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Lessons Learned: The Story of Pilot Mountain School is a powerful history of struggling beyond survival and a glimpse into a culture long since departed, the rural south of the mid-twentieth century. In a compelling account, the children of the forties, fifties and sixties reveal secrets of lessons they learned both inside and outside the school walls. This narrative nonfiction is a collective memoir of an era when moonshine and religion coexisted, when barefoot children didn’t know they were poor and when a flush toilet was heralded as the latest technology. Former students and teachers reveal a forgotten world as they look backward through their personal telescopes of time, wisdom and life successes showing Lessons Learned in the South Mountains of western North Carolina. As the contemporary world seeks to redefine school, Lessons Learned offers its own definition of education and lessons to learn even in this century.
Pilot Mountain School Café, the History Museum of Burke County, Caldwell County Heritage Museum
Reader responses This narrative captures the evolution of a small rural western North Carolina community rich in heritage, religion, tradition, spirit and "spirits" while developing their most valuable resource, their children. Tom Brittain, current owner of Pilot Mountain School facility Gretchen gives us a nostalgic look back to a quieter time where school, family, friends and neighbors were the hallmark of community. A delightful walk down memory lane where one can appreciate the goodness and beauty of a simple way of life. A loving, long overdue visit with old friends. Dorothy Whisnant, former student Gretchen Griffith captures the essence of the life of a rural school community whose character has evolved from its interactions with life’s events. Gale H. Benfield, Curator, North Carolina Room, Burke County Public Library Small schools hold big memories. Gretchen Griffith’s Lessons Learned lovingly bottles time at Pilot Mountain, from its uncertain birth on August 31, 1942, to its sad but inevitable demise at the end of the 1972–73 school year. Larry Dale, former student A poignant story of the Pilot Mountain community and its people. Dottie Ervin, Burke County Historical Society Lessons Learned is a delightful book of stories and experiences that chronicles the history of a small rural school that opened at the beginning of World War II. In many ways it parallels the life experiences of families and children all over the United States but especially the South. It was a time of hardship that required ingenuity and perseverance beyond what we have today. Robert L. Patton IV, Burke County educator
Judges’ Collective Comments: “We thought we knew where this author was going before we even opened the book…Pilot Mountain, but were we in for a surprise and a rude awakening. We only had to read to page FOUR to gain our education, as we were informed that there were EIGHT (8)…YES, EIGHT…landmarks in NC named Pilot Mountain. One judge sarcastically remarked, “What, they couldn’t come up with other names…they had to name eight landmarks the same thing? No wonder I get lost all the time!” Thank goodness Ms. Griffith cleared it up for us with regard to the Pilot Mountain School of which she writes. The school’s namesake is situated near Morganton, NC, and the writer goes on to record area history delving into the inhabitants, war time periods, social changes, discoveries that made an impact, businesses that took root, etc. She also included some absolutely awesome visuals, such as the vintage photograph of the Glen Alpine Springs Hotel featured on page 12, groups of children having their class picture taken, photos of teachers…and, an interesting vintage photo of a moonshine still, probably moonshiners in the background, the law up front! There was no stone left unturned by Ms. Griffith. Subject matter can be learned from the book’s table of contents. Griffith discusses: the history of the area; foundations of a Pilot Mountain education; construction; war years at the schoolhouse; post-WWII recovery; the 1950’s; numbers and the baby boomers; principals; changes that impacted the school; the 1960’s; Junior High years; the schools closing; and memories of lessons learned. Interviews with past students of the facility tug at the heartstrings. They absolutely loved their school and this feeling is felt through their words. These feelings, all these facts about the school, would be forgotten if not for the exhaustive work, careful research, wonderful production, of this book. Griffith has brought new life to this little Pilot Mountain School on paper. She then goes on to uplift the reader by informing them that, even though the school closed at the end of the 1972-73 school year, and even though the principal’s house and schoolhouse were occupied over the years by various and sundry people and businesses, and for odd uses, it finally fell into disrepair and for sale. A former student, Tom Britain, and his wife Judy, purchased the school and literally took on the responsibility to breathe new life into it. It was purchased in 2005. Why did they buy it…to have a place where ‘persons with disabilities could work, live, recreate all in one place…’ But their renovation of the building didn’t stop there. They created a walking track around the old ball field after cleaning up the trash that was there; built a coffee shop in the former cafeteria that was detached from the main schoolhouse; they had the gymnasium redesigned to create a large meeting room, and raised the floor in one area two steps high to form a stage. The first grade classroom became a second hand consignment shop; the principal’s classroom became the Boots and Saddles western store. The old schoolhouse, once a beloved community hub, was revived to become alive again and frequented by the locales who had once had to sit quietly at their desks to…learn! “Superb job from cover to cover.”
“Lessons Learned” by Gretchen Griffith Winner of the 2013 North Carolina Society of Historians Willie Parker Peace History Book Award
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