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Establishment of Arthurdale

Preston County Journal
August 2, 1934


Journal Publishes First Article On Homesteads

Other Articles Will Appear In Later Issues

Facts Are Given

Governmental Waste Is Shown Up By Unbiased Writer

By Calvert L. Estill

(Special to The Journal)

Reedsville, W. Va., Aug. 1.—At a cost of nearly a million dollars already, the federal government has erected 50 homes for stranded miners and glassworkers at Arthurdale, the subsistence homestead project near here which is in charge of the Department of the Interior.

The Department does not admit a million dollars expense, but it ignores items of concealed cost which run up the total to just about that figure. On June 20, the latest date on which the figure could be obtained, the government through this one department had spent $544,396.21. That was about a month and a half ago and the spending has been going on right along since that date.

Help From CWA

When work on the project was started last fall, a large force of CCC men was put to work. Later, the Civil Works Administration furnished hundreds of men, and since CWA stopped, the FERA has supplied workers. It is estimated by those who have been in touch with the work all along, that the cost of this labor, called “free labor,” by the management, has been at least $300,000.

In addition to this, aid has been given the undertaking by the Postoffice [sic] Department, by the Agricultural Extension Service, and by other public agencies, the cost of whose services must all be paid by the taxpayers. All these costs when totaled will go to the million dollar mark and possibly beyond it.

What Has Been Done

To show for this expenditure, that Department of the Interior can point to the following:

Fifty, light, flimsy, ready-cut, four and five-room houses of the summer camp or portable variety.

Fifteen or twenty miles of tile drain laid for surface drainage of a portion of the rolling mountain land, 2000 feet above sea level, which comprises the project. Thirty-five miles of tile is to be laid.

Ownership of 1,133 acres of land which cost $48,752.25.

About ten or twelve miles of road, some of it topped with “red dog.”

A group of community buildings which are still being revised and remodeled.

A considerable acreage sowed to various crops.

A good deal of landscaping, some of it quite expensive.

A couple of rustic bridges built at excessive cost.

A couple of tennis courts where the homesteaders can take some exercise after a days work on the farm.

A mass of favorable, but false and misleading, publicity obtained in magazines and newspapers through pictures which were faked and articles which are based on misinformation or lack of information.

Homesteaders Pay Big Price

For the ready-cut houses and about five acres of land, the homesteaders, who have been chosen mostly from Monongalia county coal miners and glass workers, will have to pay $5,000 and up.

When the project was started, it was said that the average cost of a homestead would be about $2,000. Actually the price is double that and in many cases more than double. How stranded, unemployed miners and industrial workers are to buy $5,000 homes is something that has the best of them guessing.

It is planned to have a factory at Arthurdale in which the homesteaders can work some of the time and earn some cash. The Department of the Interior says that to buy a home costing only $4,250, a homesteader would have to have a cash income of $1,5000 a year over and above his subsistence.

It is to be doubted if many farmers in West Virginia, even on comparatively large farms, have a cash income of $1,500 a year over and above subsistence. Industrial workers, engaged throughout the year, earn on an average of only $1,051 in West Virginia—and of course their subsistence has to come out of this.

Planning For Factory

Efforts to get a factory for Arthurdale turned first toward an appropriation from Congress. At first $525,000 was requested. This request was refused. Then Congressman Jennings Randolph, of the Second district, introduced a bill asking for %650,000. This was likewise killed.

Then the Public Works Administration set aside %650,000 for a factory in which postoffice equipment would be made. Private manufacturers got busy. A rider was tacked on the independent offices bill which forbade the Postoffice Department to purchase any equipment made at Arthurdale.

The drive in Congress for an appropriation will be renewed at the next session. Meantime, sponsors of the project have asserted that a private industry will locate a small branch factory at the homestead site. No details have been made public.

Pending establishment of some sort of plant where the homesteader can earn some off-the-farm cash, the management is giving him work making ready for the construction of the next 75 houses.

How Project Started

Last year, Congress made available to the President the sum of $25,000,000 for subsistence homesteads. The President placed the work in the Department of the Interior. The Department soon issued an official circular which declared that: “Federal funds advanced will be loans; grants will not be made.”

