Hutchins Library
Special Collections & Archives
Guide to the E.O. Robinson Mountain Fund

Accession Number: 20
Records, 1922-1987
29.2 Linear Feet
Online Catalog Record (BANC)

Overview & Series Description
Series I - Minutes of the Board of Trustees
Series II - Financial Records
      Subseries 1 - Trust Agreements
      Subseries 2 - Finacncial Summaries and Audits
      Subseries 3- Income and Disbursement Statements
      Subseries 4- Citizen's Fidelity Transaction Statements
      Subseries 5- Journal / Account Sheets
Series III - Chairmen and Trustees Files
      Subseries 1 - Edward O' Rear
      Subseries 2 - Ross Sloniker
      Subseries 3 - Francis S. Hutchins
      Subseries 4 - J. Farra Van Meter
      Subseries 5 - Henry H. Loomis
Series IV - West Correspondence
Series V - Lexington Subject Files
Series VI - Projects and Grants
Series VII - Homeplace General Correspondence
   1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s undated
Series VIII - Homeplace Subject Files
Series IX - Photographs
Series X - Homeplace Rural Health Association
     Subseries 1 - Service Reports
     Subseries 2 - Personnel Records
     Subseries 3 - Miscellany
Series XI - Perry County Rural Telephone Company
     Subseries 1 - Record Book
     Subseries 2 - Correspondence
     Subseries 3 - Financial Records
Series XII - Oversize and Miscellany


These are the board meeting minutes, financial records, correspondence, and photographs documenting the founding of the E.O. Robinson Mountain Fund and its role in southeastern Kentucky agricultural, educational, health, and economic improvement efforts during the years 1922-1987.

Related Berea College Archives

Buckhorn Children's Center Records, SAA 45

Related References

Purcell, L. Edward, Good Neighbor to the Mountains: The Story of the E.O. Robinson Mountain Fund 1922-1987. E.O. Robinson Mountain Fund, 1988.


The E.O. Robinson Mountain Fund was incorporated June 27, 1922, by Edward O. Robinson, Frederick W. Mowbray, Edward C. O'Rear, and W.H. Hyden. That year Robinson had retired from the presidency of the Mowbray-Robinson Lumber Company in Cincinnati, where he had made a huge fortune in the World War I lumber boom.

Robinson and Mowbray entered the lumber business in 1908 with the purchase of approximately 16,000 acres of timberland in eastern Kentucky's Breathitt, Knott, and Perry counties. Initially they simply sold unprocessed timber. However, in a short time they were operating sawmills at West Irvine and Quicksand and by 1914 had completed a narrow gauge railroad from Quicksand to Jackson, thereby gaining easier access to larger markets via connection with Louisville and Nashville rail lines. Their business thrived as part of the general exploitation of Appalachian timber resources that took place during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

By 1922, however, Robinson's timber stands were largely depleted and he decided to donate his land to the University of Kentucky (U.K.). His intention was for the University to use the land for agricultural experimentation so that it might eventually be reforested, making it useful once more. He established the Mountain Fund in part to facilitate the land transfer, which took place in 1923. Robinson's vision of the Fund's focus went beyond land management to include "promot[ing] the general welfare and education of the white residents of Breathitt and surrounding counties in the southern Appalachian mountains."

In the years immediately following 1923, Robinson's main charitable focus was on the U.K. agricultural substation at Quicksand. He provided money for annual agricultural fairs there beginning in 1926 and developed a working relationship with Thomas Cooper, Dean of the U.K. College of Agriculture. Cooper became a member of the Robinson Fund Board of Trustees in 1929. An equally important acquaintance made at Quicksand was Lula Hale, a U.K. field worker. With her help, Robinson developed more definite ideas about what the Fund might accomplish in the Breathitt Knott Perry County area. By 1929 he had persuaded Hale to leave her position in order to work as his field representative.

Robinson and Hale's plans focused on the establishment of a series of farms which would be used as centers for demonstrating the best practices in home economics, handicrafts, and agricultural. Robinson's intention was that his philanthropy should supplement governmental efforts to promote economic self-sufficiency in the three-county area. Robinson's idea was that above all, area residents needed an economic means of bettering their lives. In search of alternate approaches, he sent Hale to Denmark in 1929 to study that country's folk school and agricultural development programs. Upon return, with Robinson's money, she purchased a farm at Ary in northeastern Perry County where she established "Homeplace," which came to be the focal point of the Mountain Fund's philanthropy for the next forty years.

Hale set to work implementing the demonstration and service programs she and Robinson had envisioned. Such programs were well received and by 1934, much had been accomplished for a relatively small investment. That year, however, Robinson's death in an automobile accident raised substantial questions regarding the Fund's future efforts.

