‘Lilley Cornett: A Voice for the Forest’ slated

Special to the Daily News

October 20, 2013

Don’t miss out on the Kentucky Chautauqua presentation of ‘Lilley Cornett: A Voice for the Forest’ at Pine Mountain Settlement School on Friday, sponsored by the Kentucky Association for Environmental Education.

Beginning at 7 p.m., David Hurt will portray Lilley Cornett. A retired farmer, Hurt has picked the guitar and banjo on front porches from Reelfoot to Red River. He has acted on Stage One in Louisville as well as in Lexington theaters.

In 1918, Lilley Cornett and many other mountain boys were drafted and sent to training camps in the east in preparation to ship out to the frontlines in France. Cornett suffered an injury during basic training and never left the country. After spending a year in wartime hospitals in Baltimore, Md., he was discharged from the Army and returned to Letcher County with a small pension and discharge payment.

But in his absence, Letcher County had been transformed. The coal mines were booming and Cornett went to work shoveling coal, living in a rooming house for unmarried men, and saving his wages to purchase land around Line Fork, his birthplace.

Local timber buyers became interested in Cornett’s land. His 500 acres were lush with white oak, poplar and hemlock, many as large as six-feet in diameter. A conservationist before his time, Cornett refused to sell his valuable forest property to developers seeking to get rich from the timber.

When he died in 1958, Lilley Cornett owned the entire tract of land known today as the Lilley Cornett Woods. His estate sold the 500 acres to the state of Kentucky and it is now managed for education and research by Eastern Kentucky University. Bought on a miner’s wage in 1920s and 1930s, the Lilley Cornett Woods is the only place in Kentucky that looks as it did before the 18th European invasion.

Since its inception in 1992, Kentucky Chautauqua has brought to life nearly 70 people from Kentucky’s past — both famous and unknown.

The current Kentucky Chautauqua cast includes 28 presentations from Kentucky’s colorful history. Presentations range from Rev. Newton Bush’s struggle for freedom and Pee Wee Reese’s storied career with the Brooklyn Dodgers, to the troubled life of Mary Todd Lincoln and the music of Grandpa Jones.

Kentucky Chautauqua performers travel throughout the state delivering to community organizations their historically accurate dramatizations of Kentuckians who made a difference. Kentucky Chautauqua is a presentation of Kentucky Humanities Council, Inc., an independent, nonprofit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington, D.C. They are proud partners with Kentucky’s cultural, heritage, arts and tourism agencies.

For more information, contact Pine Mountain Settlement School at 606-558-3571.