School and Community Growth: Page 2

In addition to improving Gatlinburg’s educational system, Pi Beta Phi acted as a technological and economic conduit into the community. Among the fraternity’s many accomplishments were the construction of a pedestrian boardwalk along Gatlinburg’s main thoroughfare and side roads (1913); installation of the town’s first electric generator, which provided power to the settlement school and to several local families (1920); the installation of the town’s first telephone, which connected the settlement school nurse’s office with that of the Head Resident (1921); the construction of a 10,000 gallon water reservoir, which “appreciably lessened” the local fire hazard (1923); and the construction of a small hydroelectric dam, which replaced the outdated generator (1924). Then too, Pi Beta Phi printed the community’s first newspaper, The Gatlinburg News (1925); organized Arrowcraft, which provided residents with an alternative to logging and farming, and which enabled them to take advantage of the tourist trade initiated by the founding of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (1934); and operated Gatlinburg’s first school bus (ca. 1932).

Finally, Pi Beta Phi was pivotal in breaking down the political and philosophic walls that had long prevented Gatlinburg residents from engaging in public action. Over the years, settlement school administrators staged numerous public debates -- among them a debate as to the relative value of state highways versus the relative value of railroads; a debate as to the value of grazing versus farming; a debate regarding the pros and cons of the League of Nations; and a debate as to the need for women’s suffrage -- all of which were designed to educate Gatlinburg residents on the finer points of modern Progressive thought, and perhaps even to spur them to action. More important than debates, however, was Pi Beta Phi’s literal example; for as Gatlinburg residents beheld what Pi Beta Phi and its network of supporters was capable of accomplishing, they were inspired to form public associations and take the initiative in bettering their community. Between 1912 and 1965, Gatlinburg residents, often with the assistance of the settlement school staff, organized the town’s first Parent-Teachers Association (1921); its first agricultural cooperative (1924); and its first Chamber of Commerce (1943). In 1944, Settlement School Chairman Mildred Odell Sale reported happily that Gatlinburg residents had voted to incorporate “under a city manager system,” so that they might “carry out important civic improvements necessary for its future growth.”

Since 1965, the year that Sevier County assumed full financial and administrative responsibility for the Gatlinburg school system, Pi Beta Phi has seen the community continue to grow and, conversely, its own leadership role diminish. As of 2004, the fraternity still owns eighty acres of land along the Gatlinburg Parkway, including that occupied by the county-operated Pi Beta Phi Elementary School; but it has withdrawn formally from an active involvement in the local political and social scene, save for maintaining a strong presence on the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts Board of Governors.

Still, the name Pi Beta Phi continues to resonate in Gatlinburg, and it perhaps always will. The city and the fraternity are so closely tied, and have shared in so many pivotal moments with one another, that is seems absurd to mention one name without then mentioning the other. All things considered, it is best to view Pi Beta Phi not so much as an outside entity -- which it certainly was, at least in the beginning -- but rather as a leading citizen of the town -- one whose roots in the Gatlinburg soil run almost as deep as those of the town’s oldest families, and whose opinions and actions shaped, and in some respects continue to shape, so much of what is today modern Gatlinburg.



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Girls playing in the snow, circa 1920

The Teachers' Cottage, circa 1920

The Teachers' Cottage in a Gatlinburg winter

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