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Growing Up in Arthurdale

By Jim McNelis

Arthurdale man uses horses to plow a field, while four children follow. Photograph courtesy of West Virginia State Archives, Harry Carlson Collection.

Arthurdale, Preston County, was established in 1933 by the federal government at the encouragement of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The model homestead community – the first of its kind – offered struggling families from nearby mining towns a fresh start with a home of their own, five acres of tillable land, and other amenities. [See “Arthurdale: The New Deal Comes to Preston County,” by Kathleen Cullinan and Beth Spence; April-June 1981.]

The McNelis family from Cassville, Scotts Run, were among the first group of homesteaders to move to Arthurdale. Jim McNelis, now living in Maryland, was 11 years old at the time. In 1999, he wrote the following recollections of his early years in Arthurdale. They were published as a series in Restoring Yesterday for Tomorrow, the newsletter of Arthurdale Heritage, Inc., between January and July 2000. They appear here by permission. –ed.

Every Arthurdale homestead family has a story to tell as to how they lived before being selected to become an Arthurdale homesteader, and their memories of how it was to live in Arthurdale during the early 1930’s. Most of the Arthurdale homesteader descendants were very young when they first moved to Arthurdale, and I hope that my first impressions and recollections will bring back fond memories of a new way of life we enjoyed as homesteaders. If my recollections of dates and times are not exactly accurate for some, one should remember that I was very young in those early years.

Prior to being selected to come to Arthurdale, we were living in Cassville, Monongalia County, a coal mining town at the upper end of Scotts Run outside Morgantown. My father was a miner for the Cassville Mining Company. We lived in a company house, with water at the street near our house and outside toilets. Our house was heated by a coal grate located in the middle of the house. It was a meager existence of many coal miner families - some better, some worse.

I first heard of Arthurdale when my parents told my sister and me that we would soon be moving to a new house we would own, and have a garden.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.