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Transcript of interview with Glenna Williams, May 11, 1993, for the film "West Virginia"

Source: WV History Film Project


Q: Glenna, go back to when you were a child and tell me what it was like. What it felt like, what it sounded like, what it looked like to be in Scott's Run in the late 1920's and early 1930's.
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GW: Well, I was eight when we moved to Scott's Run. We come from Barbour County where we knew all the relatives, were all around, although we lived in a little mining town, all the relatives were somewhere around there. And then we moved into Scott's Run. And, the best, it was, I think about the thing, you felt lost when you got down into that spot. We came down and there was always green grass, but now there is very little green grass and I think back to Scott's Run, I think of all of that smoke and the soot and so on. And, you felt, well, where else, there was an uncle that lived behind us and there was another uncle that had come down. But, you felt kind of really kind of cut off from your family roots, when you came down. And, I think Mother, especially, felt it.
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But, I know, not only that, but then there was the uncertainty. Dad came down there to work in a coal mine, that was a Union mine, 'cause he was a great United Mine Worker and the Union had broken up in our county and he moved to Scott's Run. He always said "I won't ever take my family there," but we had to come. We came down there and there was that uncertainty of so many different people around you that there was so many people who spoke different languages.

Q: Let's stop for just a second. YEA, WE NEED TO CUT.


Q: Glenna, let's start with, not how you came to -- No, but tell me just, imagine that you are standing in the street in Scott's Run. Tell me what it looked like and sounded like.
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GW: First of all, there's a train. There's the tracks. And, there's, there is, the road you are standing on, beside the tracks, and along that was the scene of the whistle of the train and the rattle of the wheels. That became a daily part of you. There were constantly, the trains were constantly shifted and moving up and down there full of coal. We had lived near a motor, when a motor came out of the mines, but this was right along the main highway. And, you sat there and then you looked around, as an eight year old child looking around, it was all unfamiliar. The hillsides were lined with houses. One side there was some painted, but on the other side there was some that were unpainted. But, there were people, there were no room for anything else, it seemed to me like. It was just people just everywhere. People, sometimes, they spoke many different languages.
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People who were different colors than what I knew. It was a first encounter with Black people. The first encounter of hearing people talk, oh, we had had some others, but this is like first encounter as a child standing there hearing all of this and then realizing that when I went to school, I had to go down and cross those railroad tracks and go up on the other side. And, I'd always gone to a school where I knew everyone and the teacher knew us and going up to that little school on the hill, up there. I was frightened, very much frightened, I remember. It took a long time for me to get ourselves settled down to that. The constant noise. I think that was what it is. The constant noise, the sounds, the sights that were unfamiliar. And, that's what, even asleep, when you are in bed sleeping, there was this train going by. It was the whistle.
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It was, it took a long time to get used to it. After a while, I got so I could sleep through it without even knowing they were down there. But, that was the thing that, as I look back, was that thing, and then there was another part of it. I, always have to think of that now. Those were the days of prohibition and I remember seeing some of the men come down and out from trees where they sold it, and hide bottles. There was also the times when the State Police would come through raiding and it was another thing that you heard. But, when they came, their sirens, hoping?? that there was an accident. The ambulance going up and down the valley there. And, you seen in that Scott's Run area, it was the epitome of what was wrong with the coal industry. There within about five or six miles, there were ten or twelve coal mines.
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There, all the yellow water from inside, was being, the sulpha water was being pushed out into the creek. The creek was yellow. It was not a white creek. It was an orange color. And the creek was full of cans. It was full of garbage, that's where you took when you wanted to get rid of your cans, you came down and dumped them in the creek. All of those noises there and that sights, was very very poor and where, as I started to say the epitome of what was wrong because people, it seemed to me as I look back on it, we were interested in getting the coal and not too much interested in what was happening to the people and the landscape. Our hillsides were scarred. It's taken many years for them to come back. All of the tree, they were denuded?? there.
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And, then were the coal dust that was constantly with you. Dad would come home, often, with a coal, black face and I'd see Black miners. You would see miners coming, again and again, many of them, there was no showers at the mines, so they came home covered with the dirt. Dad had to come into the house that had to be washed, that had to be fixed. So, I look back on that period and say it's a grave. I take it with, that part of my life is colored and not bright colors, but in that grayish, black and browns. In the center, there are some bright yellow spots. That was the family as we gathered around inside at night and sat around the old stove in the bedroom when there was a pot-bellied stove that we sat around or the cook stove in the kitchen. But, usually, the pot-bellied stove and we passed our time by Mother making candy and we'd, or she read to us. I have told many times that I remember Mother when she read and the thundering herd, when buffaloes thundered over our ceiling and that girl in the Limberlost that climbed up into the hills, and all of those things happened. Right there, you couldn't, there was no TV, but it happened.

