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DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Going and Coming Back I

Pine Mountain Settlement School
DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH
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DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Going and Coming Back I

A personal reflection on Appalachian migration.

“The effect of mass migration has been the creation of radically new types of human beings: people who root themselves in ideas rather than places, in memories as much as material things; people who have been obliged to define themselves — because they are defined by others — by their otherness; people in whose deepest selves strange fusions occur, unprecedented unions between what they were and where they find themselves.”
Salman Rushdie

“It seems to me from my personal experience that there is kindness everywhere in different proportions and more goodness and tenderheartedness than we read of in the moralists.”
                           Elizabeth Barrett Browning

These may seem strange companions in a discussion of migration — Salman Rushdie and Elizabeth Barrett Browning — yet they both share an understanding of our deeper selves. They reach into the core of what makes us human regardless of our origins. Migration can tear at that core in ways we are still coming to understand. In Appalachia migration is a constant theme that runs throughout our conversations. So is the idea that others can redefine us; it makes us defensive and not just because we are perceived as “somthing else.” It is much more complex.

My grandfather was always on the move, going and coming from somewhere else but always returning to there —to Appalachia. He didn’t have a car. He was left to the many devices of journeying. Neither did he have a career that kept him moving up the staircase of advancement in the ways we understand advancement today. He simply moved. That was his advancement. He changed his location and with it, he changed his sense of self. Though he mined coal for much of his life, we never knew many of the other jobs he worked into and out of in his goings. But we knew him because he was always coming back.

“Papaw,” the Appalachian term of endearment, or not, — for the fathers and grandfathers of children growing up in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, was always going and coming back. He kept the flow of life in the household unsteady, but he also kept it animated by expectation. When he returned the household became filled with somber but expected and many times unspoken conversations. Where did you go? What did you do? Who did you meet? What was it like living … there? Did you miss us? Silence. The silence in the house dictated by our grandmother, whom we affectionally called “Daa”, was palpable. Our questions and the non-answers often hung in the air with their weight of deep anxiety. But the silence was always temporary. When the house filled with family, with the sons, the wives and their sons and daughters, the voices and laughter and stories filled the rooms. The memories of family, together, flowed like healing waters over all the unspoken answers to Papaw’s going and coming. But, Daa, the affectionate name for our grandmother, kept him in her wary view and could silence his answers with just a gaze.

When we gathered, Daa often filled her table with fried chicken, cornbread, ham slices with red-eye gravy, fried oysters, pickles, mashed white potatoes from the garden, cole-slaw, and fried sweet potatoes — crisp with hard sugar edges. We playfully juggled for chicken legs, yearned for four-legged chickens, and made jokes about the “toot” which Daa always left on the bird. No one got enough sweet potatoes and we rarely had room for the blackberry cobbler, but we ate it anyway. For us, a coming home was a celebration of family and the wealth of the table. We, the family and the cousins, repeated this ritual many times in the early years of growing up. We could do that with frequency because early-on we never lived far from our grandparents. We traveled to Coxton where our grandparents spent most of their life; first, as residents of the coal camp and later in a house they bought nearby on the road to Evarts. At most, our coming and going was across the county of Harlan, or up and over Pine Mountain to the valley where my family lived, at the settlement school called Pine Mountain Settlement, a beautiful little community nestled between two steep mountains and beside gentle Isaacs Creek, the headwaters of the long and beautiful Kentucky River. 

Papaw left his home many times but the most telling time was when he left — really left Daa and her boys. She had just been diagnosed with tuberculosis. In a coal camp tuberculosis was held to be a slow death sentence. and she still had young boys at home — five of them. According to apocryphal tales told by cousins, Daa had told someone that, Papaw, when he left, said he had to go because he did not want to stay and watch her die.

Given the common prognosis, his expectation that she would die was not unrealistic but it was cruel to have said it out loud. Most tuberculin cases ended badly. But, this going seemed most cruel if that was what he said and that was why he had left. Some of us never accepted this story, but clearly Daa never forgave Papaw for some thoughtless words said somewhere (if said at all). His awful prognosis or Daa’s fear of being alone, or the terror of the mining camp —had led to his departure. But, she and her sons also never gave up trying to entice him back home.

The 1930s in Harlan County were not easy years with strikes and union unrest and violence. Daa’s “disease” could easily be fatal but so could many other diseases. And, so could a random bullet. In many ways, Papaw’s prognosis was just as stark as that of Daa. Black lung ended the lives of most miners or the unpredictable cave-in of the deep mine could crush the life from a man in an instant. Union thugs could target whomever they did not like. When Papaw left to take jobs in the industrial north, or to Colorado, or whereever he went in his mysterious departure,  I always believed that he was saving his life and the life of the family. The industrial factories had their own labor strife and workplace dangers but dying was not generally a common outcome. When he left he aimed to be lucky.

But, Daa with her lung disease was lucky, as well. Dr. Clark Bailey, a Pine Mountain Board of Trustee member, who had diagnosed her disease early had also found her a progressive sanatarium in Louisville where she could possibly be cured through an experimental treatment of the deadly disease. Through Dr. Bailey, she had also learned about Pine Mountain Settlement School, a progressive and inexpensive boarding school for mountain children and with his help she started the process of enrolling her sons. Though Daa had only an eighth-grade education, she had been called on from time to time to teach in the coal camp school and later served as postmistress. She aimed for something better for her sons.

