of the highest, most mountainous, and most remote of  the state’s 124 counties at the time of its formation and it remains remote in many ways, even today.

The history of Harlan County is dominated by a history of coal.  Most all the mountains  in the region contain some coal that was formed when the ancient bog and vegetation of an inland sea was compressed into peat and then into coal over a period of millions of years.  Pine Mountain, one of the mountain chains formed when the earth buckled and thrust upward has coal but is not coal rich as the coal seams are too difficult to mine. due to their quasi-vertical angle.  This long “thrust-fault” mountain chain, some 150 miles long, parallels the tall Cumberland range to the south which is certainly coal-rich.  Within this range is the “Big Black” mountain, at 3,300 feet, the highest mountain in the state.

When the Pine Mountain chain was  formed, it thrust upward along the 150  miles in a continuous line running east to west.  Pine Mountain Settlement School sits on the north side of this east-west thrust-fault and below the watershed point on the mountain for two rivers, the Kentucky and the Cumberland.

An amusing story is told of a local community member who had a unique perspective regarding how the mountain could have come to be so tilted. He asked Alice Cobb, a school worker, if she knew, “Why Pine Mountain was such a “quare” shape with so many big loose rocks scattered around.”  Miss Cobb started to respond with her short interpretation of the geology of a “thrust-fault” when the man continued. “Well people about here thinks that when Christ was crucified the earth trembled and shook so it knocked Pine Mountain plum over on its side. And, that’s why.”  And, “on it’s side,” it is. It is the gentle side, the slope, that forms the backdrop to the Settlement School though the mountains sit so close together, that the long slope is pressed up against everyone who lives in the valley.

As streams pushed their way  through the early plateau, they created multiple steep valleys with meandering creeks and rivers.  These many waterways eventually wound their way to the large tributaries of the Missouri and the Mississippi further west. Harlan County and specifically the Pine Mountain range above the settlement school is the source of three of Kentucky’s major rivers; the Cumberland, the Kentucky and further north, the Big Sandy river.

The Cumberland River runs westward and southward through the length of Harlan county and has its head-waters on the south-side of the Pine Mountain range.  Isaac’s Creek or Isaac’s Run, which runs through the campus of the School is the essential headwater of the The Kentucky River as it begins its journey and runs on the north side of the Pine Mountain.  This small stream soon forms Greasy Creek and then the Middle Fork of the Kentucky and then on to the main Kentucky river.

The Kentucky by state historian, Thomas D. Clark, told the story of the this important state tributary in 1942. Clark asked John A. Spelman, III, an art teacher at Pine Mountain Settlement School, to illustrate the book with his linoleum block prints.  The Kentucky was one in a series of books written for The Rivers of America Books, edited by Stephen Vincent Benet and Carl Cramer.  The Kentucky remains the definitive work on this beautiful river and a rich source for information on rivers and culture in the eastern part of Kentucky. Pine Mountain retains the Spelman original blocks for the prints in this important book.  Further, the linoleum blocks of John A. Spelman III may be found throughout Pine Mountain school publications created in the late 1930’s and the early 1940’s.

Thomas D. Clark says of the Middle Fork of the Kentucky

“… the middle one [stream] scampers along through the Big Laurel to Greasy Creek and then to an arbitrary point where temperamental map makers finally decide to imprint the name “Kentucky.”  Perhaps nowhere else in America does a stream drain a more genuinely rural or isolated area. In some respects the valley of this fork comprises America’s human museum. Here the great westward movement eddied and then stood still.  If it be true, as some sociologists have assured us, here are to be found America’s “contemporary ancestors.” Human life has changed little from what it was when the first settlers forced their way through the great pass at Pound Gap or wandered upstream from the “three forks.”  [Clark, p.9-10]

While Clark’s narrative written in 1942, captured life along the creeks of the north side of Pine Mountain, Spelman’s block prints capture the romantic wildness of the mountains in the area.  Spelman left another remarkable set of prints in which he captured the elegance of mountain cabins and the patterns of the mountain farm in his published work, At Home in the Hills: Glimpses of Harlan County, Kentucky Through the Media of the Linoleum Block and the Woodcut.  Published in the Pine Mountain Print Shop in 1939, this sensitive work caught the attention of Thomas Clark when he went looking for an illustrator for his classic, The Kentucky.

