West Virginia was especially hit hard by the failing economy of the Great Depression. Some Counties in the state saw unemployment as high as 80 percent. Due to this, then President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his first Lady Eleanor turned their attention to the state to see what relief they could provide. They enacted New Deal legislation that would end up providing housing, jobs and ultimately green spaces for the state all of which can still be seen today. The Second Wave of New Deal Programming saw the further beautification of West Virginia as the Works Progress Administration (WPA) worked to create infrastructure throughout the state, but also saw to arts projects such as Post Office murals, Writer’s programs and Photography programs specifically designed to capture the effects of the Great Depression in West Virginia.
Early New Deal Efforts sought to provide homesteading opportunities for economically impacted West Virginia residents, most commonly out of work coal miners. These homesteaders would settle in places like Arthurdale, Eleanor, Beverly and the Tygart Valley Homesteads where they could try their hand at new work, mainly agriculture and husbandry. The Second Wave of New Deal Programming also saw the construction of new buildings, but mainly administration and municipal buildings. Many towns benefited greatly from these projects and in some cases these buildings are still in use, such as Sutton Community Building in Sutton, West Virginia.
One of the largest undertakings in the state was the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) which focused on the reforestation of the state in light of mass timbering that had taken place for centuries in West Virginia forests. Sometimes referred to as the “Tree Army” or “CCC boys”, the CCC enrolled more than 55,000 men over 65 camps throughout the state. Housed in Army-style barracks, those enrolled were paid $30.00/month, with $25.00 sent to the families and $5.00 for personal use. Nearly every park and forest in the state was touched by the CCC and their buildings, pavilions and housing can still be seen today in the places they worked.
The lasting impact of the CCC is seen in the impressive network of state forests and parks throughout West Virginia. Enjoyed by all, these forests and parks would not be here today if it wasn’t for the New Deal. Many of these forests and parks are listed under a multi-property Historic Registry listed for their development, their association with New Deal programming, the rustic architecture left behind by the CCC boys and the landscape design and management that went into their creation.
This Trail will allow those interested to experience the affects of the New Deal in West Virginia. By exploring these topics one really gets a sense of what made West Virginia what it is today. From the towns it created, to the networks of parks and forests the New Deal’s lasting impacts on the state are still enjoyed by those who live there today.
This website was created with support from the Preserve WV AmeriCorps program – the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia’s statewide national service initiative where members help main streets thrive, help capture local history, and help preserve beloved West Virginia landmarks.
This website is presented with financial assistance from the West Virginia Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations do not necessarily represent those of the West Virginia Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.