When she learned of the Pine Mountain program through Dr. Bailey and that the sons could continue their education and earn their education through a work program, she planted the seed of that idea in her sons. The older sons could pay their own way and also earn money in the summer to help pay for their younger brothers and later, perhaps, their mother’s care. The plan, as it turned out, was a good one and Daa’s tuberculosis was healed, the boys went to school, and Papaw was for a time not deep inside a mine. But, the wound of abandonment, the going and Papaw’s long migration history, was not so easily healed.

WAR AND MIGRATION

In the mountains of Appalachia, wars also created migrants in the sense that many young men left the mountains and never returned, or if they did return, they carried with them the changes wrought by new and brutal experience but often romantic tales of far-off battles in far-off places. Papaw’s brother fought in the Boxer Rebellion and also in the Spanish American War and when he returned he brought the romance of far-away places. All but two of Daa’s five sons fought in WWII. One of the two sons died from a coal camp disease — chronic diarrhea. Another became a farmer. Daa cried when her sons went to war but her “babies”, as she called them even into adulthood, went anyway. Going to war was a noble and necessary act for the country and the sons adopted those noble ideals. They took on the journey to war with relish and looked forward to the chance to travel, to adventure and to do something that would stamp them with the noble entry into manhood.

But not all noble ideals end well. When Uncle Silven, Daa’s oldest son went to fight in France, he returned to the mountains, in a coffin nearly five months after his death. His service was lauded throughout the community and within the family and by his wife, Alline. His body returned from the distant and foreign war to the war being waged in the coal camps as mines ramped up to support the war effort. His death filled the house with grief. His coming back brought foreign lands to the mountain family and all the myths of exotic lands exploded with his death.

Silven’s story has been repeated many times over by Appalachian families and their mountain sons. The heroes, the wounded, and the families of the killed in action, like Daa’s family, allowed how they were so proud of their heroes as they filled the rooms with tears. Silvan had been missing in action and throughout the long five months it took to determine his fatal end, Daa wrote stacks of letters. When finally his death was confirmed she shed tears of relief and of grief. Daa’s family and other mountain families then came face to face with another kind of tangled emotion, that of displacement.

Hidden behind the pride and the grief that war brought on, was a growing distrust in the minds of some; a great fear of going away and the dangers it carried. Noble or not, the scars of displacement, of leaving home, were deep in the mental fabric of many Appalachian families. Who they were before the war and where the family found themselves following the war, were not the same.

When Uncle Silven went away he went, not for family, but for some larger community, the nation, freedom, a cause, that we knew was somehow, ours as well. We knew we owned his death because he fought for us and we knew that his death was among many noble deaths and that we should be proud. But, we also knew that his going away had killed him. It was a going, a departure on two planes of our imagination and understanding. The soldiers who went to war and who came back either dead or alive, created a local, neighborly, psychic and emotional displacement in the family.

When Silven came back home the conversations in our family and those families who had experienced similar losses, turned. Daa’s other sons, her “babies,” also went to fight in the war and she talked of nothing but their safe return until they all were back home. Her mind during those years was as displaced as a migrant’s must be. Her neighbors and our neighbors and their neighbors went to war and the conversations revolved around the places of those wars past and future. Men sat on crates in front of the local post office and told tales of their wars — the Civil War, the Spanish American War, the Boxer Rebellion, WWI. Those conversations prepared the next generations for war, for the long journey to some foreign country where, like Achilles, they would challenge an unknown enemy. Then, my brother and my cousins went in the military to prepare for future wars. Then my generation began to “migrate.” We all became experts on the subject of war and the “enemy” and foreign lands.

Yet, while the elderly grieved war’s loss and the young stood lonely and confused on the edge of that large landscape of death and destruction and noble causes we all went with them in our romantic notions. Later, when my brother went to war in Viet Nam and survived his many supply flights and sorties into Da Nang airbase, we stopped holding our breath and proudly watched him advance in his military career. Yet, we still understood that we were preparing and training for the next war and that war and migration were joined in creating new ideas and new places where those ideas would grow. It was a painful growth. We knew that what we were and what we would become was somehow tied to the outcome of wars and displacement — and migration. As Daa’s grandchildren grew up, the coming and going seemed to grow, as well. Transportation changed and travel became easier. Still, we always carried the memory that going was a kind of war that never ends and that coming back would have an end — would be the end.

Our family continued to gather after the wars and in the times of peace between the wars. In the 1950s we still gathered around the dinner table to tell stories. It was a time of my best memories of going and coming back. The fried chicken was still shared with tall tales of the earlier war in the South Pacific, Navy training, guns, ships, airplanes, the sandy beaches of the Solomons, and of bravery. The boys waited for the stories with the eagerness of the wait for the crisp edges of fried sweet potatoes. The girls listened with polite reverence and some sorrow — at least this one did.

