Thursday, January 5, 2017

Remembrance of Things Past: Gatlinburg #12

Pi Beta Phi opened its first school in the timber town of Gatlinburg in 1912
using a borrowed building. Students stand on a footbridge over Baskins Creek. © Arrowmont archives

It was a blessing when the Great Smoky Mountains National Park came to Gatlinburg in 1934. Where the city limits end, the park begins. But the isolated mountain town had been blessed by the outside world once before, 22 years earlier.

Horses were the main mode of travel
in early Gatlinburg. 
© Bales family archives 
The kindness of strangers originally came to town in 1912, that's when Pi Beta Phi, the first international Fraternity for Women, singled out Gatlinburg as the most deserving of all the towns they looked at in Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee. The good women searched for two years for the most inaccessible Appalachian community they could find. Travel was done by horse, buggy or wagon, and none of it was easy. 

Pi Phi wanted to bring opportunity and education to the isolated youth and establish a school for the needy children. The word "needy" would have offended my ancestors. They strongly felt that they needed nothing! And at first they proudly resisted any such aid. 

The resident mountaineers were tough, resourceful and stubborn. If they couldn't make it themselves, they didn't need it. No ma'am! They didn't want outsiders teaching their children and they didn't need charity. But Pi Phi offered something more. They brought a glimpse of the outside world and ultimately what parent doesn't want their children to have a better life than they had?  

Downtown Gatlinburg with Pi Phi's first built
schoolhouse in center. 
© Bales family archives 
Pi Beta Phi Settlement School was founded on February 20, 1912 in the center of town at the confluence of Baskins Creek and the Little Pigeon River across the street from the First Baptist Church and Ephraim E. Ogle's store. The school started small with only 13 students in class but slowly it grew. The early students who attended: the Ogles, the Reagans, the Whaleys, the Maples, were all my kin. Their blood is in my blood; their heart beats in my chest. That's what your heritage is. Strands of their DNA can be found in my DNA and their culture is ingrained in me since the day I were born. 

Pi Phi's first "modern" six-room schoolhouse known as the
"White Building" built in 1914. 
© Bales family archives 
It took a few years before the mountain folk accepted the outsider's help, but the mountain kids slowly began to gravitate to the new school on Baskins. The first "modern six-room" schoolhouse was built in 1914. Its first enrollment was 75 students and it marked a sea change for Gatlinburg. The new teachers were determined and their graciousness made all the difference in the mountaineers' lives and in turn in mine.

My sister Darlene by the 
52-year-old "White Building," 
1966 © Bales family archives
We live in an age when self absorption is common, but true happiness comes when you help others. A good deed never goes unrewarded. The women of Pi Phi knew this because they lived it. 

My sister Darlene and I went to Pi Beta Phi, first through eighth grades. I clearly remember the four buildings at the time. My favorite was the oldest, thcreaky floored "White Building" with huge windows as big as life rafts that looked out onto the world wide-eyed.  

When I advanced to that big intimidating Moby Dick of a schoolhouse in the middle of the campus, I was no longer a kid. I was in the fourth grade.

The "White Building," Pi Beta Phi's first built schoolhouse, is in the large blue circle. Inside the small blue circle is the newly built home of my grandparents Homer and Pearl Bales. To the right of the White Building is the "Rock Building" that housed Pi Beta Phi High School. The ridges to the left and behind are some of the areas that burned on November 28, 2016. circa 1930s. 
© Bales family archives 

© 2017 From the upcoming book, 
"Vintage Gatlinburg: 
The Transformation of a Small Timber Town to Mountain Resort
 Family Remembrances 1899-1974" 
by University of Tennessee Press author and native son  
Stephen Lyn Bales

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