History of Arthurdale

Arthurdale, WV, was first known as “The Reedsville Project” by the government employees who were sent here to establish the first New Deal community under the first of three Franklin Delano Roosevelt administrations.

Photo of miners in Scott's Run
Coal miners outside the company store, Pursglove, Scott’s Run, West Virginia, Marion Post Wolcott, September 1938, Library of Congress, FSA-OWI Collection.

Prior to FDR’s election in 1933, Eleanor became interested in the work of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker organization which had begun a child feeding program in Pennsylvania and West Virginia at President Hoover’s request. Clarence Pickett, secretary of the AFSC, was invited to Hyde Park, NY, FDR’s home, to discuss the AFSC’s efforts at vocational reeducation and subsistence living projects. FDR, after his 1933 inauguration, promoted a bevy of bills to address the problems of the Depression. One of these was a bill to establish a subsistence homestead fund. This bill interested First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and she, along with Clarence Pickett, who by then had been appointed chief of the Stranded Mining and Industrial Populations Section of the Department of the Interior, became involved with The Reedsville Project.

Photo of a Wagner house under construction in Arthurdale, WV
House construction. Arthurdale project. Reedsville, West Virginia, Walker Evans, June 1935, Library of Congress, FSA-OWI Collection.

The Reedsville Project, later named Arthurdale after Richard Arthur, from whom the land was purchased, was begun in 1934 as a homestead community. Land was purchased, residents were selected through the Homesteader Test, homes were constructed, more residents were selected, more homes constructed… until there were 165 homes and several community buildings including a school complex, built on approximately 1200 acres in rural Preston County, WV. Today, most of the community buildings still stand and most are part of the New Deal Homestead Museum.

Many of the new residents were displaced miners from the Scott’s Run area near Morgantown, WV, but some moved here from other areas of Preston County and WV. Some of the homes housed the government employees who were assigned jobs here such as teachers, physicians, surveyors, engineers, secretaries, etc.

A Cooperative Community

The homesteaders themselves were responsible for paying rent, working and farming their allotted acreage, and some were employed to build new homes and the administration building, forge, gas station, cooperative store, craft shop, center hall, and school buildings. On October 22, 1935, the homesteaders in Arthurdale chartered the Arthurdale Association, a non-share corporation and branch of the Mountaineer Craftmen’s Cooperative Association operating in Scotts Run.  The association eventually took out loans for several cooperative ventures in Arthurdale including a store, farm, inn, barber shop, industrial factory, and service station, as well as a dairy and poultry operation.  All of these cooperative businesses lost money for the association. Historian Steven Haid stated that the cooperatives “were poorly conceived, poorly managed, and…poorly operated.”  Although financially unsuccessful, the cooperatives did provide employment to the homesteaders at a time when it was most needed as well as skills they used even after the craft industry stopped operations.

The Arthurdale Unit of the Mountaineer Craftsman Cooperative began in 1935, as a collective of manufacturing concerns which exemplified the trade skills of the homesteaders of Arthurdale. They manufactured furniture, pewter, anealed copper, and woven goods. The cooperative in Arthurdale was an outgrowth of the efforts of the American Friends Service Committee.

MCCA logo
Authentic Arthurdale made Mountaineer Craftsman Furniture is identified by this logo which appears on the back or underside of the furniture pieces.

The most successful of the craft ventures was the furniture. In addition to making the simple furniture which was provided for and purchased by the homesteaders, the furniture factory produced 3 minor lines and 4 major lines of furniture, from the more simple to the more ornate, the 500, 700, 800, and 900 series. This furniture was sold to furniture stores or directly to the public. Many pieces are still in use today around the United States and there are several pieces in Eleanor Roosevelt’s Val-Kill Cottage.