The stories lingered in our heads and we went home and got our play guns and loaded them with caps and shot each other in mock battles. We thought of Silven in the casket, but it still did not stop us from romancing war and playing with guns. In those years my brother and I were young and the Viet Nam war and his fatal air crash on Mt. Rainier were thirty years or more away. I had not yet migrated to California but my brother was soon in Utah majoring in aeronautical engineering and chasing forest fires in old Navy planes. We both still practiced the ritual of going back home every chance we got. Strange, the physical power of stories and the ritual of coming back. Neither of us could think of never going back.

Early on, the conversations of war had filled the imaginations of all the young-uns at our family table and gradually had given more meaning and nuance to the idea of going and coming back. Our going had punched a hole in the fabric of our isolation. The going and coming back of our family members had given us to wonder what was beyond the small world of our goings and coming back across a county, a mountain, a country, a world. The fragile fabric of family held tightly to the breast of our mothers and grandmothers had been ripped apart by the stories we heard, then imagined and then lived. As our generation aged our coming back to share stories and to listen to the voices of our relatives sometimes left us insecure, but excited us for more adventures to come. As we got older we started to find that the stories sometimes conflicted with our growing understanding of the world and our loyalties to people and place. The stories, old and new gave us restless ideas. The coming and going and all the tales spun from those brief migrations fractured our loyalties. Our stories unsettled us just as surely as did our physical departures.

In my mind, I knew that my own migration and the War Years migrations had some common threads. The War Years were times of massive going and coming back for many families like mine in Appalachia and across the country. They made a younger generation restless. Going meant that our lives were fragile but it also meant we were brave. It meant that some of us would die in faraway places and some would come back with their mighty tales of adventure. But we all migrated. Some near and some far. Our family, like so many others, was pushed and then pulled back.

Papaw did not fight in any war, but war had raised the mystery of the going and coming back of Papaw to another level. It had made travel mysterious and set the imagination in flight. Now older, I hunger for new tales and new outcomes. I still want to know the adventures of Papaw while he was away. I still want to travel….. to go away. Now, I still want to hear the spirit of adventure in his tales like those we heard from the Uncles. But the memory of the gaze of my grandmother and the tension around the dinner table that always froze those conversations haunts me and gives the going a weight I cannot shake off.

Papaw’s stories of what he did in his personal war were never fully told by him. He came back, not as a hero, but as one who left his family behind. He did not have the stories to give honor to his departure or his return. His valor in coming back was never celebrated. In some sense, he never came back because his migration had been a permanent fracture with Daa, but came back for family. He came back before he ever started — to a place where he was not welcomed. His migration was the migration of an idea. He held fast to his idea that a better life was out there. Daa was firmly rooted to place. It was the ultimate battle of going and coming back. I like to believe that his going away was brave but his return was heroic.

The icy stare of our loving Daa, our powerful grandmother, ended my grandfather’s stories before they began. Anything that might give credence to “That Man” and his adventures was censored by Daa. The going and coming back of Papaw would remain a mystery and that was that. For the grandchildren, Papaw was imaginary travel writ large. His untold stories of goings and comings would remain mysterious and compelling. Papaw’s life was, for me, was a grand idea. It was the idea of a “better life”. Daa’s life was anchored to one place to which everything returned. That was her “better life.”

So many families in Appalachia have stories that revolve around going and coming back and a “better life.” My family story is only one. War certainly filled many conversations in the cyclical migration that constitutes war’s outcomes. But strangely it was only the going of a Papaw that pulled most strongly on my imagination. Many Appalachian fathers went away alone. It was not uncommon. But, a more common going was the whole family that packed up and went away together. Place was abandoned. This going and coming back of Papaw’s mysterious travel — somewhere in the North, was the journey that was so very hard for many families to process. It was a journey not to exotic places like Iwo Jima or France or the jungles of Batan. It was to Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Chicago and Detroit and other centers of industrial production. It was this form of migration that was clearly a going — that took families and individuals from Appalachia away from the “home-place” and constructed the fabric of what we generally consider as the Appalachian family migration.

What these migrant families shared with Papaw was not the journey itself, but a perception of lack of responsibility to place. Going North when the mines failed was a journey of faith as much as it was a journey of necessity. But the journey to an urban environment was one that puzzled those who stayed behind. To not have land to work, to not pull your existence from inside the earth, to own your own earth, was to lack responsibility. The shift in lifestyle that came with the move to urban centers was monumental. The life of the Appalachian family would no longer be bound to the soil and the context of the stories around the communal table would develop a new framework and new conversations of “place.”

When the migrants came home from the urban North the telling of stories now had to capture their new and unfamiliar landscape. They had to introduce new words, new traditions, new lifestyles, all, often so alien that their descriptions, their stories were intrusive. The stories of migrant families became stories of urban survival, of bullying, of discrimination, of playing in streets and alleys. These were poignant stories tinged with unspoken longing for corn fields and mountains and rivers. In many ways, the new stories fractured the bonds of families unless the story could be woven into the cloth of the extended family that had stayed put.