That statement is interesting. The allotment for the Arthurdale enterprise began as $400,000, and at present is $1,190,000. This sum is supposed to pay for everything to date and complete the project by constructing homesteads for 200 families. A little simple calculation shows that if the $1,190,000 is a loan and must be repaid, each one of the 200 families will have to come across with $5,950. But the management contends that the next 75 houses will be better adapted to the project and will probably sell for about $2,500. If the original appropriation of $25,000,000 is a revolving fund, it won’t revolve long unless it is fully paid back.

Of course, there’s a loophole for the administration. Under the law, Section 208 of the NRA, the President can make “loans for and otherwise” aid “in the purchase of subsistence homesteads.” That little word “otherwise” certainly leaves the gate wide open so far as repayment is concerned. Whatever money is used “otherwise” does not have to be paid back to the original fund.

As soon as the appropriation had been made, there was great hope in the Upper Monongahela Valley that part of the money would be used there. The hope was fulfilled. Last August, Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt made a tour of inspection of the coal camps near Morgantown. Horrified at what she saw in some sections of Scott’s Run, she is said to have determined to do what she could to help the miners living there.

Land Is Bought

Not long afterward, the Department of the Interior bought the Arthur farm, and some adjoining tracts, about eight miles from Kingwood. In October, under the management of Bushrod Grimes and with a staff of 22 experts, work started.

In order to create employment, according to the management, and to get the homesteaders into their new homes at once—it was officially stated they would eat Thanksgiving dinner in their new dwellings—some one in Washington bought fifty ready-cut or fabricated summer camp houses from a firm in New England.

On November 7, twenty-five homesteaders who had been selected were moved to the project and quartered in the old Arthur mansion and in nearby coal camp houses. The first six of the fabricated houses arrived one month later. Thus far, there was no evidence of great speed about getting the families into their own homes; and in fact, they did not move in until the last of June of this year.

How Haste Made Waste

The haste with which the management did things resulted in the more-than-usual waste. The first houses were erected; found to look like mine camp barracks; ordered radically altered; torn down; rebuilt; wrecked; built again; remodeled and revised until some of them had gone through the altering process half a dozen times. Even as late as July 9, this year, some of them were still receiving “finishing touches.”

In spite of the fact that these houses can be erected in four or five hours by two men; in spite of the fact that there were about seven or eight hundred men working on the project daily, with the number sometimes running above a thousand; in spite of the fact that they were only little three, four and five room houses, made in sections which had only to be bolted together; the government spent seven months in getting fifty of them ready for use.

Foundations of concrete block, which cost 16 cents each until NRA raised the price to 22, were built; cement floors were laid, well s were drilled. Then new and revised foundations were built, floors were torn up and relaid or extended, wells were capped and abandoned with the casing left in. Two and three-sides of the houses were ripped out and replaced in a new design; then torn out and changed again.

It is small wonder that the cost of these structures has run more than double what it should have been at the very outside.

Outside Chimneys

Outside chimneys were built, some of them outside the line of the finished building by nearly ten feet. Then the side of the house would be torn out, and house and foundation would be extended to make connection with the chimney.

In other houses, foundation and house were revised and extended to include the well which had been drilled, so that the electric automatic pump—with which each house is supplied—could be cared for without difficulty.

It is to be noted that the design was ordered changed when the first few houses were up. Instead of making the revisions on blueprints, however, the management continued to erect the houses on the first plan, even to the fiftieth one, only to send a crew along behind to tear them down and revise and remodel them, for all the world like a child building a house of blocks.

Standing the Test

The houses which have been put up look nice, but will they stand the test of hot sun in summer and of winter weather that is winter. It gets cold in those mountains of Preston county, and one of the coldest spots in the county is the old Arthur farm. Last year, the thermometer on the project registered below zero for 21 consecutive days; and the average snow fall there is about 70 inches.

Summer camp houses, made of 5/8 inch siding, backed by a fibre building paper, nailed to an alleged “studding about 1 ½ inches square, and finished with a bit of wall board, may prove habitable in winter, but residents of the section frankly express their doubts about it.


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