Q: Tell me what some of the other houses in Scott's Run looked like.
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GW: Now, our house was an unpainted thing, but, some of the houses were painted. Some of the coal companies painted their houses, kept them white. But, they were close together. They were, two story, two floor, two rooms on the first floor and two in the top. There was a way, most of them weren't designed. Right across from us on Connellsville Hill, there were just a lot of those. Then there were these shanties. Ours was a shanty for three rows, and we lived in it alone. But, there were also shanties across the creek, they were long barrack-like things and there were several families would live in those shanties and they were usually unpainted. But, as I look back and see these house, each hill meant a different community. It was a different mine that they --

Q: What did the shanties look like on the inside?
GW: I'm sorry.

Q: What did the shanties look.
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GW: Well, our shanty looked, and most of them looked like much the same, they were papered and they were finished on the inside and plasterboard. And, paper, but that paper hadn't been, was not new by any means, unless you went ahead and bought paper to put up. And, you didn't have that sort of thing and I remember the holes getting behind, being pushed into the walls that had been there. And, Mother went out and got cardboard or, no cardboard, corrugated cardboard boxes and she covered up the holes with that. And, eventually, we were able to put some, some wallpaper on it. But, they were dark-looking houses, that's all you could see back when I look back there, there were no wardrobes. You had a bench by the door where you had your wash pan where you washed on, with.
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There was a bucket of water that you kept there and a dipper that you dipped the water out so you could wash. There was always some, Mother always had soap there and there was a towel hanging. That was also the bucket you went when you wanted a drink of water, that you got the dipper out of there. That water had to be brought in. Sometimes, we had to have two separate ones. We had to bring the water in from the rainbarrel to wash with and we had another one to drink and we had to drink, the drinking water had to be carried.

Q: Glenna, let me interrupt. That's a little bit too detailed for us. Did you notice that there were a large number of men who were not working during the day?
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GW: Well, that became apparent more and more. As we went down, they was still working. People were working when we went, moved down in '25. That's why Dad went down there. But, as they, the economy slowed down and there was less and less odor,?? only, they begin to orders for the coal and men begin to protest if they weren't getting enough money and they went on strike and they brought in strike-breakers. Well, then you get a lot more people there than what there were houses or room for. So, then you begin to see people sitting down in front of the Barber Shop or in front of the store, or walking up and down the road. They were unemployed. I remember one summer that Dad laid on the bench up behind the house, he went out in the morning and tried to get a job, come back in and laid on the bench outside under a tree, most of the summer. It didn't have a place for a garden that year. Finally, we got a place for a garden. But, there was this part, what could you do with themselves.

Q: What did the women and children do?
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GW: Children could go to school. You know, we went to, we went to school, we, I got to know the children that went that way or in the summertime we played. My Mother kept us, we weren't allowed to run and play at a lot of other places. But, however, we played on the front porch. One of the funniest stories, I always remember was that we had a few little bits of toys. We had a wash basin and a washtub and we had things out there. A few dolls, and things. And, we were on the front porch of the shanty, and one day my younger sister and I and a little Black girl had come up. Now, the Black children didn't go to school with us, they had their separate school system and their school was on top of the hill. She walked up and she walked over and she looked at all those things and she said "you are a hog, you've got it all." That just knocked us because we didn't have anything, we thought. But, that was, I think, I'll remember that forever.

