Arthurdale WV: poster child for New Deal efforts to ease the suffering, part 2

Posted by | February 1, 2011

Please welcome guest writer Judi Tarowsky.  Judi is a storyteller living in St. Clairsville, OH.  She enjoys telling original tall tales and non-fiction historical pieces.  She is a member of the West Virginia Storytellers Guild and the Ohio Organization for the Preservation of Storytelling.  A graduate of the West Virginia University School of Journalism, she has been a radio account executive, newspaper reporter and editor, public relations and advertising writer, Cub Scout Den Mother, and adjunct college instructor.  Currently she is a meeting leader for Weight Watchers.  In May she will be among the WV Storytellers Guild members performing at the Children’s Tent during the Vandalia Gathering in Charleston.

This article is based on a talk Judi gave at the Marshall County Historical Society [WV] on January 17, 2011.

(continued from yesterday…)

This was Mrs. Roosevelt’s first direct contact with the Quakers’ work, which she found impressive in its intent.  She especially admired Clarence Pickett.  Mrs. Roosevelt wrote that she liked the idea of trying to put people to work to help themselves.  She visited a chair factory in the Scotts Run area where the displaced miners were being taught new skills.

Eleanor Roosevelt speaks at Arthurdale WV

I am struck by the expressions on the couple to the left of the stage.

This was just one of many trips for her into the mining areas, but it started the homestead idea.  Mrs. Roosevelt cited West Virginia University’s work with the Quakers to help the miners through the Quaker agricultural project of subsistence gardening.  The WVU committee became the nucleus, along with WVU’s Bushrod Grimes, for the Federal Resettlement Administration.  Presidential advisor Louis Howe formed an advisory committee made up of Mrs. Roosevelt, Pickett and several others to plan the homestead projects.  She acknowledged the idea was experimental, but it was intended to get people off relief, to put them to work building their own homes and give them enough land to start growing food.

Mrs. Roosevelt said only a few of the resettlement projects were a success but she felt the good they had done was immeasurable.  “Conditions were so nearly the kinds that breed revolution that the men and women needed to be made to feel their government’s interest and concern,” she wrote.

She cited the conditions along Scott’s Run, near Morgantown, and a village named Jere.  The coal mines along the run were owned by out of state interests, with money largely flowing out of the state.  Living conditions were primitive, with raw sewage running from the hillside homes to the run, where a community spigot supplied the only water.  Each spring and fall there were outbreaks of typhoid fever that in some cases were fatal.  The coal companies sent in doctors only after there had been several deaths.

The property that became Arthurdale was the antithesis of Scotts Run: a 1,200 acre farm purchased from Richard Arthur under the new Stranded Mining and Industrial Population Section of the Department of the Interior.  The residents – known as “stranded”  — were selected from the unemployed miners from Scotts Run.

There were several attempts to develop jobs in Arthurdale.  One such effort in 1934 was the allocation by the Public Works Administration of $525,000 to the U.S. Post Office for a factory to make post office furniture and mailboxes.  The congressmen and other interests from furniture-producing states attacked this plan as a step toward socialism that would destroy capitalism.  The Indiana congressman whose district included the Keyless Lock Company (which made post office boxes and equipment) was able to block the appropriation.

In October 1935 the homesteaders chartered the Arthurdale Association, a branch of the Mountaineer Craftsman Coop Association that was operating in Scotts Run.  The group took out loans and built a store, farm, inn, barbershop, industrial factory, dairy, and poultry operation.  All the operations lost money, apparently due to poor management and planning.  However, the projects did provide jobs.

The factory went through several alliterations:  the Electric Vacuum Cleaner Company, the Phillip-Jones Shirt Company, the American Cooperative Tractor Factory and Brunswick Radio and TV Company.

The failures drew critical attention.  Wesley Stout of the Saturday Evening Post wrote a scathing piece focusing on perceived monetary waste.  The Gary, IN school superintendent alleged that there was a New Deal conspiracy to subvert the economy of Morgantown.  He charged that the resettled miners wouldn’t be paying rent and taxes.  Mrs. Roosevelt pointed out that few, if any, of the unemployed miners had paid rent or taxes for years.

Most of the community buildings still stand in Arthurdale as part of the New Deal Homestead Museum.  In 1984 Arthurdale celebrated its 50th anniversary by establishing Arthurdale Heritage, Inc., which has as its mission preservation of the historic community that continues as a viable part of West Virginia.

The 50th anniversary observation reminded my Dad of his Arthurdale experience.  Goldenseal, the magazine produced by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, devoted an issue to this event.  The cover featured a photograph taken of Mrs. Roosevelt at Arthurdale, talking with an unidentified man.

But there was another man in the photo – a figure in a suit and stylish hat, holding a Speed Graphic in his left hand and a photographic film plate in his right.  He’s watching Mrs. Roosevelt and is turned slightly away from the camera in not quite a profile. The photographer had caught the most important moment at Arthurdale, at least for my family.

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