Going was an inventory of things to be missed, a litany of stories about hoeing corn, feeding the livestock, freezing in hard winters, walking barefoot. The migrants took their patchwork quilts, their crazy quilts, their heritage seeds for a garden, a string of shucky beans …. their fatalism. When they came back, the stories changed. At their core, the celebrations of return were pure fatalism. Their life as a migrant was a violent story of being ripped from nature’s familiar arms, the enfolding of mountains, and the warm bosom of the family. They had been to “war.” Coming back was often a rant against the new environment or false boasting of the wealth and excitement of cities. Migration in hard times became a mantra writ large and passed along in the rich oral tradition of Appalachia.

Even deeper, the going became an all too familiar series of stories told over and over by those who experienced migration or those who witnessed migration’s impact on the extended family unit. Their stories became fusions of the stories told by migrants throughout the world. Their stories were war stories as well as economic sagas. A thousand times over their stories were at their essence the stories told by migrants from Syria, Sudan, Yemen, the Rohingya of Indonesia, and so many more. We are a world awash with the psychic trauma of displacement — of having to go.

Environmental disasters have added to the displacement saga. What distinguishes the Appalachian migrant from those now filling temporary camps throughout the world is the fact that most of the world’s migrants will not have the advantage of going back. They will become immigrants in a state of permanent displacement. Their displacement is our terror, the terror of never coming home.

For every family going to Cincinnati, to any new city, to find work, to survive, to build a future, there are hundreds more on the move throughout the world. But, migration is not always immigration; a going and staying. Like Papaw’s going, migration is most like a yo-yo. In Appalachia, going is often a continuous loop of going and coming back. For most of the Appalachian migrants, the departure was not a permanent exile — it was deeply believed to be temporary. The migration and the new place were malleable and so were the people to some degree. For Appalachian families, the migration was a constant recreation of communities of support balanced against the need to stay connected to home, to the rural familiar. Coming back, in some cases, could take years, as it did in my case from far across the country. Or, coming back could be only the old stories around a new and a permanent table in the new “home.” But, most times, coming back was ritualized. It was part of being a family from the Appalachian mountains. It was required.

Living as a migrant is to adapt but retain. It is to remember to never “get above your raisin’. It is foodways raised to the level of a sacrificial offering. It is barter, not money. It is the noble carried in the back pocket and the voice of ancestor’s in the head. For the migrant in the city, the physical state was dirt, crime, monotony, an urban prison where the walls of tall buildings replaced mountains. For most families from Appalachia who experienced leaving for urban centers, going required a coming back … a return to the cathedral of nature and the true familiar community where the memories could be refreshed or restored. When the migrants could not soon go home again, they pulled the vision of home from their dreams and awash in memories of themselves at home, they sought out other like-dreamers and formed centers of Appalachian life in their new cities.

It is important to understand migration if one truly wants to understand the Appalachian mind or any human mind that has been displaced from their home. Migration is not about “other.” It is about us.

Helen Wykle


SEE:

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Going and Coming Back II

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH Laden Trail or The Road

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 12: LAND USE
THE ROAD [Laden Trail]

DANCING IN THE CABBAGE PATCH XIV – LADEN TRAIL or THE ROAD


TAGS: Laden Trail or The Road ; prospectus ; map ; economic advantages of the Road ; hauling goods over the mountain ; cable incline ; Harlan County’s financial contribution ; high cost of road-building in Appalachia ; benefit to School’s endowment and scholarship fund ; fundraising for the Road ; Little Shepherd Trail ; Kentucky Good Roads Association Plan ; biodiversity ; Ethel de Long Zande; Katherine Pettit; Celia Cathcart; Evelyn K. Wells


LADEN TRAIL, or “THE ROAD,” is a historical record of the campaign for and the building of a paved road over Pine Mountain that would connect Pine Mountain Settlement School to the Laden railroad station near Putney some eight miles across Pine Mountain. Negotiations for the building of the Road began in 1914, approximately a year after Pine Mountain Settlement School was founded.

The close timing of the Road and the School’s beginnings was not coincidental. As construction of the School progressed, it became obvious that the steep Laden Trail — truly only a trail —over the mountain was inadequate for hauling needed supplies by wagon. By 1920 the founders of the School had a plan, had called in consultants and had begun a fundraising campaign for a road. This page features a map and their argument for “The Road” in a Prospectus that was written to inspire donations.

LADEN TRAIL or THE ROAD: Gallery

LADEN TRAIL or THE ROAD: Transcription of the Prospectus

“Here, then is Appalachia: one of the great landlocked areas of the globe, more English than Britain itself, more American by blood than any other part of America, encompassed by a high-tension civilization, yet less affected by modern ideas, less cognizant of modern progress, than any other part of the English-speaking world.” — Horace Kephart

Will you help us build a road over our mountain, from Appalachia to modern America? The road will bring 5,000 people in touch with the railroad. It will be a wheeled-vehicle outlet for a great section of three mountain counties, which now have the most indirect communication with the world, either by costly, roundabout roads, or by tiny trails that even a sure-footed mule cannot haul a cart over.

It will mean economic improvement for the whole section — a market for apples and other surplus products — therefore, improved living conditions, larger houses, more knowledge of sanitation, a decrease in moonshining.

It will mean that the Pine Mountain Settlement School pays twenty-five cents a hundred pounds to haul goods from the railroad, instead of seventy cents. In 1916 the School paid to bring in from the L. and N. Railroad its groceries, building materials, heating apparatus, etc. $1000 of this, scholarships enough for eight children, could have been spent directly for their education, if there had been a road.