Spelman says in his introduction to At Home in the Hills

Where else can one find houses that so grow out of the soil, chimneys with so much unconscious beauty in their lines, roofs and wall spaces with such “at-oneness”? Time and the weather have done much toward their decay, but so have they colored these houses and barns to a mellowness that it makes them at one with the hills upon which they stand.

The Harlan County region has always been difficult to access and the remote geographic area saw only limited settlement in the early years of pioneer exploration. Further, the area  remained isolated far longer than many other more accessible areas of the Appalachian chain of mountains.  This geographic isolation of the north side of Pine Mountain in Harlan County has been a point of discussion of all who have sought to study the area and even today it continues to challenge visitors as they are asked to assess their visits to the School or are asked “How do you get there?” Whether the isolation of the area brings to mind Shangrila or geographic determinism, it is a topic in most any discussion of Pine Mountain Settlement School.  

Settlement of the region by pioneers,  largely European in origin, came early in the nation’s history.  The first exploration, completed by Dr. Thomas Walker in 1750,  rapidly opened the area to settlement.  Immigrants, mostly gleaned from England, Scotland, Ireland and the German Palatinate diaspora, eagerly homesteaded the mountainous area as pioneer farmers joining the Native Americans who were found throughout the area.

bram_ (59) Coal Tipple, c. 1940.  Arthur Dodd, photographer]

When coal was discovered in the mid-eighteen-hundreds, another wave of immigrants came from Europe and then Eastern Europeans joined them to work in the coal-fields. Italians, Austrians, Russians, Hungarians, Rumanians, Czechoslovakians and Polish men entered the mining work-force in Harlan County in large numbers. African Americans shifted from share-cropping and from inner city life to join the coal mining labor force in many of the larger coal camps. Coal accounts for a large population of African Americans in Harlan County, particularly in the International Harvester and United States Steel mining camps of Benham and Lynch.

Kentucky’s eastern coalfields have been both a source of wealth and  a deplorable example of labor exploitation. The region holds land of extraordinary resources and extraordinary environmental degradation.  The history of the settlement school at Pine Mountain, found in its farming, foodways and festivals, a large and important theme for mountain living, but coal always runs as a sub-theme in all that was and is Harlan County. King coal has often stood in,  in contrast to, and sometimes challenged the environmental sensitivity of the School. Today coal mining is both a significant monetary asset and a gross environmental liability for the region. The lack of a diversified economy throughout the Appalachian coal fields has always presented a land of competing values and contrasts.

Authors who have written about the region have all approached the quandary of coal from different perspectives.  Dr. Thomas Walker in his important The Kentucky (1942) devotes one page to the topic.  “Coal” does not show up at all in the index to Henry Shapiro’s Appalachia on Our Mind (1978), one of the most comprehensive overviews of the Appalachian region.  David Whisnant, however, challenges the conundrums head-on in his All That is Native and Fine (1983)  He engages the coal story and citations for coal related subjects are many, including: coalfields  ; coal industry ; coal miners, etc.. Whisnant’s book recounts one of many conflicting stories of coal and its role in the life of eastern Kentucky, but it is a perspective that resonates with many and is important in the debates that surround the role of coal in the development of the early settlement schools of the region.

One story in the Whisnant book describes the early relationship of the coal industry with Hindman Settlement, Miss Pettit’s former home.  He recounts that early in the history of Hindman Settlement School, when Miss Pettit was still with the institution, the secretary, Miss Newman,  secured some $25,000 in preferred stock from the Elkhorn Fuel Company which over the years yielded a continuing revenue stream for the school.  John C. Campbell in a letter to John C. Glenn of the Russell Sage Foundation in 1913 noted that less than a decade after the founding of Hindman Settlement School (1909) some 76% of the school’s endowment was stocks and contributions from the local coal companies.  While this large investment in coal stocks was an early revenue stream for Hindman, Pine Mountain found it difficult to establish similar early ties to coal.  Katherine Pettit, when she came to Pine Mountain, reluctantly pursued both coal companies and logging companies for donations but was rebuffed in her early attempts to wrestle donations from both coal and timber companies working in the area. Her initial efforts to secure contributions from the Kentweva Coal and Lumber Company and its President, Mr. Merritt Wilson, were largely unsuccessful, as were her efforts to stop the Company from running a narrow-gauge rail line through the heart of the campus to haul timber from the region.

