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Eleanor (Red House Farms)

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Red House Farms
1934 and later, Meanor and Handloser. Both sides of Roosevelt Blvd. (U.S. 62) at Eleanor

Situated on part of a 7,276-acre tract that George Washington patented in 1772, Eleanor was planned to be the largest of West Virginia's three WPA subsistence homestead projects. The settlement was first called Putnam County Homesteads, then Red House Farms, but after Eleanor Roosevelt visited several times, the project was named in her honor.

The Federal Relief Administration intended to build 350 houses, as well as a school, market, store, and office buildings. House lots, threequarters of an acre each, were arranged primarily around a series of semicircular roads concentric with the original Red House ( PT2.1), which stands on the south side of Roosevelt Boulevard. Commercial structures were built on the south side of the boulevard, the school and majority of houses on the north. Eleanor Circle, the first radiating road, forms a semicircular boundary around the school and intersects with Roosevelt Boulevard on both sides. Beyond the radiating streets, other roads, mostly named for native trees, meander informally through a gently undulating landscape.

Ultimately, only 150 houses were built, fewer than half the number intended. Each house cost about $2,150, and the total cost for the 150 units was $332,500. Meanor and Handloser, the Charleston architects who designed the project, also supervised construction. Twelve different designs were used in an effort to avoid the repetitive monotony so typical of coal company towns where most of the first occupants had lived. Even so, it took a fine eye to distinguish the subtleties among the various designs. All of the one- or one-and-one-half-story houses were built of cinder block, molded and manufactured on site, and clapboarded on the gable ends. Cinder block walls were finished inside and out with cement, and the exteriors were painted white. Tan, green, or red asphalt roofs, with shutters to match, afforded a modicum of variety. Inside, walls were tinted various colors, and beamed ceilings, chestnut floors, and fireplaces provided a familiar, traditional flavor.

In November 1939 the West Virginia Review provided the following description of the houses:

A typical three room house includes front and back porches, a living room, combined kitchen and dining room, a bed room, pantry, bathroom, a small cellar, and a loft suitable for sleeping quarters. The larger houses, classified as four and five room dwellings, merely contain more bed rooms. Each home, regardless of size, has the same general interior arrangement of conveniences and is rented with garage, chicken house and three-quarters of an acre garden plot.

As at the other subsistence projects, homestead applicants were carefully screened, and only those who “before the Depression had a record of successful earnings capacity” were selected. The first families arrived early in 1935, but manufacturing operations did not materialize until 1940, when a hosiery mill was completed. By 1941, according to the WPA guide, Eleanor could boast “a canning plant, greenhouse, handicraft building, roadside market and restaurant, filling station, garage, pool room, shoe shop, barber shop, a stock barn on the lines of a zeppelin hangar, a dairy barn, [and] a combination grade and high school.” Five years and a world war later, things had changed. In February 1946 the West Virginia Review reported, “The government is moving out of Eleanor, a federal homestead project built in the depression years.” The hosiery mill had already been sold, and a state charter had been issued to Washington Homesteads, Inc., that allowed homesteaders to buy their houses. In the ensuing years, Eleanor has changed more than the state's other two homestead projects (Arthurdale in Preston County and Taggart Valley Farms in Randolph).

Writing Credits

S. Allen Chambers Jr.

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