Last updated: March 27. 2014 2:12PM - 619 Views
Judith Victoria Hensley

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There are a few places I have been in my life that always bring a smile to mind when I picture them. Elmer and Irene Bogg’s hunting cabin on Peter’s Mountain in McCreary County was a place where I spent Thanksgiving for years with good friends. Hensley Settlement is a place where I see something new on every trip and never run out of things to photograph. Cade’s Cove always supplies glimpses of wildlife and photo opportunities. Kingdom Come State Park is a place where the overlooks take my breath away every single time I’m there.

Pine Mountain Settlement School is another one of those places that are dear to my heart. I am always captivated by the sense of spiritual awe that surrounds the place. It is a place where peace washes over people and the cares of the world recede into the background for a few hours or a couple of days. I am always impressed by the vision for the future that William Creech had for the school. It is a wonderful and heart-warming story about one man who wanted better opportunities for his children, his family, and his community. I’ve often wondered what he would say if he could see it now.

One of the most endearing things about Pine Mountain Settlement School is that the flowers on the grounds were so well planned. There is never a growing season on the mountain that doesn’t have something in bloom. When I am checking the progress of the seasons, a drive to Pine Mountain Settlement School is always included.

I don’t know all the names of all the species that grow and bloom there. Ben or Pat Begley would be able to tell that very accurately, I’m sure. In spring the daffodils, jonquils, forsythia, red bud, blue belles, bleeding heart, trillium, lady’s slipper, and dogwood show off their fresh beauty and renew hope of new beginnings, and new seasons in our lives.

I am surprised at the number of people who spend a lifetime in this region and have never made their way across Pine Mountain to the Settlement School. Perhaps it is because there is so much natural beauty across the mountains of southeastern Kentucky that a person doesn’t have to go very far to find it.

The Settlement School concept was a movement across the country to help offer educational opportunities to rural students. Hindman Settlement School in Hindman is considered to be the first rural social settlement school in the entire United States. The concept had been popular in Europe before it caught on in here. It was established in 1902 by May Stone and Katherine Pettit in Knott County.

Pine Mountain Settlement School was founded by William Creech in 1913. He donated the land for the school and persuaded Katherine Pettit and Ethel DeLong to develop and be in charge of the new school. The school served the children of the region for years until public schools were provided throughout rural communities.

At one time the school served middle school students, also, but eventually became a residential high school. Students not only got an academic education, but also learned life skills and practical living skills as they worked on the campus and school farm.

As the role of schools changed over the years, the Settlements Schools also had to change the programs they offered in order to keep going. Hindman Settlement School is now known for work with dyslexia, writer’s workshops, and family folk life celebrations. Since the 1970s, Pine Mountain School has specialized in environmental education, known for special week-end events in spring and fall, and the annual Nativity Play. Programs are still evolving as the school plans for the future.

As I drive or walk across campus with my camera, I am always taken to thoughts of the past and wonder whose hands planted certain trees, or flowers. How many children filled the hallways with songs and laughter, and what stories could the trees and walls tell if they could speak? What dreams were birthed in the minds of students that would not have happened any other way than through their experience at Pine Mountain Settlement School.

Of all the favorite places I’ve experience so far, Pine Mountain will always be among those at the top of my list.

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