Ron Eller’s book, Miner’s, Mules, and Millhands (1986), a well researched classic resource on Appalachian life, also looks closely at coal and its impact on eastern Kentucky and other coal areas.  It provides a balanced, documented and clear assessment of the many sides of mining, mines and miners.  The story of coal and the Pine Mountain valley is a complicated one but the story of Pine Mountain Settlement School yields a history that largely placed the school outside the influence of the coal industry, but not its impact.  Though the initial purchase of land for the school involved a land swap with the coal and lumber company, Kentweva, the competition for land and resources in the narrow valley have steadily waxed, waned and waxed over many cycles at the School. Again, isolation played a key role as the north side of Pine Mountain has no coal and the area is too remote for much change.  It is, as recorded in a Settlement School survey taken in the late 1930’s, “Some Shifting Aspects of Our Problem,”  that the School was “16 miles, 6 hours from [the] Railroad.” Further, it noted that the “mines produce a large shifting element that is perpetually on the move, and therefore a very difficult class to help.” This antipathy toward the populations of coal camps and mining communities shifted during the late 1930’s and 1940’s when the need to help the youth from the large mining population centers became dramatic and youth from mining camps comprised a significant percentage of the School’s population.

For nearly half a century the school moved forward without significant contributions or endorsement from coal companies that came and went in the region.  Dis-entangled from any financial relationship to coal, the school became a voice for individuals, organizations and institutions that began to question the serious environmental issues associated with the coal industry. By the l970’s both the environmental and the social fall-out of the coal industry became a national issue and when Johnson launched his “War on Poverty,” the coal region came under the scrutiny of not just the Nation, but of the whole world.

When Uncle William said that he wanted the School to be a lesson even for those in other lands, he would not have imagined what valuable lessons many of those would be.  Over time, the school slowly became the conscience of the region with regard to mineral and gas extraction and the School began to openly oppose any entity that would damage the environment, the economic security of the region’s people, or the health of both land and the people.  This vocal advocacy which continued from the 1970’s onward was seriously challenged in 2000 when it was clear that the coal industry was quickly beginning to encroach on the rights of the school and was showing little concern for its operational environment and its modeling of environmental education.

The encroaching surface mining in the area threatened the image of the school as an environmental center and threatened the pristine scenic views of the school, its water sheds, and its unique flora and fauna. Fearing an ever-growing coal appetite and a fledgling gas exploration and facing an expanding degradation of environment, Pine Mountain took action and filed a petition on November 13, 2000, with the Kentucky Department for Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to declare the surrounding 5,226 acres around the school as unsuitable for all types of coal mining operations. This so-called “Lands Unsuitable …” petition pointed out that the School had recently received  status as a National Historic Landmark site and that as a national treasure it would suffer irreparable harm from continued mining in the immediate area.

Robin Lambert, Executive Director of Pine Mountain Settlement School (1999 – 2001), said

“As trustees for a National Historic Landmark which provides a unique resident outdoor environmental education experience to over 3,000 school children each year, and which has been a cultural and educational resource to this community for over 85 years, the Board of Trustees of the School believes that the permanent protection of the School property, the spring-fed water supply, and the view-shed, from mining impacts, must be our first priority.”

As reported by the Kentucky Resources Council,  Lambert stated,

“The process for designating lands as unsuitable for mining was intended by Congress to protect those lands where simply mitigating mining impacts on the environment would not be enough.”

The 32 page petition, endorsed by the school’s Board of Trustees, with strong support from environmentalists, historians, and friends, was successful in its effort to curtail proximate mining and to protect both the environmental mission and the physical environment of the institution for future generations.

These actions were specific to the immediate threat to the institution and were not intended as an indictment of the responsible coal industry and the many labor benefits that  responsible mining operations brought to the region. Many of Pine Mountain’s boarding  school children and, later, the children within the community, had strong ties to coal mining and their families were often wholly dependent on the industry for their livelihood. The tensions of these conflicting interests can still be felt in the community, but the School pulled from these experiences one of its most important educational missions, that of raising awareness of the human impact upon the environment.

