Arthurdale, located in Preston County west of Kingwood, was the first of many experimental communities founded under the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933. The act authorized $25 million in federal funds to create subsistence homesteads in the United States. The idea was to relocate impoverished families from industrial centers to government-planned communities. More than 100 New Deal communities were established between 1934 and 1944, three of which were in West Virginia.
The Arthurdale story began when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt traveled to coal camps in northern West Virginia in August 1933. At Scotts Run and other places, she found families hard hit by the Depression and felt compelled to help. She developed a plan with government officials and relief organizations to relocate families from these destitute areas to a more rural setting.
By October 1933, the federal government had purchased a 1,200-acre farm from Richard Arthur, for whom the community was named. One hundred sixty-five houses were built by and for the homesteaders between 1934 and 1937. Each house had electricity, indoor plumbing, and enough land for a garden and livestock. Homesteaders paid a monthly rent which included utilities, on the understanding that they could later buy their homes.
A school was constructed in 1935, based upon the principles of progressive education advanced by John Dewey and others. The curriculum stressed individualism and a hands-on approach, including handicrafts and the manual arts.
Employment was provided for the homesteaders in cooperative businesses such as communal farming, factory work, and cottage industries. The isolated nature of the community, weak consumer demand, and a small work force caused many of the businesses to shut down after a few years. As the American economy boomed during World War II and after, the issues of poverty and unemployment which had led to Arthurdale’s creation faded from memory. In 1947, the federal government sold the homes and community buildings to the homesteaders. Eleanor Roosevelt continued to visit Arthurdale after the federal government liquidated the project.
Today, Arthurdale is a National Historic District. It is also a sizable unincorporated community, with about 700 residents and all but one of the original houses still standing. Arthurdale Heritage, Inc., was founded in 1985 to preserve the history of Arthurdale. A museum and research center are housed in five of the original structures, including a working 1930s homestead.
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This Article was written by Jennifer Bonnette
Last Revised on February 18, 2013
Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt: Vol. Two, 1933-1938. New York: Viking, 1999.
Ward, Bryan, ed. A New Deal for America. Arthurdale: Arthurdale Heritage, 1995.
Arthurdale: A First Lady's Legacy. Documentary. Morgantown: WNPB, 1988.