History of the Cumberland Homesteads


By 1933, the Great Depression had left the mountain people of the Cumberland Plateau without jobs, hungry, desperate and despairing. To overcome the devastating economic effects of the times, U.S. President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, began a series of programs across the country to help stimulate jobs, provide opportunities for affordable housing and restore hope. The Cumberland Homesteads is one of the planned New Deal Communities built by the Division of Subsistence Homesteads between 1934 and 1938.

Thousands of unemployed miners, textile mill workers, and hardscrabble farmers applied for one of the proposed 250 Homesteads to be constructed and purchased by the selected Homesteaders who had to meet rigid requirements of “high character, ability, honesty, and willingness to work and cooperate with the government in this planned community.”

The project began with the clearing of ten thousand acres of timberland. Architect, William Macy Stanton designed the community and structures. The wood and stone used in the construction were taken from the land around the homesteads. The homes were paneled in pine and heated with fireplaces. Fifteen different house designs were used, only eleven of which were repeated. The houses had indoor plumbing at the request of Eleanor Roosevelt who had a special interest in these projects. The homes were wired in anticipation of the Tennessee Valley Authority, which provided electricity by 1937.

Before there were any houses, barns were built. Families could live in the barns until the houses were constructed. Each homestead also consisted of a number of outbuildings including chicken houses, smokehouses, and sheds. In addition, the workers built a number of community buildings including a school, and the Homesteads Tower.

The Cumberland Homesteads has been a historic district since 1984 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. There were over one hundred of these projects across America. This was the largest of the resettlement communities built by the Division of Subsistence Homesteads. The Homesteads retains its unique sense of community and approximately 200 of the houses remain today.