Q: Did you have a sense, as a child in Scott's Run, that you. Tail out, OK. That was. We'll start up with the question.
GW: Um. But really that little girl that said "you are a hog,"


Q: Glenna, did you have a feeling, as a child in Scott's Run, that your family was poor and your neighbors were poor. Did you know that?
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GW: Not in the beginning, but we did later as we were alive. Now, some people say they never realized that they were poor, but I think I did right from the beginning because, especially, when it came time to go on to high school and I couldn't go. I didn't have ten cents to ride the bus. When we needed clothes, Mother made over and made over and made over clothes. And, there at one point, she was just ingenious at doing that. But, there was one place, we were down to the place, that we just didn't have anything to eat, except when I went down and stood in the line, I was about fourteen then and got flour. And I got some beans that wouldn't cook. I think they had been dried too much, they were just, you get dried beans too much, they just won't, they won't cook at all. But, that was the nearest I ever came to the place that when one meal that we had nothing but biscuits and some syrup that Mother had made and that was the end. I can't remember what happened that Dad got a day's work the next day or not. But, that was it.

Q: You went down and stood in line at the relief center, the Quaker.
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GW: No, it was friends. Right in Pursglove there was the Shack where Mary Behner was working. That's where, that was the center point for distribution. Pursglove and Osage, both became, maybe others too, but those two places became centers of distribution. They'd bring in these truck loads of things and you had to go down and stand in line for, to get things. We didn't, very often, have to go, but I remember I had to go down and stand in line, now Mother wouldn't go, but I went. She sent me.

Q: Tell me about Mary Behner. What was she like?
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GW: Well, you know, I was saying yesterday the things that happened when Mary came, I don't remember, 'ticularly, all about that we was getting, 'cause I was busy with another in school and what I first remember, memory of Mary Behner, is seeing her coming and walk up the valley. Having people to unload the trucks. The trucks were down there below us. Or going down and seeing her when.

Q: Sorry. We'll start up.


Q: OK. Glenna, tell me about Mary Behner.
GW: I remember her as a young woman who came into our valley and seemed to be unafraid. She walked in places I'd, what?

Q: Start over again Glenna. Could the sound person be quiet, please. OK. Could you start over.
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GW: Alright. I remember Mary Behner. I remember peeking out the window and seeing, I had a window?? to what she was doing because the window from our little shanty looked right down on the place where they distributed clothing and so forth. So, I often sat there and watched it. Here was a woman, a very young woman, who was directing all sorts of things. She would not just say "and God loves you." She was going out and showing people. She was bringing clothing, she was bringing food. She was sending people out to help people and, although, I was going somewhere to Church, at the time, it made a real impression on me to see this young woman, what she was doing. Later I set?? into this jungle of hatred, she walked unafraid with a dream in her heart. She came as a friend.

Q: Do you think she made an impact on the people of Scott's Run?
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GW: Oh, yes. As I say, she came as a friend, but like a devoted sister?? No wonder. I can remember Dad and Mother saying "why is she here, what is she doing, and why did she come, who sent her?" But, then we saw what she was doing. I remember an uncle's family went there to Church. I remember seeing the people, the crowd that came down there. I remember going down there and taking a class. Mary was active. She was doing something. It took a while. It doesn't, you just don't open a building and say "come." It takes a while, but they come and she had a, she had a way of making things happening. She had a way of getting tickets to the football games at the University. She took her Club in there. I didn't go, but I know that the kids went. So, I saw Mary doing these things. And, I knew it couldn't be wrong. Laugh.

