Eleanor Roosevelt with an Arthurdale High School graduating class.
Arthurdale is an unincorporated community in Preston County, West Virginia, United States. Arthurdale was named for Richard Arthur, former owner of the land on which it was built, who had sold the land to the federal government under a tax default.
Arthurdale was the first of many New Deal planned communities established under Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s administration. It was intended to take impoverished laborers, farmers, and coal miners and move them to a modern rural community that would allow them to become economically self-sufficient.
The idea for such a self-sufficient community originated when Eleanor Roosevelt learned through her friend,Lorena Hickok, of a plan to relocate a group of West Virginia coal miners to a nearby farm with the intention that they could combine subsistence farming with simple industries to reclaim their economic footing.
Mrs. Roosevelt was so passionate about the concept that she brought it to the attention of her husband, who decided to place the project under the direction of the United States Department of the Interior.
An Experiment in Progressive Education
From 1934-1936, Elsie Ripley Clapp served as administrator of the Arthurdale School. A student of John Dewey, Clapp saw the school in Arthurdale as a great opportunity to create a community school. Students learned through hands-on activities rather than theoretical learning and undertook projects related to agriculture and construction. The students also learned about their Appalachian culture. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt donated books, money, and supplies to the school.
When the school opened in the fall of 1934, the school buildings had not been built. Determined to begin the education of the children in Arthurdale, Clapp set about placing the students in various community buildings. The elementary school held classes in the Arthur Mansion, high school students learned in the Center Hall, and the nursery school filled the space newly completed by homesteaders at the center.
In addition to the buildings not being completed, the books and supplies ordered by Clapp and her teachers, had not arrived. The teachers improvised and put their progressive teaching plans to work. Second grade learned about construction by watching the workers build the homes throughout Arthurdale and put their knowledge to practical use by building their own homestead community. Fourth grade studied pioneer life in the old Fairfax cabin. High school students combined disciplines and created surveying equipment through their math, science, and shop classes; they eventually surveyed Route 92 for their final project.
Educational advisers to the Arthurdale project included Lucy Sprague Mitchell of Bank Street College, Dean William Russell of Teachers College, Columbia University; John Dewey, Eleanor Roosevelt, Clarence Pickett, and W. Carson Ryan, a future editor of the journal Progressive Education.
From 1936 to 2000, four of the original Arthurdale school buildings were under the control of the Preston County Board of Education and used as a middle school and elementary school. In 2000, the PCBOE transferred the high school, cafeteria, and elementary school buildings to Arthurdale Heritage. A Save America’s Treasurers grant completed in 2006 provided for stabilization and mothballing of the buildings until the complete restoration of the buildings can take place. The Arthurdale Gym is still being used by Valley Elementary.