ARTHURDALE, W.Va. – During the height of the Great Depression, Eleanor Roosevelt visited poverty-stricken coal mining communities in West Virginia. Determined to help, the First Lady had a significant role in creating Arthurdale in 1933, the first of several communities built by the government.
The social experiments were part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies. Each family within the community was given a home and 2.5 to 5 acres of farm land on a rent-to-own policy from the government in an effort to help them become economically self-sufficient. Although the project was later abandoned, the unincorporated community is still home to about a thousand residents.
The Arthurdale Inn was created for tourism and to house government officials who were working on the town. The original construction took two and a half years from the time that plans were submitted. The original estimate was $25,000, but the final cost exceeded $43,000
Listen to Kim Riley, Manager of Outreach, Volunteers, and Development talk about the memories she made at the inn
The inn opened for business in May 1938. The windows in the lobby, pictured below, were large French doors back then. In its first full month of operation, the inn ended up showing a loss of $1.89. They found that community members had too small incomes to stay at the hotel and that the business would prove to be seasonal.
View pictures of the lobby
Eleanor Roosevelt had her own room that she always stayed in when she was visiting the community between 1938 and 1944. She would enter and exit from the back door since it was close to her room and the original road. She kept a large stick against the building by the steps that she used to remove clumps of mud off her shoes from the dirt road.
When the inn was purchased by J.W. Ruby, he put up murals in the back two rooms that she would stay in.
View Eleanor’s room, J.W. Ruby’s office, and the back door
The inn had 20 guest rooms, and some of the guest rooms had a shared bathroom between them. As well as a hotel, the inn also served as a restaurant, providing meals to the people staying there as well as community members. The food served came from the community members’ farms.
View the library, the hallway, and the ballroom
J.W. Ruby purchased the building after World War II and sold it in the late 1960s. Hospice Care Corporation purchased the inn from a private owner in November 1999. They restored the original lights and began researching the original furnishings from the time period. Hospice has since changed its name to WV Caring.
Listen to Kim Riley describe her favorite parts of the inn
Bonus: The E-15 Wagner house
The second wave of houses built in Arthurdale were called Wagner houses and all 75 constructed in 1935. The houses were either one and a half or two stories high and only six Wagner homes had basements. The houses were fully electrified with running water, but were heated with either steam heat or forced air.
The houses were named after Steward Wagner, the architect from New York City who designed them. In 1999, the Arthurdale Heritage, Inc. purchased the E-15 Wagner house and restored it as a museum house to give visitors a glimpse into the life of the homesteaders.
View inside the first floor of the E-15 house
Each month, these houses cost each family between $15-$20 in rent. After 20 years of paying rent, the house and its property was to be paid off, and formally owned by the family. However, in 1947, the rent-to-own program ended early, and the families living in the homes had the choice of either buying out the houses or leaving them. Luckily, most families were able to purchase their homes.
View the second floor of the E-15 house
The idea behind the homes in Arthurdale was to create simple, utilitarian houses and farm land to allow the family to be self-sustaining. The lifestyle, called subsistence agriculture, focused on ensuring that families always had food on the table and in the cellars to feed themselves, even during times of economic hardship.
Each Wagner home also came with outbuildings, including a barn, hen and hog houses, and a root cellar to preserve farm produce. The cellar was built underground so that it would be cool enough to properly store the food.
View inside E-15’s root cellar