Q: Good. Tell me about, tell me about another woman coming in to this community and making a big change - Eleanor Roosevelt. What was it like to have the First Lady come to your little mining town?
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GW: You know, I wasn't aware that she was there that day. But, my brother-in-law was, the man who married my sister. He was sitting down on one of those benches, with the other ones who were not working, and he saw the caravan go by. He came up and he told Hilda, he said "Mrs. Roosevelt's here, the President's wife is here." He said "we saw her go by." And, she was trying to go incognito, you know, but she didn't quite make it there. But, is was amazing, you know, we couldn't believe that she had come. Now, I never met her, personally, down there at all. But, I knew she had come. I read, since then I have read much about that day. But, for a person, my own self, I didn't see her or hear her. There is one member of our family who did. It was my brother-in-law who brought it back.

Q: Now, tell me when, about the, the beginnings of what became Arthurdale. Tell me when you became, what you felt like when you became aware that some families were going to be selected to move away from Scott's Run.
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GW: Well, the one thing I'll tell you, the first I heard. I was at the University High School and the University High School, Eleanor Roosevelt was coming to Arthurdale. Mother, Dad had not yet been called to Arthurdale. And, they were selecting people to come up. I would have loved to have come with that group. But, I didn't get to come. And, I thought, oh, I was really disappointed that I didn't get to, I'd come on other trips with them to places. But, then I remember after Dad came, that I came. But, the thing I remember most was the day we moved in. You could come up and you could see it, but he was living in, what they called The Old Red Onion then. The houses were being constructed. There are things happening. But, the day it became real to us, was on June 30, 1934 when the truck came down to pick-up the men to take them to work and they also would pick-up our furniture and take us up on the hill. For weeks before that, Mother had worked, scrubbing everything that we was going to take.
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When we got ready to pack that morning, I went with a neighbor, another man was going up; my younger sister and I went, ahead of the truck and I remember what we even carried. We carried a clock. Mother want the clock to be put on the mantel. We carried a little kitchen cabinet. It was just a small thing that had been given to me when I had my curls cut years ago. That was a pride and joy. Those are the two possessions we took with us. And, we got up there and they, the man came and let us out in front of our house and there was this little white house, all around it was green grass. There were trees behind it, silhouetted against the most beautiful blue sky. Now that picture will always stand out in my mind. I'll always remember that. And, then we walked inside and the walls were all white. That's what they had done, they had use white paint and, believe me, those walls were white.
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We walked in the house and we put the clock on the mantel and I don't remember where we put the other things and we explored the house. Then, the truck hadn't arrived, so we down to begin to explore the edge of the woods. And I recall, we were down there throwing rocks at an old dead chestnut stump when they, finally, came. But, it was just hard to believe that this was going to be our home. That we weren't going to have to go back to. It was only a few miles. You stop to think of it. The climb up the mountain was less than twenty miles, around twenty miles. But, it was a whole world away. It was almost like, some of the women said, it was like dying and going to heaven. I said, Arlene, our lives is changed completely overnight. That's what it was, it just changed completely overnight. Now that didn't mean we didn't have any more to wear, we didn't have more clothes and everything. But, we did have a home.
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We had land out there that we had in garden and we could work. We had the possibility of getting, I think we had chickens when we came, but it was later before we got the other animals. The window, that if we went out there and worked, we were going to have food to eat not only in the summer, but Mother was learning to can many more things. She knew how to can, but they were doing a lot more canning and they were teaching ?? When the fall came, our basement was full of food. You can't imagine what that meant to people who didn't have it before. We went to the store to get one of these and come back. Mother had always done some things, but never had enough for that. It was, it's almost impossible for anybody to understand it, unless you had been a part of it.

Q: Did you feel differently about who you were?
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GW: Yes, we did. I felt that we were a part of something very special, that was laid upon us very heavily. You are part, we had to help make this thing succeed. Now, we didn't understand all the things that was happening. But, we knew this was an experimental community and we knew we had to make good. I went, the school, I've been very fortunate as far as high school were concerned 'cause I'd gone to University High School, had excellent teachers. People who would come out and help me go to school when I didn't have the money. But, coming up here under Miss Klap?? was yet another whole new thing as you came in. You would learn, you learn by doing. We said something about having another play, I said I could hurry and get some information. "No, we are going to write our own." All of this opened up the world around us. I think, you are going to be the playwright, you are going to be the one who is going to do the whole, the whole thing.

