Pioneer Hall Museum | Tennessee Crossroads

We take public education
for granted these days, but that wasn’t the
case back in the 1880s. Thanks to the efforts of
some Northern missionaries, Pleasant Hill Academy
became one of the few bright spots in
Tennessee back then. Ed Jones took a tour of one
of the original buildings that’s now a museum,
paying tribute to life and learning on the
Plateau 140 years ago. (mellow strumming music) – [Ed] In the sleepy
hamlet of Pleasant Hill, just across Main Street
from the elementary school, stands Pioneer Hall,
the last remnant of Pleasant Hill
Academy, the first real school this area ever had. – [Sharon] The American
Missionary Association after the Civil War,
turned their attention to education of mountain
children and American Indians. They established over
500 institutions. – Now I’ma take you over
here is a boys’ dorm. This was made for
two, and one desk and there’s no
closet because they didn’t have that much clothes. There’s some hangers
on the back wall and that’s basically
all they had was their clothes that
they hung up there. – [Ed] The only time
students walk the creaky hardwood floors these
days is on field trips to learn about simpler
times and a once-grand educational institution
built by a man on a mission. Sharon Weible is curator
at Pioneer Hall Museum. – The AMA sent the
Reverend Benjamin Dodge, a congregational minister
from New Hampshire, to come to Pleasant Hill to
establish a school and a church. He was known affectionately
as Father Dodge. He came with his wife, Phoebe,
and his daughter, Emma, and they lived here for
the rest of their lives. The first building
that Father Dodge constructed was the
academy building across the street from
Pioneer Hall Museum. The second building
was this building, Pioneer Hall, which opened
as a dormitory in 1889. The school accepted
boys and girls and any age and
many of the students who came were older
than what we might think of as grade school
and high school students, but it was their chance
to get an education. – [Ed] And what an
education it was. The AMA employed teachers
from the finest schools across the country to
share their knowledge with the children
of the Cumberlands. – [Sharon] The academy had an excellent reputation
academically. Students could go from
the academy to college at the University of
Tennessee or to Berea College. They were very well
educated in a classical, traditional education, but
because of the work program, they also learned life skills. – [Ed] Those life
skills not only helped to better prepare the
students for the future, but they were essential to keep
Pleasant Hill Academy open. – [Al] They had a blacksmith
shop and a lot of woodworking stuff, but all the stuff
in here was handmade. – [Ed] Docent Al
Dwinger walks visitors through displays of
items made and sold by the students to keep
the academy afloat. – [Sharon] The students
did everything. They worked on the academy
farm, in the kitchen, in the dining room, in the
garden, they rang the bell. (clanging) – [Ed] You can’t have a
school without a bell. But this isn’t
just any old bell. – [Sharon] When Father
Dodge came to Pleasant Hill, he depended heavily
on benefactors, and one of those
people was J.J. Gregory from Marblehead, Massachusetts and Mr. Gregory
purchased the Revere Bell and he sent it to the academy. – [Ed] Revere, as in the
midnight ride of Paul Revere? – [Sharon] The Paul
Revere Bell was cast by Paul Revere & Sons in 1817. – [Ed] In addition to the
Revolutionary War hero, there’s also a lifesaving
heroine in Pioneer Hall’s past. – Dr. May is a tremendous
part of the story. – In 1917, when
Edwin Wharton was appointed principal of
Pleasant Hill Academy, he moved here with his wife
and she was a physician. So she began treating
students at the academy and people in the area, and
when Edwin died in 1920, Dr. May decided to
stay in Pleasant Hill and she and her friend
Elizabeth Fletcher opened the first hospital here. – Dr. May was way
ahead of her time in treating tuberculosis
and one of the main things she did, she went, she
set up clinics all around in the area and traveled
and she made house calls all the time, wherever
she was needed, she went. – [Sharon] She was very
influential in this region. Dr. May became known as
Doctor of the Cumberlands. (mellow strumming) – [Ed] Pioneer Hall
Museum holds much more than the memories of
Pleasant Hill Academy. Upstairs you’ll find a
remarkable collection of items that made life on the
Plateau a little easier. – [Al] Some of you
remember an ice box? – [Woman] Yes. – Alright, here’s an ice
box and as I remember, you’d hang in the window
this sign each week about how many pounds
of ice you wanted and then the iceman would
cut the ice in his truck and bring it in and
put it in the ice box and of course it turned
to water in about a week. – [Sharon] We move
into an area upstairs that we call Life on
the Cumberland Plateau, and that includes a
kitchen and a general store and artifacts from
the farm and the home. – [Ed] Artifacts that bring
back memories for many visitors. – I’m loving it, I’m loving it. All the antiques,
the things that I see that I’ve used
during my lifetime with my parents
and grandparents. I don’t want this history
to be lost to our children. (twangy music) You need to know your history,
you need to know your roots. – I hope that visitors take away a sense of the creativity
and the courage and the hard work
that was needed for people to flourish here.

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