Casada Schoolhouse: Management of a Significant Structure in the Daniel Boone National Forest, Pulaski County, Kentucky
by Melissa L. Ramsey
The forested hills of southern Pulaski County, located south of the Cumberland River and east of its Big South Fork, are largely under the management of the Daniel Boone National Forest (DBNF). Forest visitors who come to the area to explore the sandstone clifflines, waterfalls, and a wide variety of wildlife may be surprised to find a man-made treasure among the trees. The Casada Schoolhouse, named after the family who donated the land to the school system, is still standing in the woods near the rural community of Keno. While a standing one-room schoolhouse is a rare site, this one bares extra significance. The celebrated Appalachian author Harriette Simpson Arnow taught here from 1940 to 1941.
Harriette Simpson was born in Wayne County, Kentucky and lived in the nearby town of Burnside as a child. Both Harriette and her husband Harold Arnow were writers and they wanted to live a simple lifestyle that would give them the freedom to write. The pair bought a farm in Keno and began subsistence farming and writing. As you might imagine, this lifestyle was far from simple. The young couple found that farming left little time for writing and did not sustain them financially. When the Casada School needed a teacher, Harriette applied. She only taught there for two school years and she and Harold moved to Michigan after 5 years in Kentucky. The Casada School remained in use until the mid-1940s when the local schools were consolidated, and the children of the Keno community began attending school in Burnside.
The Casada Schoolhouse then sat vacant for more than 40 years until the DBNF acquired the land on which the schoolhouse sits. At this time, the Casada Schoolhouse became a cultural resource to be managed by the federal government. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service is directed to manage the site and all cultural resources consistent with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the Forest Service Heritage Management Handbook (FSH). Under this guidance, the Forest Service began to assess the structure and document its significance in a Historic Structures report. Thanks to this report (Hudson 1999), Casada Schoolhouse was found Eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
This was an important milestone for the schoolhouse, but it may have come too late. By this time, generations of locals had taken mementos from the abandoned school, including the water dipper, seats and desks, and the cast iron pot belly stove that sat in the center of the room. Without regular maintenance the structure itself was starting to succumb to the Eastern Kentucky woods. It became evident that the schoolhouse was suffering adverse effects (36 CFR 800.5(a)(2)(vi)).
The DBNF consulted the Kentucky State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and solicited public input on how to appropriately preserve the integrity of the site. A publicly led Arnow-Casada Legacy Commission was formed from these discussions to promote the adaptive reuse of the Casada Schoolhouse.
With suggestions and funds raised by the Commission, DBNF archaeologists attempted to mitigate the structure’s deterioration. These efforts included mothballing the building and installing interior cable stabilization to keep it from leaning. Despite these efforts, the structure continued to deteriorate, and the decision was made to physically move the structure to a new location. Volunteers from the HistoriCorps were to disassemble the structure and transport it to a local Pulaski County educational institution which would take possession of the structure and use it as an interpretive and educational tool.
Unfortunately, after years of consultation, these plans did not come to fruition. This left the DBNF with an Eligible structure in a worsening condition. The DBNF feared the structure would be too deteriorated to move before another partner was found. There was little left to do other than let the school deteriorate in place and mitigate this adverse effect through Data Recovery (FSH 2309.12.42.14c).The terms of mitigation were laid out in a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the Daniel Boone, the Kentucky SHPO, and the Burnside Branch of the Pulaski County Library (36 CFR 800.6(b)(ii) and 36 CFR 800.6(c)). The Stearns Ranger District archaeologist developed an educational sign with contributions from the descendants of the Casada Schoolhouse students as well as the family of Harriette and Harold Arnow. The MOA laid out plans for the Burnside Library to accept the interpretive sign from the Forest, have it installed in front of their building, and display the hand-painted Casada sign that once hung over the schoolhouse door. The Burnside Branch building is dedicated to the late author and lends many of her books and publications. Both displays were part of the MOA developed to mitigate the adverse effects. The MOA also included ongoing requirements like assessment of the Casada School archaeological site through testing and reporting, completion of wider public outreach through websites dedicated to Kentucky Archaeology, and creation of a historic driving tour within the Stearns Ranger District of the DBNF.
While the Casada Schoolhouse structure will eventually succumb to the environment of the eastern Kentucky woods, the local history this building and its onetime teacher represent will be remembered through these collaborative public education efforts.