Q: Now, other families, was the feeling of, in the community were people fearful of change or were they excited. Describe what the community feeling was.
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GW: There's both. There was both. I remember one uncle had said to my Father, "Jack, don't go up there, you'll never own that place." He said "I'm going there to die." That's why he went. My Mother and Dad were both fifty when they, by the time they arrived, near fifty. I was a senior in high school. There are other families coming that had little children. But, people came in wondering, "now, will this last or won't it last?" I can only tell you that those of us who were in the school there together, and anybody that lived there, we had to form our own close, there was a close-knit feeling in the community. We had to become a close-knit community because we were like, you know, we were set down in the midst of other people and we were somewhat different. A whole new thing, but we were those coal miners being brought in from Scott's Run.

Q: Excuse me, Glenna. We are out of film.


Q: Glenna, tell me what the Arthurdale community felt about Eleanor Roosevelt.
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GW: Well, she was really, our, how can I put it, our, our Savior. She was the one who came in, if you want to think about the one time I felt.

Q: Start over.
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GW: Un-huh. But, anyway I think that she was the key person. We couldn't have imagined that a key, that the President's wife would come down here. You couldn't love her enough, you know. That didn't mean that we went up and hugged her or anything like that. But, it just meant that she was taking a personal interest in us as people. That was, that was just, too hard to comprehend. But, I remember Christmas time when she always sent money or got, raised money to send in to give out gifts. And, that the women, some women sent their canned, they canned things and they'd see that she got some of those. And, some of the letters that were wrote to them.
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She, and someone was asking me sometimes "why did everybody run to Mrs. Roosevelt with their problems?" I said, "hey, she was the only one, continuing face??" This project almost as soon as it got going was switched from one department to another. Who is the one person in Washington that we knew? Mrs. Roosevelt. She cared. She cared about us, so if there's any problem, they, we thought well, if she comes, everything will be fine. The men used to get together and talk in their meetings, we have to tell Mrs. Roosevelt about this, the men's meetings when they had men's meetings. We got, by the way, the minutes of that men's club. But, to us the days she came were very special. Very special days. We didn't always know she was coming. If we knew she was coming, there were special things planned. But, sometimes she came in without telling people that she were coming, was coming.

Q: Did you remember if people had the sense that they were in control of their lives or was the Government in control of their lives.
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GW: No, I don't remember that, particularly. I think sometimes people began to talk about that, men maybe more of that sort of thing. I don't remember that particular part of it too much. That's really good to hear out and around like people, you know, now that I read back about it, I hear about this sort of thing. I do know that one of the big worries was "will we ever own our places?" This didn't come until several years later, about the time that we knew that they were beginning to, you know, think of the future, what was going to happen to Arthurdale. One of the big worries was "will we be able to own the place?" But, otherwise, I think we felt like we had to band together, we were the community, we had to be, defend ourselves almost from the whole area around us. And, that's what Miss Klapp was doing when she tried to break this down. You know who I mean by Miss Klapp?

Q: Yes. We'll go into that a little bit later. Let me ask you about something you mentioned, before, and that is, shortly after Arthurdale was established, there were a number of newspaper accounts about this experiment and how it had gone bad and there began to be a reaction against Mrs. Roosevelt. Tell me about how you felt about that.
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GW: See, we didn't get to read all the newspapers' accounts. We didn't, we did not take a daily newspaper; we couldn't afford it. We didn't have a radio in the house until that winter when we were able to buy one. We got one on my eighteenth birthday. But, in the beginning, we didn't have any ways of communicating. We didn't know all these things was going on. A lot of the world around about us knew more than what we knew what was going on.

