While Karen Graham was visiting, we decided to make a trip to Henderson Settlement in Frakes, Kentucky. Henderson Settlement is a United Methodist Mission and Work Camp located “up the mountain” from Middlesboro. Karen had been there before because her sister, Pam, had worked there and Pam and Chuck lived in Frakes for years.
Henderson Settlement was started by Rev Hiram Frakes in 1925. The people in this area of Kentucky had a reputation for settling any dispute with gunfire and then refusing to testify in court against each other. This lawlessness and lack of opportunity seemed like an opening for ministry to Rev. Frakes. He started to travel the 30 miles from his Methodist church in Pineville regularly. Eventually some of the residents donated land for a mission. Bill Henderson, who claimed he had shot and killed 17 men, donated his entire 68 acres.
Bishop Theodore Henderson, no relation to Bill, found financial support for the mission. Bertha Reil, a Deconess and graduate of the Chicago Training School, heard about the mission and came to be the first teacher at the one-room schoolhouse. Over time the school grew and added dormitories for orphans and students who lived too far away to walk. A farm where students worked supported the school.
The community worked together to build up Henderson Settlement, counteracting the area’s reputation for moonshining and feuding. They built a church, gristmill, and sawmill. A nurse and dentist came to live at the settlement. Electricity was brought up the mountain in the 1940’s. The Methodist Board of Missions supported Henderson Settlement through salary support and scholarships.
The school was a big success. By 1939 25 students had graduated from the school and 18 of them had gone on to college. At the end of World War II, enrollment boomed to 500 students. In the late 1950’s the school became part of the Bell County Public School system.
Rev. Frakes stepped down as Superintendent of Henderson Settlement in 1950 and Glenn “Tex” Evans took over as superintendent. He started a work camp program for youth and adults. Evans later used his experience at Henderson Settlement to begin the Appalachia Service Project. Karen and Pam both volunteered for the Appalachia Service Project in this area as teenagers.
Over the decades since the school closed, the Henderson Settlement has refocused its work on improving the lives of mountain people in Kentucky and Tennessee. The Work Camp for youth and adults provides year-round opportunities for service. On the web page, the settlement advertises the projects that need to be done and their cost. Groups sign up for a project, raise the money for it, and pay for their housing and food at the settlement as they come to work. People can come and work for any length of time.
In addition to the Work Camps, Henderson Settlement has ministries in partnership with outside groups. They build one home a year for a member of the community, similar to Habitat for Humanity. They have after-school tutoring and GED preparation programs. There is an on-site senior center, a thrift store which includes food, and a craft store. Beef cattle are raised to supplement the food supply in the dining hall. The Grow Appalachia program, in partnership with Berea College, teaches people how to grow and preserve their own food. The Maternal Infant Health Outreach program, in partnership with Vanderbilt University, gives support for mothers and children.
We learned all of this on a detailed tour by the Henderson Settlement Director, John Newman. John was proud to show us all the different ministries and how the program continues to diversify. Needs are always changing, although the poverty remains constant. John and the Henderson Settlement are continuing to look for ways to meet those needs. Their most recent addition is hook-up spots for RVers who want to come and volunteer.
We appreciated the time John took to show us around. I’m sure he had lots of other things that needed his attention, but he answered all our questions. We were impressed by all the things that the small staff and large crew of volunteers does. Henderson Settlement continues to be a light on a hill that shines through the darkness.
If you are interested in donating to Henderson Settlement, or being part of the volunteer work camps, check out their webpage. There are so many opportunities and never too many volunteers.