The Founding of Pi Beta Phi Settlement School: Page 3

As the school grew in popularity, and more and more local families entrusted their children’s education to “those wimmin,” it became evident to everyone involved that Pi Beta Phi would need land and additional classroom space if it was to thrive. This led the Settlement School Committee issue an ultimatum to the “city fathers,” insisting that they make good on their promise to purchase a tract of land for use by the settlement school, or else the staff would pack their belongings and move on to more hospitable climes.

What followed were two of the most dramatic days in Gatlinburg history.

As the warm, late-summer sun beat down, local men who favored the school, and who possessed influence enough to press their neighbors for money, hurried about town and up the nearby creeks, pleading with local families to donate a sum--any sum--towards the purchase of a tract of land (local storeowner E. E. Ogle, who favored the school project, was offering thirty-five acres to Pi Beta Phi for purchase at $1800). Others, mostly women, took turns “calling on” the Pi Phis well into the evening, pleading with them to reconsider their ultimatum and worrying openly that the men, despite their best efforts, “perhaps . . . couldn’t raise enough money.” So distraught was Martha Whaley Huff, in fact, that her sleep that night was disturbed by a vivid nightmare--one which saw a sinister black cloud (which represented ignorance and isolation) rolling down the Little Pigeon River Valley and threatening to engulf her and her neighbors’ children. Within moments of waking up, she sent for her husband, local entrepreneur Andy Huff, insisting that he return at once from his lumber camp and devote as much time and energy as necessary to the cause of saving the school.

The following morning, Gatlinburg residents looked on apprehensively as the Pi Phis hauled their trunks and other belongings down to the town’s main thoroughfare, preparatory to leaving. The money needed for the land had yet to be raised, although Huff and his neighbors “Uncle” Steve Whaley and Squire Isaac L. Maples refused to give up. Indeed, they assured everyone present that they would collect $1200--the town’s share of the $1800 purchase price--before the hack (wagon) arrived from Sevierville to take the Pi Phis away. In the end (and to everyone’s great relief), the three men succeeded in their mission. E. E. Ogle signed over his thirty-five acres of land (fifteen cleared, twenty in timber) to Pi Beta Phi, and the fraternity pledged, in return, to “maintain a school for 10 years, to build a new school house, and to provide good teachers.”

Although no one could have known it at the time, Pi Beta Phi and Gatlinburg had in that instant forged a relationship that would persist into the present day. For more on the long-term relationship between the Pi Beta Phi Settlement School and Gatlinburg, see the essay titled “School and Community Growth.”

 


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The abandoned county schoolhouse, circa 1915

 
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Settlement School students, circa 1920

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