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Back to the Land: Arthurdale, FDR's New Deal, and the Costs of Economic Planning by C. J. Maloney

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Chapter 5

“Spending Money … Like Drunken Sailors”

We have greater advantages than any other homestead project in the country.

—Bushrod Grimes, project manager, Arthurdale (1933)1

Arthurdale was built in three stages, and from its groundbreaking in the winter of 1933 to the final completion of the 165 homes in 1937, it was a fiasco of epic proportions, giving critics of the FDR administration endless fodder. The most famous of the homes were the first 50—the so-called Hodgson houses, named after the manufacturer from whom Louis Howe had impulsively purchased them. The last 115 homes, called “Wagner” homes after the architect responsible for their design, were started in the winter of 1934.2 Of the two types, the Wagner homes, being larger and of far more attractive design, were much preferred by the homesteaders.3 Since the Hodgson houses were too small for some of the child-heavy families, some of those chosen voluntarily delayed leaving the coal camps for Arthurdale until a Wagner was available.4

The Hodgson houses were not useless. Properly deployed, they were a popular choice for people who wished for an inexpensive, easy-to-assemble summer vacation home. According to the sales brochure, it took a two-man crew six or seven hours to put one together.5 Louis Howe, after his foolish boast to FDR that he could have settlers living in Arthurdale by Thanksgiving 1933, likely noticed only the words “inexpensive” and “fast assembly.” The homes, although good for a summer stay, were ...

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