If we do not build the road, we will soon be at even greater expense in bringing in supplies. At present, we haul goods over the mountain on a broken-down cable incline, some eight miles away, built years ago to take poplar logs to the railroad. The cable sometimes breaks, the rails are rotten, and the incline is already dangerous. At the foot of the mountain, the goods must be reloaded onto wagons, and hauled eight miles over a road which is often impassable.

It is better economy for us to stop right now, and work for a road, than to go on spending money wastefully, year after year. It is also a more constructive policy for our neighborhood. Money spent now, in a lump, for the road, means improvement along many lines. Spent in smaller sums, year by year, it is frittered away, and accomplishes no solid good.

Harlan County cannot build this road now, because it is spending all it will have for some years on fifty or sixty miles of road in the heart of the county. Remember that road-building is in its infancy in Appalachia —that the hills and the creeks make a mile of good road a costly thing.

Our six miles of road are the costly link in a network of highways that will in time bind together three county seats, and give free communication to many square miles of mountains. For the passion for road-building has come to Eastern Kentucky. But a mountain a mile high, with seventy-five foot cliffs to blast through is a huge obstacle whose removal will hasten tenfold the opening up of communication, through the expenditure of County funds.

Harlan County has given five thousand dollars for this road,— a princely gift, — and the first large sum ever appropriated for the benefit of outlying districts. The county will also return $25,000 from its share of state road funds in annual installments of $1200 if we turn over to it the funds for road-building this summer.

The game is worth the candle, for the $25,000 will accomplish three purposes:

1. It will build the road immediately.
2. It will save the School money yearly, and thereby add to our
scholarship fund.
3. It will become endowment for the School as the annual installments are returned by the County.

Such results are worth a huge effort. A great constructive undertaking brings its own inspiration with it. $3500 has already been given for this project. For this $21,000 still needed we must find:

I. Givers of $500.
2. Givers of $100.
3. Friends who will organize groups to give $100.
4. Promoters, who will talk for the road, suggest possible givers, make appointments for Miss [Ethel] de Long, keep faith alive.

There must, and will be a road across Pine Mountain. How many feet of it will you help us build?


LADEN TRAIL or THE ROAD: History

What follows is a historical overview of the building “The Road” which was finally completed in 1940. The narrative concludes with a summary of the lessons that were learned and the changes the Road brought to the area and the School.

Laden Trail or The Road

Laden Trail road, car and forested hillside. c. early 1940s [nace_II_album_086.jpg]

From Katherine Pettit regarding progress on the Laden Trail, c. 1920:

You’d be interested in the preliminary report Mr. Obenchain [State Engineer] has just gotten out. On this side of Pine Mountain, there is a rise of one foot in every 1.34 feet (less than 45 degrees). The distance through the mountain is 1-7/8 miles, but we shall need almost 12 miles of road at $6,000 a mile, with an ascent of five feet in every hundred feet. Some undertaking!

This note from Katherine Pettit to the board in the early 1920s was a preliminary assessment of conditions for a road across Pine Mountain to the School. It was among the first steps in the difficult task of bringing a road from the south side of Pine Mountain to the north side of the mountain or, more specifically, from the railroad station at Laden to the settlement school at Pine Mountain.

Geography is often confounding. In the eastern mountains of Kentucky, this is especially true. From the earliest records of exploration of the “Dark and Bloody Ground” of Kentucky to the present day, mountains have been a barrier, friend, wealth, an obstacle to progress, an insulator of culture, and just plain hard to negotiate. The early accounts of travel in the region speak to the tangle of laurel thickets, the sharp ridges and the undulating crests, the short distance but the long journey. Horses and oxen fared little better than their passengers and their loads teetered on slippery saddles or slippery slopes. On many mountain paths supplies slipped, people tumbled down hillsides, roots caught up the unwary and weather made all mountain travel unpredictable, dangerous and costly.

Laden Trail or The Road

[lave015.jpg]

Katherine Pettit was wary of the rapidly developing industrial age, but she was practical and knew that if the school was to thrive it must have a viable transportation corridor for the exchange of goods, people, mail, and communication with new ideas. Rail had already been laid along the Cumberland river on the opposite side of the mountain to carry the cargo of coal and trees from the land, and this exploitative rush on the Southern Appalachians could not be stemmed.

Pettit and de Long believed that, while there were many reasons to join the industrial age, the process must be a partnership entered into with good skills and good sense, not one of exploitation. The isolation of the deep hollows and the mountain-locked valley would, in their view, eventually leave the region poor, exploited, and unhealthy. Roads, they believed, were part of the necessary infrastructure of the Progressive movement and they aimed to see to it that the school at Pine Mountain and the people of the long valley on the north side have this vital conduit to progress.

The undulating escarpment of the Pine Mountain, with its gentle dip slope and its sharp scarp slope is beautiful to view, but it yields few locations where roads can pass through natural gaps. The entire length of the Pine Mountain range, running northeast to southwest for 100 miles, give or take, is evidence of a thrust fault of major proportions. The settlement school sits at the foot of the steep side or scarp slope of the mountain.

