By Jean Clark
The Pleasant Hill Historical Society of the Cumberlands held a driving tour of places of interest in Pleasant Hill recently. The participants traveled in cars each with a guide from the Historical Society and a chauffer to the 16 different sites.
The tour started at the Revere Bell gazebo next to Pioneer Hall, the only remaining Pleasant Hill Academy building. Pioneer Hall was a boys’ dormitory built in 1887 and is now a museum operated by the Historical Society. Jeanne Chappell Kingsbury, co-curator of the museum, gave the history of the journey of the Revere Bell from Boston, MA, to Pleasant Hill. Chris Gulick, secretary of the society, sketched the history of the Pleasant Hill Academy with its 10 stately buildings that could have been viewed from that vantage point on the other side of Main Street before the academy was closed in 1947. Unfortunately, they were all, except Pioneer Hall, razed to build the Pleasant Hill Elementary School, but their photographs live on in the museum.
At the first stop, Bill Wightman told the story of the original log cabin built by his great grandparents, Amos and Helen Wightman, in 1868. They expanded the house to house their 11 children. Carl and Ola Dell Thompson bought and restored it to its present elegance in 1966. Since their passing, the home remains empty, still owned by the Thompson estate.
From this vantage point on a knoll above the Pleasant Hill Post Office, one can view the Pleasant Hill Community House, the Pleasant Hill Community Church, Heritage Hall and Fletcher House of the Uplands Village. Wightman told the well-known story of his great grandmother’s trip to Boston to petition the American Missionary Association to build a school in Pleasant Hill. Because of her appeal “Father” Benjamin Dodge, his wife, Phoebe, daughter, Emma, and a family friend came from Maine to begin the building of the Pleasant Academy in 1884.
At the next stop, the caravan visited the site of Uplands Cumberland Mountain Hospital chartered in 1922, now a sunken garden with its foundation as walls with a plaque on one honoring the three founding mothers, Dr. May Cravath Wharton, Alice Adshead, RN, and Elizabeth Fletcher. The building was raised a few years after the hospital was moved to Crossville to become the Cumberland County Medical Center in 1950. The place that treated tuberculosis patients, Van Dyck Sanitorium built in 1937, still stands boarded up. Other than a two-story brick storage building, no other hospital buildings remain. The guides pointed out places where the Homestead (Dr. May’s home), Sanex (the first hospital 1921), the first retirement cottage (1958) and the site of a Civil War skirmish in Pleasant Hill used to be. An accessible home unusual in the 1950s called the “Freedom House” is still owned by an Uplands’ retiree across from the new Wharton Homes.
The driving tour continued down Main St., with the guide pointing out where the pre-Civil War Methodist campground was located and a building that had been an addition to Old General Hospital but moved to a different neighborhood to become a home. Circling back down Main St., the groups turned onto Browntown Rd. to visit the Old Pleasant Hill Cemetery. Interred here are many of the persons talked about who have been significant in Pleasant Hill’s history.
The John Frey family plot dates back to just after the Civil War. Frey either donated or sold much of the family farm to Dr. May for the hospital, its farm, cannery and other out buildings. The gravesite of Dr. May, Elizabeth Fletcher, Alice Adshead and other hospital personnel has been spruced up with plantings, Crab Orchard bench and low wall with the help of the Cumberland County Medical Center by the Pleasant Hill Cemetery Advisory Board. The Wightman, Blalock, Brown, Black and Dodge families have large well cared for plots.
Other buildings pointed out as the caravan wound its way around the town were the Principal’s House on Church Dr., where all of the academy principals lived, the dairy barn from the academy farm now on Ruth Peeples’ property on Young Dr., Heritage Hall, which was built in 1950 as a craft shop and showroom with the funds from the sale of the academy property. The tour ended at the Munson-Fletcher log house tucked away behind a home on Lake Rd. The log cabin was built by Elizabeth Fletcher in 1932 to be her home, but instead was used for the much needed dwelling of the Uplands Sanitorium Farm managers and their families. Dr. Fred Munson, a medical director at the Wharton Nursing Home, and his wife, Helen, moved and restored the cabin in 1965, living there until their home was built on West Lake Rd.
Refreshments were served in the period dining room and further questions about Pleasant Hill history were fielded by the guides. It is always amazing to learn more and more about the rich history packed into this small vibrant town. The academy, the hospital, Uplands Village, the Community Church, the Baptist church and other local families’ histories are woven together in the fascinating tapestry that is Pleasant Hill and its surroundings.