OLD SCHOOL OF THE DAY
Old Arthurdale WV High School
WV Highway 92
Arthurdale , WV 26520
Established in 1933, by the United States government, Arthurdale, WV, was the nation’s first New Deal Homestead Community. Created through President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation, the community provided a new chance at life for residents who were suffering from the Great Depression. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt served as the empathetic force behind the community, which became known as “Eleanor’s Little Village.” Little red one-room schoolhouses were not included in the plans for the New Deal subsistence homestead project in Arthurdale that had 165 homes. Instead, six white multi-room schools were built adjacent to W.Va. 92 in the early 1930s to educate the children of homesteaders. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was involved in planning for the schools and received help with the design for the schools from the WVU College of Education. Arthurdale’s students were fortunate to have such schools and the opportunities they provided during the Great Depression. Nationwide, by 1934, over 2.3 million students were not as lucky. More than 2,000 schools had closed or shortened their instructional terms and around 200,000 teachers lost their jobs.
Mrs. Roosevelt had discussed the opportunity to use progressive education methods in the new schools with Elsie Ripley Clapp, who had worked with renowned American educator and philosopher John Dewey and valued the chance to utilize hands-on practical learning methods as part of the federal project. Clapp was hired as the principal and director of community affairs for the Arthurdale schools from 1934 to 1936. There were a number of unusual aspects about the schools, including a nursery school for children aged 3 to 5 (with instruction for the mothers on child care and health information) and a building for pottery classes and a kiln. Both male and female students learned weaving. There was a greenhouse for the growing of plants. Plus, adults could take night classes in English, practical math and farm accounting. Initially, the graduating classes were small because all of the homes were not finished until 1937. The Class of 1935 contained three students, as did the classes of 1936 and 1937. Mrs. Roosevelt attended those and later commencements to pass out the diplomas to the graduates and to attend community events. She also used those visits to monitor the progress of the project. The schools were taken over by the Preston County Board of Education in 1937. Additionally, in May 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Arthurdale to give the commencement speech, the only high school commencement address of his Presidency.
By the late 1930s, Arthurdale had lost support in much of Washington, and even though Eleanor Roosevelt had chosen it as her pet project, she could not dissuade Congress and the president’s cabinet from abandoning it. Mrs. Roosevelt herself was “deeply disillusioned” by a visit to the community in 1940, in which she observed that the community had become increasingly dependent on government and lacking in independent initiative. The federal government liquidated its holdings in Arthurdale in 1947; all homes and community buildings were sold to private ownership. Two of the original Arthurdale school buildings were used as factories during World War II and later as chicken houses by Ruby Enterprises. Those buildings have been demolished. Four of the schools remain. From 1936 to 2000, the four were under the control of the Preston County Board of Education and used as a middle school and elementary school. 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. In 2000, the PCBOE transferred the high school, cafeteria, and elementary school buildings to Arthurdale Heritage. A Save America’s Treasurers grant completed in 2006 provided for stabilization and mothballing of the buildings until the complete restoration of the buildings can take place. The Arthurdale Gym is still being used by Valley Elementary.
Today, Arthurdale is a National Historic District featuring 160 of the 165 original homesteads, encompassing 147 contributing buildings, one contributing structure, and one contributing site. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. As a historic district, it is significant because at the time of its listing, all 165 houses were extant, as well as the Inn, four of the six factories, the pottery, well house, cemeteries, most of the community center buildings, and the original road system and parking lot. The New Deal Homestead Museum is a multibuilding museum comprised of a forge filled with original tools, a service station reminiscent of a bygone era, the historic Center Hall, the original federal government administration building and a fully restored Arthurdale homestead. The Craft Shop specializes in Appalachian crafts and quality gifts.