Home » Exploring Kentucky | Hindman Settlement School preserves, celebrates mountain culture

Exploring Kentucky | Hindman Settlement School preserves, celebrates mountain culture

By Katherine Tandy Brown

Hindman Settlement School in Knott County  in Southeastern Kentucky was launched in  1902 as a social reform effort. Today it includes  an Appalachian artisan center and an adult learning center.
Hindman Settlement School in Knott County in Southeastern Kentucky was launched in 1902 as a social reform effort. Today it includes an Appalachian artisan center and an adult learning center.

Tucked deep in the Appalachians of Knott County at the forks of Troublesome Creek, Hindman Settlement School continues to change lives for the better on a daily basis, just as it has since 1902, when Solomon “Uncle Sol” Everidge asked May Stone and Katherine Pettit to start a school for his “grands and greats.” They did, and the rest continues to be history for this institution that takes seriously its charge to help meet local folks’ needs and to preserve the literary and cultural heritage of southeastern Kentucky and the central Appalachians.

Settlement schools are social reform institutions begun in rural Appalachia in the early 20th century to educate mountain children and to improve their isolated rural communities, and Hindman Settlement School (HSS) was the first.

Today, HSS wraps its arms around its mission via five program areas.

The first is its Cultural Heritage Program, made up of the Appalachian Writers Workshop (AWW), Appalachian Family Folk Week and workshops that include writers’ retreats throughout the year. The AWW is Kentucky’s premier gathering of writers from across the nation who live in or write about the area and attend to learn or teach in multi-genre classes. The keynote speaker for this summer’s event – scheduled for July 24–29 – will be the state’s revered native son and former poet laureate, Wendell Berry.

Another summer program, Appalachian Family Folk Week offers pure fun, with mountain music, dance, crafts, storytelling, traditional instrument playing and special kids’ activities for all comers. This year’s event will be held June 5-10.

Both aforementioned programs celebrate 40th anniversaries this year. For the occasion, HSS will release two new publications, a monograph representing the school’s literary heritage and a craft anthology by Writers’ Workshop faculty alums. December will bring the third annual Dumplin’s and Dancin’, a lively weekend of heritage food and frolicking open to the public.

Secondly, HHS launched a new, school-based Appalachian Scholars’ Program last October for eighth and ninth graders in Knott and Letcher counties. Some 400 students in 26 classrooms participate in a curriculum that teaches life skills and core values, builds healthy behaviors and connects youth to their communities as potential leaders.

The third program started three years ago. Funded in part through a grant from Berea College, the Grow Appalachia Program helps people produce, prepare and preserve healthy foods for their families by providing expertise, seeds and tools.

“People apply for different reasons,” says Brent Hutchinson, HSS executive director. “Some can’t afford to plant on their own, while others can afford to do it but don’t have the expertise. Grow Appalachia levels the playing field.”

The program has increased from 18 families initially to its 2016 total of 55, who produced nearly 14,000 pounds of food collectively, and has expanded to include Perry, Fletcher and Floyd counties.

Since 1980, HSS has offered a
Dyslexia Program to provide information, training and support for parents, tutors and teachers of children who learn differently. It now conducts tutoring programs for children with dyslexia.

And finally, the Folk Arts Education in Public Schools Program includes an After School Music Program that teaches the next generation of mountain children traditional music.

“Our goals have not changed from the mission set forth by our founders,” says Hutchinson. “It’s always been to meet significant community needs until the community is in a place that they can do it for themselves or there’s another budgeting need that the school can take care of.”

The settlement school’s history reflects why the facility is often referred to as “the best school in the mountains.” In 1910 it became Knott County’s first official high school. Soon afterward, HSS trachoma clinics led to a successful national campaign to eradicate the disease. HSS became a National Daughters of the American Revolution-approved school, and donated land and funding for a new Knott County high school in 1930. Though located in one of the state’s poorest counties, that high school has one of the highest graduation rates.

Beloved Kentucky author James Still signed on as school librarian in 1933, seven years before his award-winning novel, “Mountain of Earth,” was published.

In the late 1990s an HSS-led Community Development Initiative resulted in a $20 million community renewal project for Hindman and Knott County. The results – including a new city hall and welcome center, and help in creating the Kentucky Appalachian Artisan Center, the Knott County Adult Learning Center and the Kentucky School of Craft – garnered HSS the Government Award of the 2004 Kentucky Governor’s Awards in the Arts.

This remarkable institution also provides farming and industrial education, helps provide medical assistance and also partners with a number of organizations, like S.W.A.P. (Sharing with Appalachian People), which helps low-income people with home repair.

“Hindman Settlement School is in a unique position to address issues about quality of life. I like to call it ‘human flourishing’,” Hutchinson says. “We have the opportunity to enhance people’s lives, to give them the things they need to thrive. For some people it’s education. For others it’s pride in their heritage. For still others it’s the opportunity to take care of their families.”

Set on 200 forested acres, the school is currently raising funds for the new Mike Mullins Heritage Center to house offices, large gatherings and a community canning kitchen. The campus also includes a museum and craft shop in Uncle Sol’s Cabin, and Chapel in the Trees, an open-air spot for up to 50 people. Ideal for a quiet meeting site or corporate retreat in the midst of nature, HSS can easily accommodate 60 to 80 attendees overnight and several hundred for a daytime retreat, complete with luscious, healthy food from the property’s kitchen. Indigenous to Appalachian heritage, teambuilding options include hiking trails and folk dance instruction.

Find out more about HSS and its multitude of programs at hindmansettlement.org or (606) 785-5475.

Katherine Tandy Brown is a correspondent for The Lane Report. She can be reached at [email protected].