[We see boy sitting on a sidewalk tossing pebbles (think driveway rocks) across the street. His neighbor comes out of her house and sees one of the pebbles hit her fence.]
Mrs. Evans: What are you doing?!
Boy: Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to… I didn’t think it would go as far as your fence.
Mrs. Evans: Well, what are you doing throwing rocks in the first place?
Boy: (shrugs) I was bored.
Mrs. Evans: You got any brothers or sisters?
Mrs. Evans: Well, go play with some of your friends from school then.
Boy: I ain’t got no friends here. We just moved in yesterday.
Mrs. Evans: Oh, I see. I heard some new folks were moving in, but I didn’t realize it would be so soon.
Boy: Mom’s unpacking and she told me to get out of her hair. There’s nothing to do in this place!
Mrs. Evans: Well, I was upstairs cleanin’ out my closet. You're welcome to come in an chat with me while I work. That is, if it's alright with your mother. That’ll at least keep you outta trouble. What’s your name, son?
Mrs. Evans: Nice to meet you, Josh. I'm Mildred Evans. My friends call me Millie.
(The actors close their books and introduce the piece. They open their books and begin.)
Boy: You house is alot like ours. You got a lotta stuff in here! Look at all those boxes.
Mrs. Evans: Well, I’ve got a lot of memories.
[She sits down by box and pulls out picture]
Boy: What’s that you got there?
Mrs. Evans: Oh, this? [holds up photograph in her hand] It’s a picture of our house down in Scotts Run.
Boy: Scotts Run?
Mrs. Evans: A little coal mining town not too far from here.
Boy: Oh, okay. So you’ve moved too! Were you a kid, too?
Mrs. Evans: Well, I suppose I was. A little older than you. Back in 1931—
Boy: 1931! How old are you?
Mrs. Evans: Didn’t your mother ever tell you it isn’t polite to ask a woman her age?
Mrs. Evans: Well, anyway, in 1931 there were about two-hundred thousand miners out of work in Scotts Run.
Boy: That’s a lot of people. So it was a big place?
Mrs. Evans: I guess you could say that. It was a series of coal mining camps, all huddled together along the same creek – on the other side of Morgantown. See, it used to be coal mining was a big business during the war, but then the market crashed and no one could find a job. We lived in Scott’s Run nine years in a three- room house. It was not very nice, and it was very cold – we couldn’t afford gas.
Boy: What did you do?
Mrs. Evans: We got our coal by going down along the tracks and picking up the coal – the trains went by and some of it fell off. Everybody went out scrounging for coal. Things were covered in coal dust – we swept our yard.
Boy: Swept your yard? What for?
Mrs. Evans: Didn’t have no grass. [Boy reacts] You think that’s bad—I couldn’t even go to high school.
Boy: That doesn't sound so bad to me.
Mrs. Evans: I didn’t have any way to buy a ticket for the public bus. It was ten cents one way—
Boy: That don’t seem like much…
Mrs. Evans: True, but when you were loading coal for twenty-two and a half cents a ton, well… It was so bad we got some people from out of town passin’ through and askin’ all kinds of questions…. We learned later that one of the women was Lorena Hickok. Miss Hickok had been a reporter and she was a personal friend of Eleanor Roosevelt. She was visiting places where the government was sending relief....trying to help the people. It was part of the New Deal.
Boy: The New Deal?
Mrs. Evans: You don't know about the New Deal? What are they teaching you kids in school?
Boy: Math, Science, recess...
Mrs. Evans: (Laughs) The New Deal was President's Roosevelt's plan to help people who were out of work and lot's of people in Scott's Run needed help. Miss Hickok called Scott's Run -
(The actor playing Hickok steps forward.)
Lorena: ...the worst place I’d ever seen. In the gutter, along the main street through the town, there was stagnant, filthy water, which the inhabitants used for drinking, cooking, washing and everything else imaginable. On either side of the street were ramshackle houses, black with coal dust, which most Americans would not have considered fit for pigs. And in those houses every night children went to sleep hungry, on piles of bug-infested rags, spread out on the floor. There were rats in those houses.”
Boy: Gee, no wonder you moved away from there.
Mrs. Evans: Well, we didn’t move exactly the same way you did. See, nobody had any money to even think about moving. That’s why we were so excited when my dad heard about Arthurdale.
