Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is a gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is nothing like the small isolated community it was a century ago when Dr. May Lansfield Keller, Grand President of Pi Beta Phi, traveled there to explore sites for the Settlement School authorized by the organization’s 1910 convention.
Pi Beta Phi was committed to bringing education to the children of the community. The Pi Beta Phi Settlement School opened in February 1912. A second school was established at Sugarlands a few miles away, but it was closed when the National Park Service purchased the land in the Sugarlands and the residents relocated. In addition to providing education, Pi Beta Phi established a Health Center named in honor of one of its founders, Dr. Jennie Nicol. For decades, it provided health care to the local citizens.
After some of the teachers noticed the woven articles and baskets made by the locals, a cottage industry was created. It was named Arrowcraft (Pi Beta Phi’s badge is an arrow). Arrowcraft provided local citizens with the opportunity to sell handcrafted items through Pi Beta Phi alumnae clubs and chapters. The Arrowcraft Shop opened in the 1920s to take advantage of the tourist trade.
In the summer of 1945, the first Craftsman’s Fair was held. Arts and Crafts education became a priority. By the early 1950s, Sevier County had assumed more of the educational responsibilities and the Fraternity’s responsibility in educating the students was lessening. In 1967, the School of Arts and Crafts became the Fraternity’s Centennial Project. Today, Arrowmont is one of the premier Arts and Crafts schools in the country and although it is only a few hundred feet from the Parkway, it is worlds away. Vestiges of the Settlement School are everywhere, from the Red Barn that is now Arrowmont student housing but was once a working barn, to the Teachers Cottage built as a model home a few years after the school opened. It, too, houses Arrowmont students.
The Pi Beta Phi Elementary School is on property adjacent to Arrowmont. Pi Beta Phi deeded to Sevier County the land on which a new school was built and Pi Beta Phi issued a long-term lease $1 a year lease for the playground.
Pi Beta Phi was the first National Panhellenic Conference organization to have its own philanthropy. It may very well be the only men’s or women’s fraternity to have its name attached to a school. In early November, Pi Beta Phi will celebrate the centennial of the establishment of the Settlement School and ensuing legacy of philanthropy with a celebration in Gatlinburg. The original school sign pictured below will find a place in the celebration. Happy 100th Pi Beta Phi Elementary School!