Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2018 - 58
ONE MORE FOR THE ROAD
I don't know what drew me 20 miles from Middlesboro to the Henderson Settlement in Frakes,
Kentucky, other than curiosity and its sound-alike
similarity to Hensley Settlement. There's no easy
way to get there, but it's worth a trip to witness a
front-line, remote assistance program to people
who have lived in poverty for generations.
The Henderson Settlement got its start nearly
a century ago, when Methodist minister Hiram
Frakes arrived in the Laurel Fork Valley determined to build a school. With land donations
from residents and support from his bishop,
Frakes opened the Henderson Settlement School
in 1925. A church followed. Two years later,
dormitories were built to house orphans and
students who lived far from the school. Boarding
students earned their keep by doing farm work,
tending animals and raising crops.
Henderson staff partnered in the War on Poverty
in the 1960s and 70s, expanding their reach into
social work and healthcare. The Settlement still
grows its own food (four greenhouses dot the
hillsides, and animals roam around the ancient
barn); maintains a thrift shop and an active senior outreach and transportation program; sells
local artisan craft; and runs a two-room library.
Mission Advancement Assistant Casey Smith
explains in detail the work camp program, which
provides a substantial portion of the annual Settlement budget. Each year in March, a long list
of off-campus construction projects are posted.
Interested church and community groups choose
one, travel to the Settlement, pay for materials,
and board at the Settlement dormitories for a
nominal fee. It's a win-win situation for those
who want to help, and those who benefit from
David Lyons is the determined new executive
director of the Henderson Settlement. "We're on
our fourth generation of poverty up here," he says.
"The people don't want to leave, so we'll need to
bring jobs to them."
It's a beautiful place, Henderson Settlement,
and they're doing good work. While their role in
these remote Kentucky hills may have changed
over the decades, David Lyons is adamant about
this basic truth:
"We need to get the community to love itself. We
need to love ourselves again."
Sherman Hensley was the first and last settler in the remote Hensley settlement.
if I didn't say I was sorry that the
homemade biscuits and fried catfish
are gone, along with the Elvis clock
hanging on the wall. But the black
bean burgers and homemade sweet
potato fries are a good replacement.
Down the street and up a block,
Brandy Sweat and her dog Boone sit
visiting with Ashley White on the
front porch of Brandy's apartment
house. I stop to say hello to Boone,
and I leave with three new friends.
Sweat's people are all from the
Gap area, but her father moved the
family to Michigan when she was a
girl to take a job in the auto industry.
"We weren't like other people
up there. You know, Southern girls
didn't cut their hair-my mother
had hair down to her waist. And
we ate beans. We were different for
sure," she says, smiling.
"My mom was Miss Powell Valley in 1976. She got married right
out of high school. She knew the
schools in Michigan would be good
for us, and they were. But she never let us forget we were from these
mountains. We came back every
chance we got."
Brandy returned after college to
take a job as a librarian. "This is
where I'm supposed to be. I know
it in my heart."
On the other side of the tunnel, Middlesboro, Kentucky lies in a
300,000-year-old meteor crater.
And like the earliest settlements in
the Gap region, Middlesboro got its
start with dreams of money.
In the 1880s, Scotsman Alexander Arthur (a startling look-alike for
his distant relative, President Chester A. Arthur) and his Gap Associates
discovered coal and iron ore in the
mountains surrounding Middlesboro, and dreamed of a steel city rivaling Pittsburgh with a population
of a quarter million. Engaging English investors and re-forming into
the American Association, LTD., the