Boy: This crummy place? What was so special about this place?
Mrs. Evans: Oh, you may not realize it from looking around here now, but Arthurdale has meant a lot – has been a very special place to a lot of people. You might even say it was a dream come true. You see, this community didn’t happen by accident. It was built for us.
Boy: What do you mean?
Mrs. Evans: Mrs. Roosevelt herself – the President’s wife – visited Scott’s Run in August, 1933. Everyone wondered about the tall, slender woman in a dark blue skirt and white blouse, with a white bandeau around her head, who walked among us asking questions. She listened to people. Really listened with her whole self...her eyes, her body....her heart.
Boy: Did you have a celebration? I mean...she was the first lady and all.
Mrs. Evans: Oh, no, Josh. Nobody recognized her. The Quakers, that was the group running the relief efforts, did not treat her with the formality usually accorded the first lady. To them, she was a friend, who had come to help them. And we needed help – a lot of it.”
Boy: [pulls out another photograph]Hey, this is a picture of this house. It looks a little different.
Mrs. Evans: That picture was taken when they were building the first group of houses...Hodgson houses, they called them. Look there...you can just see the edge of the barn. I forgot I had that.
Boy: So, you bought this house in Arthurdale after living in Scott's Run.
Mrs. Evans: Well...I guess you could say that, but it wasn't quite that simple. You see Arthurdale is what some folks call a "planned community." President Roosevelt, everyone called him FDR, set up all kinds of programs to help the folks that were outta work during the Depression--
Boy: Was he the president in the wheelchair?
Mrs. Evans: Yes, he was. Mr. Roosevelt lost the use of his lower body because he had polio. But most people didn't know that he couldn't walk. Most people never saw the president; we listened to him speak on the radio and we saw pictures of him in the paper.
Boy: So it was President Roosevelt who built Arthurdale?
Mrs. Evans: The president didn't build Arthurdale but he had alot do with setting aside money to relocate people to places like Arthurdale through the what was called the National Industrial Recovery Act. Communities were created all over the country. The government built houses and schools and all that, and those chosen to live there worked to pay the government back. Arthurdale was the first of these communities.
Boy: Wow, I didn't know that.You said there were lots of people outta work in Scotts Run. Did everyone move here?
Mrs. Evans: Well you see, hundreds of families applied to live in Arthurdale, but not everyone could be chosen, so they had the families fill out all kinds of forms and take a test about farming.
Boy: You had to take a test? You mean like in school?
Mrs. Evans: The government wanted to pick those who were most knowledgeable about farming. I remember my daddy saying there was a question about which side do you milk a cow on.
Boy: I know I woulda failed that test.
Mrs. Evans: And they were looking for people who were physically fit and showed “proper attitudes and ambitions,” according to the selection committee. They wanted religious families and husbands and wives who got on well with each other…things like that. So yes, the applicants had to show that they were the right kind of people and would be able to help make Arthurdale work.
Boy: I never lived anywhere where you had to be picked to live there.
Mrs. Evans: See, I told you it was special.
Boy: (Teases) So it was better than Scott’s Run?
Mrs. Evans: It was wonderful. Arthurdale was a dream come for most of us. The house was painted white and sat there against a backdrop of green trees and they had started grass on the lawn. It was pretty there – not everything black and covered in dust. There was even a complete basement under the house, and that first day we went in and would explore every room upstairs and downstairs. There was running water and a bathroom. You have no idea what that meant. (Laughs) We’d never lived in a house with running water.
Boy: You’re kidding!
Mrs. Evans: Not a bit. So I don’t think anybody could understand what those first houses in Arthurdale meant to us. I really don’t., unless you’ve been in a position like that. The first weeks I was afraid to go to sleep—my little home might disappear in the night. It was just—it was like dying and going to heaven. It was the difference between black and white. Of course not everybody felt that way… [Finds a newspaper article in the chest and hands it to boy]
Boy: You mean some people didn't like Arthurdale? Was it because there isn’t a shopping mall or a movie theatre?
Mrs. Evans: (She laughs.) No, pretty much everyone around here lived out in the country. And even if they didn't, it was the Depression and most folks around here didn't have much money for things like that. Besides, nobody’d even thought of a shopping mall yet. Look here (hands him a newspaper article.) This is a newspaper article I saved.