Today, strong ties to coal is still the reality in Harlan County and the surrounding region.  Coal is “King” and “Black Gold”  rules both the economy and the cultural mind-set of the region. But, as coal again turns its back on the people of the region and as the industry declines — some say its last decline — the people and the state are looking for other economically sustainable livelihoods.

It is the juggling of diverse perspectives, the commitment to civil response and the environmental realism of Pine Mountain Settlement School that makes it so very important to regions such as eastern Kentucky that are being devoured by insensitive corporate interests and by equally insensitive personal greed. This ravenous appetite for mineral and other  resources is now world-wide and the dangers to environment and to people is great.  Conflicting views arising from mineral extraction is an international reality that is being played out in nearly every corner of the world today as resources become scarce, and as industries lose their social compass and populations grow. Clearly, a strong environmental voice, education in our schools regarding our relationship and responsibility to vital resources such as land and water, and civic responsibility, is fundamental to everyone’s survival, not just those who live in eastern Kentucky. Learning how to live as a community of diverse interests but one that shares concern and respect for the common good is vital to the survival of us all.

William Creech reminded Pettit and de Long in his letters that he wanted the school to be a benefit not just to the community, to “their generations as yet unborn,  but to the whole state and nation and to folks across the sea if they can get any benefit out of it.” Pine Mountain still has this international perspective and continues to bring residents from throughout the country to work in the environmental education programs at the school.  Pine Mountain invites foreign visitors to the school to experience the beauty and peace of the valley, while taking from the visitors, their multiple world views. This has always been the history of the institution — that it both shares its lessons and learns from the lessons of others.

As the region continues its struggle with the dominant coal economy and consciousness, and now with the rapid decline of that industry — again —  It is not only Pine Mountain School, but the many social, religious, and educational institutions in the area that are struggling with what James Still, noted Appalachian author, called “a handful of chaos.”

James Still used this phrase in his sensitive portrait of an Appalachian family in River of Earth (1940). Caught in the chaotic transition from a simple life close to the land, many families were challenged to sort out a largely agrarian life-style against all that an evolving industrial economy promised.

In Still’s novel the family obliquely debates their future as they roam in search of the eggs of a guinea fowl in the pennyrile near their home.

 “This would make the finest hayfeed ever was,” Mother said.  “Just going wasting.”

Father kicked the lush growth where it caught the top hooks of his brogan.

“I hain’t started eating grass yet,” he said.

“There’s not a beast on the place to be cutting it for, and it’s the truth.”……”If we had us a cow her udders would be tick-tight,” Mother said.

“It would be a sight the milk and butter we’d get.”

“Won’t have use for a cow at Blackjack,” Father said.  “I hear the mines are going to open for shore. They’re stocking the storehouse, and it must be they got orders down from the big lakes. This time of year they come, if the’re coming a-tall.”

Mother picked up the baby, holding him stiffly in the crook of her elbow.

“Where is the big lakes standing?” Euly [their son] asked.

 “A long way north. It’s on reckoning how far, ” Father said. “There’s ships riding the waters, hauling coal to somewheres farther on.”

 “I had a notion of staying here,” Mother said, her voice small and tight.  “I’m agin raising chaps in a coal camp. Allus getting lice and scratching the itch.  I had a notion you’d walk of a day to the mine.”

“A far walking piece, a good two mile. Better to get a house in the camp.”

  “Can’t move a garden, and growing victuals.”

  “They’ll grow without watching. We’ll keep them picked and dug.”

“I allus had a mind to live on a hill, not sunk in a holler where the fog and dust is damping and blacking. I was raised to like a lonesome place.  Can’t get used to a mess of womenfolks in and out, borrowing a dab and a pinch of this and that, never paying it back.  Men tromping sut on the floors, forever talking brash.”   

 “Notions don’t fill your belly nor kivre your back.” [responded the Father]

Few authors have captured as starkly the lives of families caught up in the economic conflicts of the industrialization of eastern Kentucky, as does Still in this classic novel.  The mining and timber exploitation of a region that was largely agrarian, fractured the lives of the rural families in the region.  James Still heard their stories first-hand for he spent most all his life within the folds of the hills of eastern Kentucky on Wolf Creek in Letcher County. He knew the lives of his neighbors and he heard their voices and sensed their dreams and he listened,  closely.  Very closely.

pmss0008Land cleared for mountain subsistence farming.

