Wednesday, April 30, 2014

US Hwy 70: Cumberland Homesteads

During the Great Depression, part of FDR's "New Deal for America" was the Subsistence Homesteads program, intended to give safe residences to urban poor in small plots of land that would allow them to sustain themselves.

Director, Milburn L. Wilson, defined a "subsistence homestead" as follows:
"A subsistence homestead denotes a house and out buildings located upon a plot of land on which can be grown a large portion of foodstuffs required by the homestead family. It signifies production for home consumption and not for commercial sale. In that it provides for subsistence alone, it carries with it the corollary that cash income must be drawn from some outside source. The central motive of the subsistence homestead program, therefore, is to demonstrate the economic value of a livelihood which combines part-time wage work and part-time gardening or farming."
Several dozen Homesteads communities were established around the country, one of them on the Cumberland Plateau near Crossville, TN. A total of 250 homesteads were built in this area and almost 200 of them still stand today.

A local historical association has fully restored one of the homesteads, made by the homesteaders themselves using local stone and lumber. It is one of twelve basic designs that were built according to the needs of the homesteading families.

The interior is very comfortable and surprisingly spacious. This floor plan includes a living room, kitchen, dining room, bathroom and bedroom on the main floor, with two more bedrooms upstairs. The homes were pre-wired for electricity even though it wasn't locally available at the time, in anticipation of the rural electrification that the TVA would eventually provide.

Many of the homes still belong to the original families, while others have changed hands repeatedly. Driving around the area, it appeared that most of the homes have undergone renovation and/or expansion. In some cases, the updating is minimal and tasteful:

To others the expansion has been significant, but done with an eye for authenticity and aesthetics:

Some poor houses have suffered from pretty rough treatment in their overhaul:

If you're ever in the area, I recommend a few hours for exploration of this very interesting part of American history.

It's best to start at the Homesteads Tower Museum -- originally built to house administrative offices and a 50,000 gallon water tank -- where you can view a very informative video and various displays.

From there it is a short drive to the fully restored home, then you can wander at will in the area to see other homesteads.

The nearby state park was built as part of the original community and is a lovely place to stop for lunch or walk your dog!

There has been great debate about whether the Homesteads program was a successful part of the New Deal, but there can be no doubt that it is a treat to explore!

Click here to see exactly where I am posting this from on Google Maps.

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