LADEN TRAIL or THE ROAD: Biodiversity of Pine Mountain

A hike through the heavily forested area reveals the richness of the flora and fauna of the mountain. The Kentucky State Nature Preserves System has noted that there are more than 250 occurrences of 94 rare species of flora and fauna that are native to the region. Each year Pine Mountain School leads a walk through this wondrous mountain area that commemorates the early work of Emma Lucy Braun, a leading ecologist who stayed at Pine Mountain in 1916 while she conducted research on the “mixed mesophytic” (a term she coined) forest floor of the region. Her early work found the region to be the source of most of the woody species that appear throughout much of the Southern Appalachians. In the mesophytic forest there are some eighty different species as opposed to three or four in most other common forests. [Library of Congress: “Tending the Commons: Folklife and Landscape in Southern West Virginia: Cove Typography”, web resource]. Every year reveal the increasing risk to the some 250 occurrences of the 94 rare species of flora and fauna on the mountains surrounding Pine Mountain Settlement School.

Laden Trail or The Road

‘Rebel’s Rock’ in early Spring, along the Laden Trail road, 2016. [P1120108.jpg]

It is through this wonderland of vegetation and long views that the workers and students walked to get to the School from the rail station at Laden (later Putney). As travelers came down the mountain from Incline (appropriately named) they could look northeast down the long valley and see West Wind, the large white building that sits prominently on the hillside facing out from the campus. Many said that if they could see the building, they knew they were close to the school. But, it was still a long walk.

At $6,000 a mile and twelve long miles, the $72,000 road project was vastly beyond the fiscal grasp of the School, but not beyond a cooperative venture with the county and the state of Kentucky. Pine Mountain became the voice of the cooperative project and a long battle with bureaucracy and funding stretched over the course of many years and is well documented in the School records and archive. An important player in the construction was the Kentucky Good Roads Association.

KENTUCKY GOOD ROADS ASSOCIATION PLAN

In 1912 the Kentucky Good Roads Association came into being in order to promote better methods of road construction and maintenance and to improve the laws and under which the work on roads was to be executed. Out of these early discussions and over the course of about ten years the Kentucky Good Roads Association, a non-partisan association, advocated for the issuing of a $50,000,000 bond to be expended over a period of no less than five years in order to complete the state mandate of 1920 to construct a state-wide system. This system would connect every county seat with hard-surfaced roads. However, the Legislature of 1922 failed tp submit the bond referendum to the people in a timely manner and the Good Roads Association decided in 1923 they would push for the submission of the referendum in the 1924 Legislative session.

The Eastern Kentucky branch of the Kentucky Good Roads Association was formed in 1923 and joined with the Central Kentucky Good Roads Association. The two began a campaign for the adoption and passage of the referendum. Their adopted motto assigned by member Tom Wallace was “United, we move forward; divided, we stick in the mud.” This was in reference to the taxation for road repair that the people called the “mud tax.” The “mud” was a reminder of the condition of the many roads in the state that were in poor condition.

Various counties appointed district chairmen to represent them. Ominously, Harlan County had no representatives at the time the Kentucky Good Roads Association published their platform, which was to be taken to the State convention of the Good Roads Association in Lexington on July 19 and 20 of 1924. But, wisely, they were later chosen as a representative of Harlan County at the State convention. Pine Mountain was a voice in moving the Good Roads Association platform forward.

The plan of the 1923 campaign was to follow 3 objectives:

  1.  Distribute literature and news matter in order to show the people of Kentucky what it would cost to build and maintain a completed system of hard surface roads.
  2.  Form in every County an active organization to carry out the aims fo the Association.
  3.  Through solicitation of memberships, collect fund to defray the expenses of the campaign, from every resident, taxpayer, person, firm or corporation having a legitimate interest in the construction of a hard road system in Kentucky.

The common practice of operating in a patchwork manner in which over 54 different centers of construction tried to coordinate jobs and plans, was not working and it was clear that the old patchy system needed replacement. Another challenge was found in what was referred to as the “Sinking Fund” which was the provision that was mandated to be used to pay off the bonds. The current funding for the Sinking Fund was also to be used to maintain the roads after construction. It was a sinking proposition. The ultimate outcome was a proposal that would require some $2,830,000 a year to retire the bonds in the timeframe mandated by the State agreement. With state revenues to off-set the pay-back, the total approximate maintenance budget could be kept at $1,100,000, a figure that some felt to be beyond reach.

Laden Trail or The Road

Broadside for the Pine Mountain Laden Trail Road project. [roads_004.jpg]

Katherine Pettit and others, like her, believed that many of the deficits claimed by the nay-sayers could be recovered by increased revenues to the counties through improved roads and increases in the motor traffic of the region. The assessment of motor vehicle owners, it was believed, could further offset the cost of principle and interest of the 30-year bond. The thirty-year cost would stand at around $85,729,721 which includes the principle of the bond of $50,000,000 and an interest rate of 4.5%. A further justification was made regarding the improvement that suggested the vital importance of roads to agriculture in the state and to the increase in opportunity for industrial materials transport.