Fund direction fell to a seven-member Board of Trustees headed by Robinson's former legal counsel, Edward C. O'Rear, a Kentucky lawyer, judge, and Republican politician. While O'Rear continued the foundation's philanthropic work, the impact of the Depression on the economy left the central endowment of the Fund somewhat devalued. Under O'Rear's administration, the Trustees took a conservative approach to the expansion of Homeplace programs during the next ten-year period. On Robinson's death the endowment's value was approximately $200,000. The bulk of his estate would be held in trust for Robinson's widow, Lydia, but would revert to the Fund on her death.

Throughout the thirties the endowment grew slowly and the activities at Homeplace were of a somewhat static quality. O'Rear never had the rapport with Lula Hale that Robinson had. Under Robinson, Hale had great latitude to develop innovative projects. O'Rear, however was less open to innovation. He had misgivings about the capacity of Homeplace farm to become a viable agricultural enterprise, at least under Hale's management, and over a period of time he clearly sought to alter the Fund's emphasis in that area.

The Fund broadened its focus beyond Homeplace programs during the 1930's to include the likes of Lees Institute, the Frontier Nursing Service, Berea College, and various settlement schools. The improved economy following World War II pushed the Fund's endowment to nearly $630,000, thus increasing the number of possibilities for the Fund's involvement. One such was the limited availability of health care in the community surrounding Ary.

Hale and staff had been concerned about health care and health education from the beginning. During the thirties doctors and nurses had occasionally conducted clinics at Homeplace. In 1939 the Mountain Fund sponsored a series of goiter clinics conducted by Cincinnati surgeon, Howard P. Fischbach. The Fund even payed transportation costs to Cincinnati in cases where surgery was the only alternative.

Clinics for goiter and more general health problems continued to be offered two to three times a year for the next several years and were extremely well-attended by local residents. Such were the medical needs, however, that by 1945 Hale proposed the organizations of a health cooperative which, with Fund financial support, would allow the hiring of a resident physician. Support from the Mountain Fund was voted in 1946 and a physician and clinic operation began. Soon thereafter, Dr. Fischbach persuaded the Board to construct a twenty-bed hospital at the cost of $175,000.

The hospital opened in Jan. 1949, but had a difficult first few years because of a rapid turnover in medical staff. Stability was finally achieved in late 1951 with the hiring of Dr. Keith Cameron, a former medical missionary. In that year the newly established by-laws of the Mountain Fund designated the hospital as its principal enterprise. Throughout its operation the hospital provided moderate cost, basic medical care including routine tests, surgery, and obstetrics.

Difficulty in hiring trained nurses resulted in the Fund establishing a scholarship program at Berea College in 1952. By the late 1950's the Fund had expanded its medical scholarship funding to other Kentucky colleges including Transylvania, Centre, Georgetown, Pikeville, Cumberland, and Union. In 1956 a dental health pilot program was begun in cooperation with the Kentucky Department of Health in Breathitt and Knott County elementary schools and was eventually expanded into other eastern Kentucky counties.

The decade of the fifties saw the Fund's endowment rising to approximately $2.2 million upon the death of Lydia Robinson. Increased earnings meant that fiscal administration of the Fund was more complex and time-consuming. Obtaining specialized administrative skills for the management of Homeplace Hospital became of particular concern.

A quite elderly Edward O'Rear stepped down from the chairmanship of the Fund in 1954, to be replaced by long-time trustee Ross Sloniker. Berea College President, Francis S. Hutchins had come on the Board in 1948, bringing skills as an administrator and knowledge of Appalachian development issues. Other Board additions included J. Farra Van Meter, a physician and medical administrator (1953), and Lexington businessman Fred Bryant (1955), both of whom later served as chairmen.

In the ten-year period 1954-1964, the Mountain Fund expended over $1,100,000 in donations and scholarships as well as administering Homeplace Hospital. This figure included substantial support to Perry County's Buckhorn School of which the Mountain Fund actually assumed operation in 1954. This task proved so difficult, however, that the Fund gave over the school's administration to the Presbyterian Child Welfare Association two years later.

During the 1960's non-hospital efforts at Homeplace became increasingly duplicative of state and federal programs in such fields as education, health care, and library development. The physical plant and equipment at Homeplace Hospital became increasingly difficult to maintain. Better roads made access to nearby health facilities much easier and stringent state and federal regulations were raising costs substantially. Following the Board's study and rejection of a proposal to re-build elsewhere, hospital service was ended in 1968. In 1971 Appalachian Regional Hospitals assumed its operation as an out patient clinic.

Despite the hospital's closing, the Mountain Fund's role in eastern Kentucky remained extremely significant as its donations and grants continued to sustain and to supplement a wide variety of programs in the areas of education and health care. In the early 1970s, Fund donations to several dozen private and public programs averaged about $185,000 annually

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