The Hensley Settlement
During our fall break adventures we visited the Cumberland Gap State Park. Used by early settlers as a primary route to the westward settlement of Kentucky, Cumberland Gap is not only beautiful, but full of history.
I had the opportunity to take a trip to the top of Brush Mountain and visit the Hensley Settlement. Sherman Hensley, and his brother-in-law, Willy Gibbons, came to the top of the mountain in 1903. They brought their families and the population, at the top of the mountain, peaked in 1925 to about 100 residents.
This settlement never had indoor plumbing, electricity, or running water. Sherman Hensley was the last resident to leave in 1951. That was only due to health concerns and he went down the mountain to live with his daughter. He was 70 years old at the time and lived another 28 years, making it to 98 years of age. Quite a feat in any day and age.
The Job Corps restored this area in 1960. The park service maintains all buildings and continues the work of restoration as time deteriorates the structures.
This is the blacksmith shop and we were allowed to explore inside the structure. Many parts of the buildings here are original.
Chestnut beams, some 40 feet long, continue to hold up porches and other parts of cabins and barns. Though the American Chestnut was wiped out due to an airborne blight, some small trees attempt to regrow from the original root stock, on top of this mountain.
Arrangements were made for a teacher to provide schooling to the children on this mountain. Though the schoolhouse is a restored version, the slate board you see is the original used by the class. The school teacher met, and married, and nice Hensley man and became a part of this wonderful settlement.
The family cemetery is contains many unmarked graves and just a few that are marked. Many children did not make it to their adult years. Sherman Hensley and his wife had 19 children, 9 of whom survived to adulthood.
I should mention my adventure in getting to this place. I paid a $10 fee to take a park ranger led tour. We, six of us including the ranger, took an hour long drive through the back roads of Bell County, KY. The drive also included making it up a path to the top of the mountain. A path for horse, bike, and foot traffic. Very steep, narrow, and with straight drop-offs, it made for some harrowing moments. The road is locked/gated and a good portion of it is private property. The park service provides maintenance for the privilege of using it.
Our ranger, Sharon, had been making this trip for the past 20 years. She was full of information and provided us with many stories as we hiked around the mountain top for 2 hours.
The drive down the mountain was even more harrowing than the drive up......
My alternative in getting here was an 8-mile round trip hike.
$10 + four hour adventure = awesomeness