Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2018 - 60
Caption caption caption caption caption caption caption caption caption caption caption caption
caption caption caption caption caption caption caption.
The Willie Gibbons Blacksmithing and Woodworking cabin: "I can remember my grandfather using tools like the ones made up here, by hand," says NPS guide Brittony Beason.
Dynamite Hill. In places the road
looks more like a trail. And in fact,
the last stretch to the Hensley Settlement is on foot.
What we've signed up for on
this four-hour trip is time-travel.
In 1903 Sherman Hensley went up
Brush Mountain with his pregnant
wife Nicey Ann-and in 1951, he
was the last resident to leave. But
the life lived here in the first half of
the 20th century was from a hundred years earlier. Without cash
money, electricity or transportation other than mules and sleds and
their backs, the Hensleys and Gibbons built their log houses from native trees, grew and preserved their
food, spun wool, and yes...they
What you see atop the mountain
is the real thing. Nineteenth-century log cabins chinked with mud, manure and hay. Hog-fattening pens
and chicken houses and smokehouses. Long stretches of split-rail
and paling fences. Hand-forged
tools. A one-room school house. A
cemetery with small, whitewashed
headstones. It is plain and harsh
and real in the Hensley Settlement,
as close as you'll come to walking
through nineteenth-century Appalachia. It is beautiful.
And what you hear, listening to
Ranger Beason talk, is equally beautiful. Her sentences are musical
with Elizabethan-era dialect and lilt:
When there's fog of a morning
Late of an evening
It wasn't an hour later
Everything they done, they done by
I know better than to romanticize life on top of this remote mountain, in a place where work began at
sunup and never really ended and
the world down the mountain was
turning modern fast. But I can't
resist asking Beason why the Settlement disbanded.
"It was jobs, mostly. That, and they
were marrying people who didn't
want to live in isolation up here."
Park Hensley put it this way in
an oral history interview: "I got
to working off in the mines, and
I just liked it better, you know.
Made more money...that's what
caused me to move off. Once
some started, they all just went off
Patriarch Sherman Hensley lived
at the Settlement by himself for two
years. He said after leaving that "it
was unhandy up there anyway."
No doubt he was right. But I am
pretty sure that Sherman Hensley
spent a fair share of his last days
dreaming about "up there."
Change is the one thing we can
count on in this life, and when we're
lucky, things change for the good.
With the tunnels hurrying car traffic where it needs to go, the old Gap
Road has gone back to its natural
state. You're on the same path Daniel Boone walked, and it's quiet and
beautiful. The heart of the Gap is a
classic picture of what was, becoming once again what is.