The Kentucky Good Roads Association plan was a good one and one that had the full endorsement of the Pine Mountain Settlement School administration and staff, particularly the efforts of de Long and Pettit. Both Director Ethel de Long and Katherine Pettit saw the state referendum as an opportunity for the School to raise sufficient money to qualify for extension and improvement of the trail into a full and useful road from the Putney rail-head to the School. Though their efforts were not immediately evident, the trail would never have become a road had they not pushed for a corridor to transport goods and services into and out of the Pine Mountain valley. The trajectory of their effort was a long one, seen in the chronology below.

LADEN TRAIL or THE ROAD: A Chronology of Pine Mountain Settlement School Road History

A one-page document compiling the history of the “Road Over Pine Mountain” was drafted by an anonymous author. It captures the long course of events associated with the creation of Laden Trail Road by the School.

1913

The School asked Harlan County Fiscal Court to appropriate money for a good road over Pine Mountain. Early estimates placed the cost at $10,000, and in June the fiscal court appropriated half that sum, and the School started out to raise the other half.

Miss de Long made trips to Harlan, found the cost would be $50,000, instead of $10,000, [The] School was to raise half and the state give dollar for dollar. But [the] School had to raise the second half to loan the state which promised to pay it back in annual installments of $1200.

Miss Celia Cathcart went to work to raise the first half in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky. Miss de Long, from the School, raised the second half, which was to be the loan to the state.

Uncle William Creech went to Louisville to speak for the Road and made many friends for the School.

1918 – JANUARY

Surveying began after preliminary work done in 1915-1916.

1919 – May

Work began, but prices so high by this time that the Road had to cost $100,000. All the $50,000 raised by the School had to be used, and none of it would come back. In 1922 the funds gave out, and the Road had been graded only to the top of Pine Mountain [on the South side]. There was no money for further work on this [North] side.

Mrs. [de Long] Zande went to Frankfort to lobby, succeeded in getting a bill through which made the Road a link in the chain of State primary Highways between county seats, thus ensuring that eventually Kentucky would have to finish the Road. The School could do no more.

1924

The hauling road down this [North] side of the mountain was built by neighbors and county labor about 1924.

1929

In 1929 a sum of $50,000 was appropriated by the Harlan County Fiscal Court for the completion of the Road, and resurfacing of what had already been graded, but this sum was not available in the end.

1931-32

In 1931-32 the poor grade was improved a bit by the emergency relief workers. Aaron Creech was paid by the School to survey the new grade and was boarded at E.M. Nolen’s house free. Some work was commenced but was given up when the money ran out again.

1934

In the spring of 1934 the CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps] workers began work on the new survey made by Aaron Creech. Right of way was given by all the owners except Otto Nolan, who has paid money by neighbors and School.

The Road was completed by CCC labor.

1937

By 1937 the road situation in eastern Kentucky had improved and the number of paved roads can be seen in this hand-drawn map prepared by an unknown individual at Pine Mountain Settlement School. As can be seen in the map, the only high school that does not have access by a paved road is Pine Mountain Settlement School. While getting a road across the mountain was successful, access continued to be difficult for students on the north side of Pine Mountain. The “S” in green at the center top of the map is Laden Trail road as it leads into PMSS.

Laden Trail or The Road

1937 Road Map of Harlan County, hand-drawn by anonymous individual and showing location of high schools in the county and their access by paved road in 1937. [roads_005.jpg]


Work on the Road continued for many years even after its energetic beginning. Evelyn Wells, the Editor[?], writing for the Pine Mountain NOTES in November of 1920, speaks lyrically of the progress on the Road :

The progress of the Pine Mountain Road has been without haste and without rest.
     Six years ago we had a Dream of a Road.
     Next year we hope to have The Road.

There is about its history a slow rhythm suggestive of classic Roman roads, which should augur well for its quality as a finished road. It started at the railroad, sauntering along so easily that one would never know it was climbing, stopping now and again at a refreshing spring or stream, or just to give one a chance to look at Big Black Mountain’s wonderful mass. It struck a little hill and had to gather up its young strength to eat its way through with a steam shovel that chewed out four hundred cubic yards of rock every day for weeks. Then it swept around the hill joyously and easily until it came to cliffs — a genuine jumping-off place, full of old bears’ dens. Here it halted many weeks while the air drills and steam shovels moved tons of rock to make a huge fill. And now the road continues its climbing unwearied, below the Rebel Rocks, through deep, still thickets of rhododendron, and across pure streams, viewing always the mountain across the valley. We stand at the point where the old trail crosses the road, and wonder if future visitors, coming across all the way on its beautiful, easy grade, will ever believe that once we all, two-footed and four-footed alike, scrambled up the twenty-five percent grade trail!

The other day at dusk, seven men started up the road on their mules, one behind the other, quite as if it were not wide enough for them to go three or four abreast. The Editor called out, “What makes you go up endwise still? Why don’t you ride together until you have to take the trail?” “We got so used to it we couldn’t help it” came the answer, and the Editor read again the poem of Mr. W. A. Bradley on the “Men of Harlan.”

“For, in that far, strange country, where the
men of Harlan dwell,
There are no roads at all, like ours, as we’ve
heard travelers tell.
But only narrow trails that wind along each
shallow creek,
Where the silence hangs so heavy you can hear
the leathers squeak,
And there no two can ride abreast, but each
alone must go,
Picking his way as best he may, with careful
steps and slow.”

