Leaving the Mountain
As the twentieth century progressed, life on the mountain changed, and some of the younger generation began to move away from the settlement. Better money could be made in the coal mines or in the auto industry. Park Hensley says his brother, Jack, for example, "worked at Pontiac, Michigan. No, Detroit, Detroit, Michigan. He worked there till he died up there." Park himself went to work for the Chadwell Gap Coal Company, a small family-owned mining operation that had opened in the 1920s just down the Virginia side of the mountain. "I got to working off in the mines and I just liked it better, you know. Made more money. . . that's what caused me to move off. Once some started, they all just went off pretty fast," according to Park.
The chestnut blight also had a profound impact on the community. Sherman Hensley says "I remember when the chestnuts left. I missed them. . . . I missed my hogs a getting' fat" and he laments that "the chestnuts whenever they died, why that ruined all the game up there."
Others moved off for more personal reasons. Herbert Hensley says he left Hensley Settlement because "I married a girl off in Virginia and when I married her, I went back to Kentucky on the mountain . . . but after a while, she didn't want to agree to stay up there, so I just agreed with her."
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Kentucky Park Commission began acquiring the land on the mountain for the newly created Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. Many of the residents seemed glad to be able to sell their land for this purpose. Sherman Hensley, the last resident to live on the mountain, said he left the mountain because "I sold my land to the Park and everybody else was moving off. . . it was buying up by the Park that started them to leave. Of course, they was people that moved off, but the majority of them was just people that didn't own any land. . .some of them really wanted to sell, maybe some of them really didn't want to sell so much or rather not sell, anyway they sold.Some of them wanted to sell because, I know I heard them talk, they wanted to get off the mountain." He concludes that "my honest opinion is that it is good they sold their land to the Park because it was owned by a few individuals and they'd kindly cleared up the best of the land. . .and it was getting worn a right smart and probably they could do better to buy somewhere else. It was unhandy up there anyway."
A Ghost Sleeps here . . .
Last updated: June 17, 2015