Pine Mountain continues to listen, as well.  As Pine Mountain looks back on its one-hundred year history it can take pride in its strong protection of the land; its commitment to the people of the region; and its understanding of the pragmatic life-style, the dreams and the work-ethic associated with labor close to the land.

Farming, food, community celebrations, and a strong commitment to the preservation and conservation of the natural resources of the southeastern Appalachians, eastern Kentucky, and Harlan County,  are integral to the on-going ethos of  Pine Mountain Settlement School. The activities associated with these core elements are part of the “educating for life” that continues to hold a fundamental place in its framework for the future.  As the School has evolved and re-shaped itself to the twenty-first century and as it has adjusted to increasingly rapid cultural surges forward, it shows every evidence of doing so with a solid foundation and values just as solid.

As this narrative, Dancing in the Cabbage Patch,  continues, it shares one story of Pine Mountain Settlement School.  There are many.  The essays are dialogues intended to contribute to and invite dialog regarding the most recent re-visioning processes at the School and more extensively in the eastern Kentucky region.  The narrative seeks to show how re-invention and the processes associated with it pay homage to and derive strength from historical commitments.  Like the warp of a loom, the narrative threads of history at the School continue to be a pragmatic and a demonstrably foundational dialog. The personal narratives continue as an unbroken warp within various communities of interest. The long narrative of the first one-hundred years is foundational to the next one-hundred.   Farming, food, celebration and a profound environmental awareness are shared experiences that are understood at a very basic level by the institution and the community, even as that community continues to grow and change.

In its new form this electronic narrative looks to the past, but it also looks forward with hope that the guiding principles of the school, “… will make a bright and intelligent people …” as Uncle William hoped. Pine Mountain Settlement School is only one-hundred years down the road, but if the first century of the journey is any measure,  the next many centuries will be even more exciting and rewarding if the values and the vision of all stake-holders can be shared and learned. It is ironic that coal sits as a fundamental contributor to the digital revolution.  The coal-fired plant fueled the electronic frontier and continues to do so today.  That Appalachia has been one of the last stops on that frontier, makes the coal relationship even more ironic. It seems fitting that Pine Mountain call these inequities to our attention and that we remind the lords of industry that their empires were built on the backs and resources of this unique region.

Farming, food, various celebrations, and conscious environmentalism, still serve to help sustain the school and its community, but it is the people, seen in many of the images in this web, or more accurately, weft, that give hope for the coming centuries. The resilience, determination, intelligence, and work ethic of the people in both the school and the community suggest that the future is bright and that the people of the valley of the Pine Mountain and beyond will continue to dance in the cabbage patch.

Just how Pine Mountain continues its commitment to community, how it protects and nurtures the land, how it expresses it joys and sorrows and how the people will respond to pressures outside the valley and the region, cannot be known.  But, is is very likely that farming, food, health, celebrations, and environmental education will continue to be integral to the settlement school mission and to the lives of those living in surrounding as well as virtual communities of interest.  It is also clear that those communities of interest are now, not just local, but are expanding rapidly to the global.

Friends & Neighbors - VI-51 - Capturing a snapping turtle

Capturing a snapping turtle, children at Big Laurel, 1960’s. Friends & Neighbors – VI-51 –

Farming, food,  community celebrations, and conscious environmentalism have all become quite complicated by our modern life-styles, but as we all struggle to sort out how we will manage the “new-normal,” it may be instructive to look to the lessons found at Pine Mountain Settlement  School and  to imagine them practiced in a wider context.

 

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Students participating in the Environmental Education program at Pine Mountain, 2010

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Circle dance of students and staff on playground at Pine Mountain Settlement School, 1920’s. pmss001_bas098

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Children dancing on the playground at Pine Mountain Settlement School, 1990s.

How do we manage our resources?  How do we treat our neighbors?  How do we educate our children to respect nature? What lessons are there in working with our hands as well as our minds and hearts?  What is literacy?  Reading? Math? Computer skills? Visual literacy? Civic responsibility? How can we eat healthy? How can we grow responsible crops? How can we exercise, intelligently? How important are aesthetics to our well-being? How can we help to shape our life-style into quality of life? How can we better respect our natural environment? Speak out when our water resources are in peril? Stop the removal of our mountains? What does it mean to have quality of life? These are short questions with life long answers. To seek answers to these questions and more,  is the discovery of “educating for life” found at Pine Mountain School and in the surrounding community.