Boy: Arthurdale was started with high hopes, wide publicity, and considerable haste: for it was to point the way to a new American way of life, and was to be the immediate pattern for the forty-nine other subsistence-homestead projects. (Reporter's voice joins the boy's voice.)
Reporter and boy: Whether it is because of too much hope, too much haste, too much publicity—or a combination of all three—
Reporter: Arthurdale after six years is at a stage where one of its staunchest defenders, while still vigorously defending the idea and the ideal behind it, could say of it reluctantly that “it is chiefly valuable as showing what not to do.” Initially the houses were to be grouped on the higher ground so that the more fertile lower ground could be reserved for a community garden. This idea was rejected by Washington in favor of giving the homesteaders each their own tracts. Plans were redrawn over a weekend to conform to this idea, and thus Arthurdale became what it is because someone in Washington, who perhaps had never seen the tract, had an idea and the authority to cause its adoption. When the prefabricated houses arrived they did not fit the foundations prepared for them, and had to be painstakingly altered to fit. When it was evident that they could not be in their new homes by Thanksgiving, as the homesteaders were promised, it was announced that they would eat Christmas dinner there. Soon after, March 1934 was announced as the housewarming date. April came around, and then May. It was midsummer of 1934 before any significant number of homesteaders were able to move in. Wells were drilled for each house and fitted with an automatic electric pressure pump. Two years later many of the wells in the lower part of the project are contaminated and the project manager is advising all homesteaders to boil their drinking water.
Boy: This guy didn’t seem to think Arthurdale was a very special place. Was all this true?
Mrs. Evans: Well, it’s mostly true. The project had its problems, like all new ideas. In fact, there were lots of people who didn't like what was going on in Arthurdale. People still talk about it. Why, I was talking to my neighbor just a few days ago, remembering what it was like...
Andy Wolf: Let me tell you, a lot of Republicans opposed this thing because it was Democrat. They thought they was wasting tax-payers money. When you went to Kingwood and you mentioned Arthurdale, that was dirty words. There are some people today who are still against it due to the fact it was built by the Democratic administration. I could never see that.
Boy: Funny, I heard my grandpa saying something like that the last time we visited him.
Mrs. Evans: Yep, you might say that history repeats itself. When times are tough, people get real territorial...like that reporter.
Reporter: “The total cost of the project was estimated on July 31, 1938, to be approximately $2,027,000.” This figure does not include the cost of factories or schools, and whatever the sources of these funds, they represent a cost properly chargeable to the cost of the community as a whole. Funds for construction of the elaborate Arthurdale school plant and for employment of its first teachers were derived from outside sources and are not included in the reported cost of Arthurdale itself.It is not even clear whether the monthly payments now being made are rental or payments on the homestead. Using, however, the Farm Security Administration’s own figure of $2,027,000—and allocating this to the 165 homesteads composing Arthurdale, we get over $12,000 as the average cost of the project chargeable against each homestead. There is no basis for any hope that any homesteader can ever repay a considerable part of this cost.
Boy: That sounds like a lot of money even for today.
Mrs. Evans: It was a lot of money. That’s part of the reason so many people were against it in the first place.
Boy: So did they just give you this house like he said?
Mrs. Evans: That’s what a lot of people thought, but it wasn’t true. We worked hard, we paid rent. I used to hear my parents talk…
Mom: Jim and I came here expecting to work hard. We only wanted a chance to get on our feet. It’s pretty hard for the men to work six hours a day at a carpenter’s job on the project, come home and dig potatoes, care for the cow and pigs, eat supper, and then hurry away to work until ten making furniture.
Dad: “Let me get some sleep and I’ll be ready for more work at six o’clock in the morning . I like it!”
Boy: This article says there was a school. So, did you get to go to school after you came to Arthurdale?
