My first job out of college was in Preston County. I fell in love with the area, with my students and their families, and my coworkers were the best! I didn’t love the commute from Bunner Ridge, however. To make life more interesting, I would sometimes pick a random road and follow it till I found my way home. During the seven years that I worked there, I drove through Arthurdale countless times. I never even considered the history behind the community. It’s a story worth hearing.
When First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt took on a project, it appears that she did so wholeheartedly! She was a regular visitor to the country’s first New Deal Community in Arthurdale, even dragging Franklin along on occasion. Can you imagine how exciting it must have been to have the President and First Lady attend your high school graduation? When one young lady wrote to Eleanor to apologize for not having a dress to wear to the ceremony, Eleanor made arrangements for the girl to have a dress.
The whole country had been hard hit by the depression. Mines had closed down in West Virginia and families were starving. Mr. Arthur, who was no longer able to afford his farm, sold the property to the government for a new farming community. In 1934, after an interesting application process which included a test on homesteading, the people arrived. The federal government provided 165 homes but the families were expected to pay rent and work their small farms. They attended classes relevant to homesteading, farming, gardening, and canning, and they raised farm animals for eggs, milk, and meat. I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but the people who lived there were able to see their families thrive. They were given hope for a future, hope that was nonexistent prior to the development of the community.
When the government stepped away from the project in 1947, the houses and building were sold. Arthurdale Heritage, Inc. was formed in 1985, and has worked to restore the buildings that now house the New Deal Homestead Museum. I highly recommend that you take just a few steps beyond normal, and walk into the fascinating history of Arthurdale, West Virginia.