GO TO:  DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH – IV – FARMING THE LAND

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DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH I – ABOUT

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Blog:  DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH

ABOUT
dancing in the cabbage patch 2 copy

Dancing in the Cabbage Patch is a blog that was named for the photograph seen above.  It is a personal reflection on the history of one of the oldest and remaining settlement schools in eastern Kentucky.

Founded in 1913, Pine Mountain Settlement School is located in the mountains of eastern Kentucky in Harlan County.  It is one of several rural settlement schools influenced by the urban settlement movement that flourished in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth. The push in the mountains for “Community work,” following the Reconstruction era, brought many ideas and workers from the urban settlement houses and centers to the largely decentralized agrarian communities of the Southern Appalachians.  In the mountains of Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia a robust rural settlement school movement took hold at the beginning of the twentieth-century.

A region of ridges and hollows, the long chain of mountains that comprise the Southern Appalachians were rich in natural resources but during the early twentieth-century the people who had settled the area were believed to be outside the accelerating industrial development of the country’s major cities.  Eastern Kentucky, in particular, lagged in development in many areas; social, economic, educational, and industrial skills. One of the objectives of the rural settlement movement in the Appalachians was to provide industrial training for people tucked away in the most remote corners of the region.

Supported by the early rural settlement movement, programs were initiated to ease the rural communities into the mainstream of America’s burgeoning industrialization but paradoxically the same movement sought to retain the isolation of the culture from  the perceived social ills of rapacious and rapid mechanization.   Workers in the early settlement schools danced an uneven course between unfamiliar cultural patterns and their own adaptation of a perceived culture that only needed to be “awakened.” The communities around the rural settlements of eastern Kentucky danced the “Running Set”, a fast-paced, energetic dance that generally had only the human voice to call out the moves.  It was a dance that echoed their lives.  Recreation had to be experienced quickly, guided by visual and auditory direction, for the patterns that shaped the lives of the mountain people was the seasonal life of subsistence farming.

Many of the workers who came to the isolated valleys and hollows promoted the isolation as a salvation from the evils of the industrial world by adopting a modified Arts and Craft Movement ethos. Others found a better balance through the introduction of many of the tenants of Progressive education, particularly through programs of civic-minded industrial training combined with a standard educational framework.  Pine Mountain Settlement School in these early years, charted a course somewhere between the two extremes.

In the region, many social service agencies, as well as church and charitable organizations developed institutions modeled on the early urban settlement movement, where plans were proposed to guide the area out of poverty and illiteracy by becoming a progressive presence in the community. Of these institutions Pine Mountain Settlement School, a uniquely non-sectarian institution introduced a powerful settlement school model for rural education and service that still inspires and is remarkably fresh when compared to contemporary trends in education and social services whether urban or rural.

The following  topical essays contained in “Dancing in the Cabbage Patch,” is a personal journey and is not written to reflect the views of the current institution but to trace through personal reflection some of the highlights of Pine Mountain Settlement School during its 100 year history.

FORWARD

Perhaps overly romantic and nostalgic, the words “pastoral” and “buccolic” have often been used to describe Pine Mountain Settlement School. These words are most frequently used in the description of farm lands. Yet, in eastern Kentucky, generally, the farmland has often been described in disparaging terms, particularly by visitors to the region. Why this difference? The answers are complex.

The general perception of the land that comprises Pine Mountain Settlement School, in fact, stands in direct contrast to the observations of many of those who have written about Eastern Kentucky. The descriptive adjectives used for many Appalachian farms and sometimes its people, often read “ravaged,” “un-cultivated,” “disorganized,” “unkempt,” “scraggly,” “impoverished,” dirty, and other pejoratives that disparage any perception of beauty. Why is Pine Mountain “buccolic”, “lovely”, “peaceful”, “Shangrila”, “natures majestic garden” and on and on? Again, the answers are complex.

Farming practice has always been central to the life of the Pine Mountain Settlement School and its surrounding communities.  The planning of the school was built upon the desire of William Creech to teach good farming practice as well as to educate students in a standard educational curriculum. He saw these two objectives as joined in a reverence for the land and its people.