Mrs. Evans: Yes, we all went to school. Classes started in the old Arthur Mansion while the buildings were being built. Why, you'll be using the same gym we used. I had some fun times in there, basketball games, dances. Oh, look at this picture—this is the graduating class of 1938. That year my friend Annabel was in for a little surprise…
[Glenna and the Boy freeze as Annabel tells her story]
Annabel: Franklin Roosevelt handed me my diploma. Mrs. Roosevelt—we called her Eleanor just about as much as we called her Mrs. Roosevelt, but probably not to her face—had always given the diplomas to the graduates. So, we had sent her a letter inviting her to our graduation. Had the program all made up. Everything was all done. Everyone had picked out what they were going to do. I was supposed to give her flowers. I had my speech written and the principal of the school sent word for me to come to the office. Well, I didn’t know what in the world I had done. [Principal walks into scene]
Principal: “Sit down. I want to ask you something.”
Annabel: It seems Mrs. Roosevelt had finally talked Franklin into coming to visit Arthurdale. Cause he had never been here.
Principal: “What do you think?”
Annabel: Well, what would you think? (Laughs) So, then I went back to the classroom [Principal leaves scene and is replaced by a couple students] and all the others wanted to know—
Students: “What did he want? What did he want?”
Annabel: “Oh, nothing, nothing. There’s nothing wrong.” [Students leave, talking] And I never told a soul, until I let him announce it. I don’t know why he chose me. I have no idea.
[Now Annabel freezes and we momentarily return to the previous scene]
Boy: Why had President Roosevelt never visited Arthurdale in all that time?
Mrs. Evans: Well, Arthurdale was Eleanor Roosevelt’s pet project – maybe he was just busy doing other things…
[Freeze again and return to Annabel]
Annabel: President Roosevelt came to Reedsville on a train. They went from Morgantown up through Kingwood. And then, he was met there and brought up in a vehicle. Course he had to have security but nothing like it would be today. And we had a ramp built to the gymnasium for him to go on in his wheel chair so he could get to the floor where the stage was. He talked about vetoing a tax measure and to this day I can’t remember at all what it was. But I have always told everyone that I gave up my place in our graduation program for the president.
Boy: Wow. The President of the United States actually came to Arthurdale. I don't believe it.
Mrs. Evans: Oh yes, and Mrs. Roosevelt was here all of the time. Mrs. Roosevelt made more trips to Arthurdale than anyplace except her home in Hyde Park – the energy she put into this place. Even after the press turned against her with all the things that were wrong, the houses that didn’t fit the basements and all these things. She never deserted us. She kept coming back all the time she was in the White House. She was a very tenacious woman. She didn't take too kindly to those nasty articles in the newspaper. She fired back with some writing of her own.
Mrs. Roosevelt: As I look back over the year and half that this “experiment” has been going on, I think of the men whom I met at a homesteaders meeting, and then I think of the men and their wives whom I met a year and three months later, busily planning for a Christmas festival. Money was scarce but there was enough to eat, and the greatest change I should say has come in the spirit of trust in each other, and the growing sense of individual security. They can put food on their tables and make the payments on their homes and they are proud of their homes. That I think is the goal of all of these people. They want better schools, wider opportunities, a better way of life and I think they are going to get it.
Boy: I bet that showed those newspaper reporters. I bet they didn't write any more bad stuff about Arthurdale.
Mrs. Evans: Well, not exactly.
Reporter: There has also been trouble with the community. I spoke to the wife of a homesteader. She showed me a photograph taken early in the project. [We see homestead woman hand reporter photograph] It showed a few of the homesteaders standing on the steps of the old mansion house.
Woman: You couldn’t get them to smile like that now.
Reporter: Why not?
Woman: I’m afraid we are too jealous of one another.
Reporter: It seems that the residents of Arthurdale have adopted a “grass is greener on the other side” attitude. Homesteaders constantly feel that others are getting more than they. I spoke to another man who said his wife was ill with a stomach ulcer. The family had four small children, and Mr. Tichenor said no one in Arthurdale would assist them.
Boy: Well that sounds awful! Why would no one help them?
Mrs. Evans: Well, actually, my mother told me that everyone, literally, on the project had tried to help them. The men voluntarily collected over fifteen dollars and gave it to them. The women had repeatedly done her housework. Elsie Clapp, who ran the school, even helped them several times with outright gifts from the Emergency Fund.
Elise: (Writing a letter) Mrs. Tichenor got up at the Women’s meeting and complained that no one had given them any assistance. The Tichenors have been threatening to leave the project for some time. Most people here regret the Tichenor’s unfortunate situation but feel that if we could have given them all the help that they thought was due them, difficulties and dissatisfaction on their part would have come up again at some future time. Theirs was no more difficult than many others who got through a trying period very well.