Frances Lavender Album. I don’t know these girls but the rear horse is Bobby. — This is such a good view of our roads.

It was always a topic of conversation with workers and students as seen in this exchange in the student newsletter THE PINE CONE, October 1937, which captures the ambivalence of older staff to change and progress:

THEN

Signs of progress are the highways of travel
Asphalt, cement, sand and gravel;
All play a part in this building plan,
Making easy the tours of man;
Girding the earth like ribbons of gray
Stretch in untold miles the broad highway.

Mistaken the one who the above lines wrote,
The following facts are worthy of note
Pine Mountain, Kentucky, clings to the past
Old customs, old ballads, she holds these fast.
Highways of travel — roads did you say?
“No such animal” comes this way!

Trails, paths, a creek bed for a road
Rough and rocky — a light weight becomes a load;
Mud and slush, mire and hill —
Traveling her give one a thrill!
No easy sailing over a road like this;
End of journey is peaceful bliss.

Companions of travel along these bogs
Are countless razor backs and other kinds of hogs;
In spite of the primitive way of it all,
There’s something about it seems to call
To the soul of living for a bigger life,
Away from the modern rush and strife.

So here’s to Pine Mountain, her roads and her ways,
May the blessings of peace be hers always;
If progress and growth be her birthright
Grant these come with education’s light;
Roads — highways of hope!
These, too, perhaps in her horoscope.

AND NOW [The Editor (?) writes:]

The above poem, which was written by Miss McDavid, a housemother at Old Log in 1930, brings to the mind of a worker who has been away from Pine Mountain for seven years the great contrast between then and now. Change has taken place and it seems to be simultaneous with the building of the road. No longer is there a blind clinging to the past merely for the sake of tradition. The best of the past has been retained and many new things have been added. Old restrictions are gone. The freedom at Pine Mountain is an amazing thing, but more than that, the new responsibilities on the shoulders of each student are a sign of a large forward step. Roads are a symbol of civilization.

The ever-present question is in what direction will Pine Mountain go from now on? Has the road brought each student a new highway of hope?

LADEN TRAIL or THE ROAD: What About Today?

Today, in 2016, the School is encircled by paved roads and even roads that perhaps should have remained dirt thoroughfares, such as Little Shepherd Trail on the crest of Pine Mountain above the School. That one-lane scenic road was paved, in part, to keep it from washing out and, in part, as a response to the success of the paving of other scenic mountain roads, such as the Blue Ridge Parkway. However, the sections that are now paved will need to compete with foot traffic if a proposed Pine Mountain hiking corridor reaches fruition. Obviously, transportation corridors change and the changes reflect the changing times.

The lessons of “The Road” were many before it found its way across the mountain. The negotiation, cooperation, double-dealing, graft, community support, all brought along an education to a new generation entering the industrial age. The Road made the trip to the School easier for many visitors who made the journey. It enabled the Cooperative Store during the Boarding School year to function, and it kept the growing school supplied through the difficult years of World War II.

To put this simple unpaved road in perspective, the Appalachian Scenic Highway, later the Blue Ridge Parkway, was begun in 1935. The Parkway was a 469.1-mile road that stretched across two states and took 50 years to complete. The final Lynn Cove segment of the road was not completed until 1987!

The Road on Laden Trail, six miles of arduous negotiation and labor was finally completed in 1940. It is only in the late 1970s that the Road became a scenic route across the mountain. The completion of Highway 421 across Pine Mountain at Bledsoe became the preferred conduit for goods and people across the steep Pine Mountain ridge.

Today, Laden Trail is not a designated scenic parkway, but it holds a special place in the mind of the community and continues to offer the beauty of the forests of Pine Mountain and the long views of both the Black Mountain range on the south side and the peaceful Pine Mountain valley on the north side. It offers access to the Little Shepherd Trail, a popular narrow and scenic road that intersects the Laden Trail at near its mid-point. The Little Shepherd Trail, which runs along the crest of the Pine Mountain has become a long classroom for the many environmental programs that Pine Mountain School offers to the public.

Further, while the main transportation routes in the area are now paved, unfortunately, they remain some of the most dangerous roads in Kentucky and have some of the highest maintenance requirements. Due to the many years of travel by logging and coal trucks, the narrow roads in eastern Kentucky can be heart-stopping at times, and also confusingly un-marked and intricate.

Roads come with their benefits and their deficits, but it is certain that road construction leading into the Pine Mountain valley, one of the most remote of Harlan County’s areas, would not have happened for many years were it not for a passel of women working hard to pave the way.


SEE ALSO: 

LADEN TRAIL or THE ROAD

 LETTERS OF CORRESPONDENCE RELATED TO “THE ROAD”

LADEN TRAIL or THE ROAD CORRESPONDENCE Part I

LADEN TRAIL or THE ROAD CORRESPONDENCE Part II

CELIA CATHCART CORRESPONDENCE

 LADEN TRAIL PHOTO GALLERY

LITTLE SHEPHERD TRAIL

LADEN TRAIL VIDEO (1980s) – Paul Hayes

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