Farming at the School has a very long history and one that has been integrated into most every program of the institution through the course of its one-hundred years. While it has never been strictly a “farm school” it has had a long association with the production of food for the body and mind.  nature and nurture have always found a partnership at the school and were and are regularly celebrated in a variety of ways.

Like farming, celebratory events also  play an integral role in the history of Pine Mountain School. Like the cycles of agricultural life, community celebrations help to establish the ebb and flow of life at the School and in the community. Many annual events such as Fair Day , celebrated in the Fall, or the Nativity Play at Christmas, May Day in the Spring, or the school’s former annual Spring Dogwood Breakfast, all have their origins in a celebration of the seasons and are generally accompanied by food or by displays of the produce of farming.

Pageants and plays are remembered fondly by many students who attended the school and many of these memories were or are associated with agrarian practice or with some foodway.

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May Day c 1920 – young children dressed in greenery for the celebration.

Whether performed for entertainment, for educating, or for the celebration of special people, event, time or place, events at the School provided an opportunity for a connection with both the past and the future of the institution. In the surrounding community past and present are equally revered but future rarely intruded into daily community conversation. But like dreams, the future was held close like some shining city on the hill. Today, the community of promise seems even further away and celebrations have been steadily declining.

Thanksgiving, Columbus Day, Robin Hood’s adventures, the Mikado, HMS Pinafore, the Cooperative Store skits, the Kangawa play, Halloween, the carrying in of the Yule Log, the simple dialog of the Nativity Play — all gave early students the opportunity to don costumes and assume other personalities and to imagine themselves in other lives, other countries and other times. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace …” was found written on the wall of a humble mountain cabin.  It is a quote from the Bible, but it is also a well-known quote from the annual Nativity Play at Pine Mountain.

The early institutional celebrations allowed the staff workers to gather and renew their friendships on the campus or were celebrations that brought the school and the community together in cooperative celebration. What was carried away could be life-changing.

The PHOTOGRAPHS from Pine Mountain document and celebrate many of the events at the School and the community while also capturing some of the most compelling images of institutional and community life in early rural Appalachia.  There are intimate portraits of Appalachian families at work and at play. There are scrapbooks by settlement school workers who gathered their visual memories and left them for the school to ponder their aggregation.  There are official collections of promotional photographs that sought to convey a particular image of the institution for calendars and brochures.  There are many overlaps and duplicates in the images across the many collections.  Sharing was always part of Pine Mountain’s culture. And, there are many months and years of lives in the photographs and mementos gathered in the collections, scrapbooks, travelogues, and albums.  The images also capture the essence of the School as it grew and changed.

Music and dance, folk craft, mountain vernacular architecture, clothing, farm techniques and implements, food and food preparation, and many more themes may be found in the photographs taken over the life of the School.  Some of the most compelling images are those of the workers and students as they danced … and danced … and danced some more.pmss001_bas098As the educational programs changed and grew and as the current Environmental Education programs evolved, the photographs capture the shift in the scale of farming, the use of the land and the growing awareness of the preciousness of the natural environment.  In todays technological world this preciousness is even more compelling. The photographs are celebrations of the people as well as of the land.  Together, the land and the people provide what many call a “sense of place.”

Perhaps nowhere is the sense of place captured better, or traced more intimately than in the transition of food-ways at the institution.  Change may be observed in the narratives and the photographs when annual events were either down-sized or were, in some cases eliminated. The relationship between the land and the foodways of the people who shared the land may be clearly seen as food, events, and farming intermingle.

For example, May Day and Dogwood Breakfast, two spring-time events were eliminated from the annual calendar shortly after the closure of the boarding school in 1949.  After the closure of the boarding school the intimate community of the School began to fragment, as workers lived off-site, the tasks of the school became overwhelming with no students to crew the many jobs. The focus on agriculture declined. The many changes at the School reflected a shift in the general sense of community in both the central institution and also in the community at large. The numbers of staff at the school declined over the years and many workers came for short stays or had little knowledge or connection to the historical campus.  Foodways changed as more processed food was easily attainable and preparation of harvested food diminished.