Boy: So why would people like the Tichenors say mean things like that about Arthurdale if it wasn't true?
Mrs. Evans: Well, that depends on who you ask? You see Josh, most things come down to point of view.
Josh: What do you mean by that?
Mrs. Evans: The Tichenors didn't see the situation that same way other people did. A few families left Arthurdale and a whole lot of people thought Arthurdale was a failure because none of the industries they brought in – such as the vacuum cleaner factory – ever stuck. People found work in Morgantown and other places around Arthurdale, but they never did make it self-sufficient, which was the original goal. That's not to say nothing ever got accomplished. The men made furniture and the women had craft shops and people sold their wares all over the United States. The furniture in this house was all made right here. It has stood the test of time.
Boy: So some people didn't look at Arthurdale the same way you did? If they weren't happy with the ways things were going here, did they cause any trouble?
Mrs. Evans: I wouldn't call it trouble, but there was disagreement, I suppose. It's funny, my neigbor always tells people--
Andy: There’s a lot of people that whenever they…as long as they had good things, they got along. But as soon as things got a little bit on the rough side they left. I could never see that. A lot of people say well to heck with my neighbor, I’m going to look out for number one and let the neighbor look out for his own. I’d rather see ‘em work together. If I can help my neighbor, I’m glad to help my neighbor and not expect my neighbor to help me. If I see you’re happy, I’m happy. But it’s nice to know that you had a neighbor that could help you if you needed help. That’s a wonderful thing. It used to be here that you could just rely on anyone. You could ask anybody to help and they would be there to help you.
Boy: So you relied on a lot of help from people?
Mrs. Evans: Well, we did get some help, yes, but we also did a lot for ourselves, too. Annabel always tells another story about her graduation year....
Annabel: And that year, our shop teacher told us that we needed a podium for the gym for our programs in high school. So, he said they would like all the shop classes to build it.
Shop Teacher: “You’ll have to design it. You’ll have to figure out how much lumber you need. It’s all yours. “
Annabel: So, we did. We made one and the President stood up at my podium and gave his speech.
Mrs. Evans: And that may not sound like much to you, but it meant a whole lot for us. It changed my life completely. Coming here and finding people who said, “You can do it.” They had confidence in us. And they helped us to dream, helped us to do things. I’m very grateful, very grateful.
Boy: Grateful to who?
Mrs. Evans: Well, to the Roosevelts. To our government for being willing to help us.
Boy: Does the government still run Arthurdale?
Mrs. Evans: Not any more so than any other town. Not long after the project was started, the government started to pull out, the school was turned over to the Preston County school system, and Arthurdale became the normal little town it is today. I think my neighbor summed it up best:
Andy: We had the opportunity here to make it a great community. A lot of people took it and tried to do it and live up to the purpose of the project to start with. It had its good purposes. The ones that took that side up made it a success. The ones that came in and expected the government to stay forever, they didn’t think it was a success.
Boy: So what do you think? Do you think it was a success?
Mrs. Evans: Depends on what you mean by success. For me, it was a success; it made all the difference in my life. Here, in the midst of the worst depression that we have ever known, these people, the Roosevelts, who were far from being poor themselves, and never had to worry about having food and stuff, had such concern, had such compassion for us. People come to Arthurdale all the time to see a little piece of history. They ask all kinds of questions - just like in the early days. But one young person asked me a question that didn't require much thought on my part. She asked what I wanted most for Arthurdale. What I wanted most for this project was, I didn’t want it to die. I wanted to keep the story alive and to be proud of our heritage. I think it’s a unique story. It’s a story that needs to be told.
Boy: I had not idea that all this happened in this little place.
Mrs. Evans: I've lived it and sometimes I still can't believe it. (Looks around) Look at all of this stuff. Where did the time go? (Notices the time.) Oh, my, where did the time go today? It's almost supper time.
Boy: I better get back home, Mom will be getting dinner on the table soon… Hey, I wonder if she knows all this stuff about Arthurdale? Well thanks a lot, ma’am. See you around!
Mrs. Evan: Goodbye Josh, it's been a lovely afternoon.(Turns back to boxes) So many wonderful memories.