A Brief History of Arthurdale, West Virginia

Administration building Arthurdale
Administration building Arthurdale | © Library of Congress / Public Domain / WikiCommons
Kristina Gaddy

Tucked away in Preston County, West Virginia is the village of Arthurdale. Built up in the mid-1930s as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal Plan, the town was a model for how to help rural communities become self sustaining. Read more about the town dubbed “Eleanor’s Little Village.”

Three years into the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt was elected president, promising to alleviate economic hardship and fix the unemployment crisis. Even before FDR took office, his wife Eleanor had become interested in a Quaker organization called the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), which in addition to feeding children in Pennsylvania and West Virginia was interested in creating subsistence homestead communities. The idea behind the community was to create a place where out-of-work coal miners and their families could find a place to live, get a new vocation, and be able to farm the land for their own food.

What would become Arthurdale, West Virginia was first known as “The Reedsville Project” and was located in Preston County, just south of Reedsville. The new town was named Arthurdale after Richard Arthur, and in 1934, the government started building houses, shops, and a community center. Arthurdale was the first of these communities built in the country, with another 98 planned across 17 states. The town had 165 homes that families could rent, and Eleanor Roosevelt made sure that each home had indoor plumbing, a refrigerator, and electricity, features not always found in rural homes. However, only white families were allowed to rent houses, even though the mining community in West Virginia was diverse. The town also featured a series of cooperative industries, including a furniture factory, a spinning and weaving studio, farm and dairy, barbershop, service station, and grocery store. Even at the time, critics of Arthurdale saw the potential for collective living turning into communism and socialism. Other critics complained that the project was going over budget. Arthurdale struggled as a self-sustaining community, and the government eventually sold the property in 1941, leaving the community on its own.

65-585(20)

Many of the homesteaders were able to buy their homes, and kept the town of Arthurdale alive. In 1985, Arthurdale Heritage, Incorporated (AHI) began work to restore the buildings in Arthurdale and make the area a National Historic District. Today, five buildings make up the New Deal Homestead Museum, and AHI hosts events throughout the year to celebrate and share the community’s history.

Bonnie Jean and Betty Lou Goss

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips, led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

close-ad
Edit article