In the community, the events in near-by urban centers such as Harlan, or other urban centers such as Hazard or Cumberland, or even distant Lexington, began to pull families away from the immediate community life of the Pine Mountain valley. kingman_092b The isolation of the region was dramatically altered by roads, particularly the first ROAD, Laden Trail, across Pine Mountain, which the Settlement School sponsored with Harlan County. New roads opened the region for an ebb and flow of new cultural ideas and life-styles. Soldiers returning from WWI  and especially WWII, shifted the cultural climate even more. Today, television and other media entertainment continue to contribute to the fracture of community cohesion. The reliance on immediate communication can be acutely felt at the school as visitors roam the campus for “hot-spots” to keep in cell-phone contact with family or business. 

With the full implementation of the Environmental Education program in the 1970s, older programs at the school shifted from a focus on hands-on agricultural management of the campus land resources to an educational understanding of the broader concepts of the total natural environment and its cooperative management.  Quickly, the new environmental consciousness of the 1960s and 1970s aligned with K-12 educational science standards found in the public school curricula and environmental education programs began to form. Pine Mountain School quickly realized the importance of its history and geography to the new environmental education movement and began to shape programs.  Pine Mountain saw its opportunity as a leader in the field of environmental education and was, in fact,  one of the first such programs in the state of Kentucky.  Today, the environmental program at the School remains a model of environmental education while keeping pace with the growing national environmentalism.

Whether “jitterbugging” in the local streams, or waltzing across a ridge-top, or learning to tango with a rapid thunderstorm, the dances with nature at the School are endless and sustainable.

PHOTOGRAPHY

PHOTOGRAPHS have always been important to the School. What the photographers at Pine Mountain selected to photograph documents the change in the community as well as larger cultural shifts. While the photographs capture the essence of the lifestyle of the age, they also suggest the personal interest of the photographers as they experienced their cultural context. The visual record, the photograph and certainly the individuals in the photograph, capture what the local culture saw as it looked back at the many cameras and photographers. The tensions are almost palpable in the distance between camera, subject, and photographer.  Both palpable and frozen, the many images taken at the school and in the community graphically capture  photographer, image and subject as they instantly interact —  their gazes joined, the landscape stilled and quiet, a thousand questions unanswered — just as it is in one blink of life.

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Visitors from Viet Nam in the classroom at PMSS, 1950s. [pmss_0037]

Photographs are remarkable vehicles for primary source information and their visual content opens for the teacher, researcher and the viewer a variety of windows into other times and other lives. The potential contributions of Pine Mountain Settlement School’s photographs to Appalachian cultural research is extraordinary.

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Community family near PMSS. [Friends & Neighbors – VI-51 ]

Mary Rogers, wife of Burton Rogers, one of the Directors of the School, wrote in the “Preface” of the Pine Mountain Album – 1913-1963, prepared for the 50th anniversary of the School:

“Most of us are so busy trying to do what must be done today, and planning ahead to what needs to be done tomorrow that we have little time to look back to the things which happened yesterday. But we are celebrating an anniversary, the 50th anniversary of Pine Mountain Settlement School, and so we will turn to the past — get out the old album and look at the pictures.

It’s a funny thing, looking at old pictures. They don’t show the things that matter most: Uncle William’s craving that his people might grow better; Miss Pettit’s dedication to bringing help to the mountains; Mrs. Zande’s high standards and loving understanding of people; Mr. Morris’ dynamic energy; the different gifts brought by hundreds of workers over the years.

Nor do they show the important things in a student’s life: the moments of courage; the hours of service; the growth in understanding; the vivid enjoyment of life; the deepening love for a place and its people; and sometimes the realization that the source of all things is the Love of God. All the same, let’s look at the pictures, some faded and old-fashioned, but taken because someone wanted to “keep” something from the past, and let us try and read into them the things for which they stand.”
                                                                                            Mary Rogers, 1963

Another fifty years has just been added to the visual history of the School.  In 2013 Pine Mountain celebrated its 100th Anniversary. One-hundred years of “Dancing in the Cabbage Patch.”

GO TO:   

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH – ABOUT

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH  I – GUIDE

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH II – INTRODUCTION

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH III – PLACE

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH IV – FARMING THE LAND 1913-1930

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH V – FARM & DAIRY I – EARLY YEARS

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH V – FARM & DAIRY II – MORRIS yEARS

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH VI – POULTRY

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH VII- IN THE GARDEN

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH VIII – IN THE KITCHEN

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH IX – DIETICIANS

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH X – IN THE DINING ROOM, MANNERS & ETIQUETTE 

 

 

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