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Establishment of Arthurdale

Excerpt from “Evolution of Social Attitudes in Arthurdale, West Virginia,” by Harry Carlson, ca. 1937
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CHAPTER VI

Some time in June or July the first homesteaders moved in their new homes.

I have hurriedly gone thru the calendar of events from the purchase of the land to the occupancy of the houses by the first homesteaders, in order that I might show the maelstrom of events and forces that entered into the picture. We see a huge mass of energy divided between Washington and Arthurdale. At some places they are coincident and get things done. At still more they are at cross purposes with each other. We see the man who was to be helped (the coal miner) becoming a sort of football—first in one set of influences and then in another (to him) totally irrelevant.

The 25 miners who left their families in November to build homes from themselves had great hope in the future. The ray of light they could see was magnified by their having been in darkness so long.

Most of them lived in the “Arthur Mansion”, a twenty-two room house that was built in 1902. Here they ate and slept in dormitory fashion and during the day built houses and a center for the community, that was one day to be the home of their families.

Yet the picture is not complete with these men working constructively together. They were gaining on that side a great deal in both physical and psychological health. On the other side of the picture are the terrific pressures to which the men were subjected during these nine months.

They saw their families only on occasional weekends when they could get government trucks to serve as transportation to and from Scott’s Run twenty-five miles away. Some tried to find shacks nearer Arthurdale, but those that did imposed still greater hardships on their families because of the total breakdown of facilities for getting food, water and sanitation.

Most of the men were also under the strain of learning a trade altogether new to them and under circumstances where all must pay heavily for their lack of skill and experience.

The greatest strain, however, came from their connections with a world altogether new to them. The control of the situation from Washington was especially confusing to those whose whole lives seemed to be at stake. They one day built foundations to be torn down within a week or two because of a change in architectural plans.

They saw “architects” from New York devise new plans almost every day.

They read accounts in local newspapers of the battle over the economic basis of the “experiment”. They saw newspapers telling of $500,000 having been spent in just a few months and unbounded waste both in money and energy.

They saw “people from Washington” view what they did “with great hope in their eyes that they were working out a solution for crowded industrial centers.”

In mid-winter (February 26) they all met again with Mrs. Roosevelt and a group of prominent local politicians and laymen—were photographed, talked about, asked questions, and in general got to feel very important. And why not? Were they not the center of a great movement?

I wish I could adequately describe what went on within the minds of those people It is a much easier task to relate what outsiders said and did. These outsiders failed miserably in interpreting the true scene. Very few people really know a lot about the “experiment”. Mrs. Roosevelt, I feel, alone knows the many facts that made Arthurdale what it was and is. All the details I have referred to have a value beyond any other in planning the situation in a setting of national importance. The Reedsville Experimental Community was “visited by an average of 2000 people a week” during the summer of 1934. Some came from places far away and some were local people. All came because of an intense curiosity; they wanted to see for themselves what could and was being done. Newspapers printed material supporting and condemning the project. The community had a dual purpose; one, to provide rehabilitation for the people living there; two, to show “outsiders” answers to their queries. The two often conflicted.


Great Depression

West Virginia Archives and History