Q: But, eventually, you did, were aware of it.
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GW: Eventually, we were aware of these things that were happening and that made, that was worries about whether or not there were going to be jobs. Whether we were going to be have to leave. But, I think most of us had enough faith that Mrs. Roosevelt was going to help to win our battles for us. That's why they went back to Eleanor Roosevelt, always. I can't remember, 'til we got to the place that where they were trying to buy the homes and my Father was not able to have a job beyond here. He was still employed by the Government. And, he thought he wasn't going to get his house. In order for him to get his house, he had to have a job other than the one of the Government. And, he, we had stayed, he had a chance to go back to the coal mine, with his brother, and we talked him out of it because Dad was in his fifties. He, already, had, lung problems. He, we were afraid of it.

Q: Let me interrupt you again, please, Glenna and ask you, did you, do you remember having a sense that the experiment was over. That the Government was pulling out and that things that were being, no longer being planned for this.
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GW: Oh, that was a gradual dawning. A gradual thing. The last Director who came was Mr. Mott.?? He came, but he had one job to do was to get rid of the project. He was the one who liquidated the whole assets. But, he made himself a part of the community. Mr. Mott became a real part, came to all of our community meetings, he and his wife attended. The Church.

Q: How did you feel about the ending of the project?
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GW: We weren't, really didn't think it was going to end that soon. It didn't end that quickly. He took several years to do it. It wasn't just say, we'll end the project quick, tomorrow or two months from now, it's going to be over. It was several years in the process because, you see, it wasn't finally liquidated until '46 or '47. I can't remember which is the accurate, exact date on that. But, the, all of that was taking place very, very gradually.

Q: OK. Tell me now looking back on Arthurdale, on the whole experience. Do you think that Arthurdale was a success or a failure? If it was a success, tell me why.
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GW: There are, it is both a success and a failure. You have to take whoever's dreams are making a living. There were, I like to think of three golden cords and then there the wild card. The three golden cords come into Arthurdale was President Roosevelt's dream of, he didn't like the slums and so he wanted to decentralize industry, he wanted to bring industry to the people. There was a back-to-land movement that was going back and have subsistence farming. So subsistence farming would be a way, not to make a living, but to support the family when you didn't have a job. You, it would take both to keep a person going. Then, there were the Friend's Society, who was coming in and they were saying,"the men must learn to help theirselves." So, this was that cord of teaching them the crafts, I mean of cooperatives, and they had their dream.
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When we didn't get enough of the, of the, big factories to come in, to employ everybody. They said "well, use the cooperatives." Well, the cooperatives, we didn't understand cooperatives in the first place; it takes a lot of people to understand the whole process. But, cooperatives was the wave of the future. Now, those were the three strands. Now, here's the homesteader, what was his dream? He's the wild card in the whole thing. First, I was concerned their dream, our dream was to have a home of our own. A place where we could raise our, where Dad could raise his family. Where we wouldn't go hungry. Where we could live and wouldn't have to move. We could live in peace, it would be our place. And, for the most part we were willing to work. That's the one thing I remember. It was not a land flowing with milk and honey, it was a job that you had plenty to eat, if you were willing to work. So, subsistence homestead worked, farming worked.
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The thing that did fail was decentralized industry. That failed. The industry, the crafts failed only in one thing, that the markets were not ready for them. Although they tried everything and then the other thing, it took a long time to make a piece of furniture out of crafts and it was all done by hand, even when they tried to do it by machinery, it was a slow process and they couldn't make enough money on it. But, this wild card down here, for us, those of us who were homesteaders, we had, those of us who stayed, felt we had it. It was a success for us. In 1984, when we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary, I found all 165 houses were here, there were 85 of them occupied at that time by descendants or, maybe not the houses. But, there were 85, at least 85, households, or more headed by homesteaders or homesteaders' children.
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Even with the exodus of people leaving and then, another thing was, that those who had left to get employment. When we had that reunion, people who were here came back and said "hey, that meant a lot to us." You can't tell anybody that grew up in Arthurdale that it was a failure. You have to, intellectually, think what was, but for those of us who lived here, no, it was our Savior. We really got the good life. It depends on what you call the good life. But, good life is having shelter and clothing, food, and a sense of community.

Q: Let's just be quiet for 30 seconds.
GW: I'll be. I think I can.
Q: Good.

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