Spinning and Weaving

In 1934, with five looms from Scotts Run and nine additional looms purchased by Eleanor Roosevelt, the spinning and weaving cooperative in Arthurdale began.  Mrs. Roosevelt also paid for teachers from Berea College in Kentucky to teach interested women to weave. The cooperative produced rag rugs, coverlets, aprons, pillow tops, tablecloths, draperies, bedspreads, and clothes out of linen, cotton, and wool.  Most of these items sold commercially through the Craft Shop, but the cooperative also filled orders from all over the United States and other countries.  The women also quilted blankets and donted them to the Health Center and Nursery School.

Historic Arthurdale - Weaving
Arthurdale homesteader weaving in the cooperative looms of Reedsville, West Virginia, Edwin Locke, February 1937, Library of Congress, FSA-OWI Collection.

The community interest in weaving was so high that a course was offered at the high school for junior and senior girls.  In 1939, Eleanor Roosevelt paid for Arthurdale High School graduate Dorothy Mayor Thompson to study weaving in Louisville, Kentucky, with master weaver Lou Tate for 18 months. Dorothy Mayor Thompson later established the Old Loom Barn in Davis, WV, which is still run by her daughter today.

The Forge

The metalworking shop for the Arthurdale Association was located in the Forge, located in the center complex. Blacksmiths furnished fixtures, locks, and hardware for the homes built in Arthurdale as well as copper and pewter ware as well as wrought-iron items that was sold through the Craft Shop and mail-order catalog.  Arthurdale blacksmiths soon received a national reputation for the products they made.  According to a 1940 MCCA catalog, the pewter knives, candlesticks, bowls, and plates made in Arthurdale had a “true antique finish…[with the] charm of early American simplicity” and sold from 25 cents to $7 a piece. The American Federation of Arts even selected the MCCA pewter candlesticks for display at the 1937 Paris Exhibition to represent American craftsmanship.

Industrial Development

Photo of the Vacuum cleaner factory, Arthurdale, WV
Vacuum cleaner factory, Arthurdale, West Virginia, Ben Shahn, 1937, Library of Congress, FSA-OWI Collection.

One of the important factors in the success of Arthurdale, was to be the creation of employment for homesteaders in a factory that would be built. As early as October 1933, the administration began looking at options for the factory and eventually built a factory in 1935.  In January 1936, the Arthurdale Association purchased the factory building to house a vacuum cleaner factory. The 1930s proved difficult for business retention in the factory at Arthurdale. From 1936 to 1942, four different businesses operated in the Arthurdale factory buildings including the Electric Vacuum Cleaner Company (1936-1937), the Phillip-Jones Shirt Company (1937-1938), the American Cooperatives, Inc. tractor factory (1939-1940), and the Brunswick Radio and Television Company (1941-1942). During World War II, Silman Manufacturing and Ballard Aircraft Company provided employment for homesteaders in their respective war-related factories. Both companies closed at the end of the war.

Learn More

The federal government liquidated its holdings in Arthurdale in 1947; all homes and community buildings were sold to private ownership. In 1984, the community celebrated the 50th Anniversary of its homesteading. This celebration resulted in the establishment of Arthurdale Heritage, Inc., whose mission is to preserve the historic community of Arthurdale.

The National New Deal Preservation Association is a group of individuals, agencies, facilities and programs that organized in December 1998 to promote the identification, documentation, preservation and education of people about the New Deal visual and performing arts, literature, crafts, structures and environmental projects.

The New Deal Network is an educational guide to the Great Depression of the 1930s and is sponsored by the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute.

West Virginia New Deal is a site dedicated to the various New Deal projects conducted in West Virginia through Franklin D. Roosevelt’s legislation.

The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project is dedicated to bringing Eleanor Roosevelt’s writings (and radio and television appearances) on democracy and human rights before an audience as diverse as the ones she addressed.

Photo of the on Arthurdale project, Reedsville, WV
View on Arthurdale project, Reedsville, West Virginia, showing CO-OP general store, furniture factory, and tea room all parts of cooperative living at Arthurdale. Edwin Locke, February 1937, Library of Congress, FSA-OWI Collection.