Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Comberland Homestead in Tennessee

Cumberland's Homesteads House Museum shows benefit of New Deal programs

The New Deal created homes and provided jobs for the unemployed during the Depression

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Bottom of FormA key piece of the New Deal, the Cumberland Homesteads House Museum is an example of a project administered by the federal government during the Great Depression, and we always are fascinated by experiments that help people live well.

For us, homesteads usually are thought of as what our grandparents built when they arrived from Scandinavia in the 1800s, but we found a different approach to the concept at the museum in Crossville, Tenn. This homestead program started because in the 1930s, one out of four people had lost their jobs or a permanent place to live. In the Cumberland area, 252 homesteads were built, one of which is now the museum we explored.

            The woman who gave us a tour of the house and outbuildings, Sue, had an insiders’ perspective, as her family had been among the original homesteaders.

            The area attracted unemployed miners, farmers, textile workers and a few professionals, who were required to put in sweat equity in building houses and barns to eventually earn one of the farms.

            They also were trained to help gain permanent employment. In fact, the program was supposed to work in a similar way to today’s Habitat for Humanity organization, which has been so successful in the United States and abroad in providing homes for families.

            Many homes in the area conformed to the two-story, Tudor-style cottage with a golden crab orchard stone that helped make it distinctive. The architect William Macy Stanton had created 15 different plans, 11 of which were widely used. Of the original 252 houses, more than 200 still are standing and privately inhabited.

            Inside the house, the walls were paneled with dark pine and had built-in bookcases as well as furniture that had been designed specifically for the houses. The men in the community were trained not only in construction, but also in furniture-making.

            The homes were electrified, allowing for lights and a refrigerator, but Sue said that caused some problems because the families moving in had never had electricity, and some of their actions resulted in fires and a number of homes burned down.

            Each home was equipped with an inside water pump to allow water to be put in a tank in the attic to provide pressure for running water and a flush toilet. In the back, there was a smoke house and a tool shed, but the two-story barn and chicken coop no longer were standing. Doors on both sides of the house gave entry to a cellar where canned goods could be kept.

            Eventually, the workers purchasing the properties became unhappy with inadequate leadership of the project, and the government became discouraged and abandoned it in 1945. But many residents purchased their homes and continued to live on the properties, and the 10,000-acre area now is on the National Register of Historic Places.

            Near the house museum stands the Cumberland Homesteads Tower Museum, which is on the grounds of the Homestead School built in the 1930s and was being renovated during our visit. The Cumberland Mountain State Park adjoins the area and has a dam, lodge and some rustic cabins.

            Other New Deal programs started by President Franklin D. Roosevelt became more successful and are well-known today, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps, but little is heard of this Tennessee homestead project that meant so much to the people of the area.

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