Cumberland Homestead History
The Cumberland Homestead federal housing project in Crossville, Tennessee began in 1933 as an emergency relief act during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt to aid small subsistence farmers and miners hit hard by the depression. Jobs were non-existent, and food was scarce in Appalachia. The National Industrial Recovery Act of the Hundred Day Congress of 1933 directed that the President to set aside a credit of $25,000.00 “for the aid of stranded areas.” The President created The Federal Assistance Homestead Corporation as part of his “New Deal” program to help destitute people recover from the depression, learn new skills, and put them back to work. Local government officials in Cumberland County quickly filed an application with the Federal Government for such a program in Tennessee. A grant in the amount of $431,500.00 was received to fund the project. By 1934, ten thousand acres of rocky, mountain timberland had been purchased and divided into 250 small subsistent farms. Literally thousands of applications were received from hopeful people in the distressed mountainous area. The “Homesteaders” were carefully selected after undergoing rigid investigation for a period of up to three months. Sixty percent of these “Homesteaders” came from Cumberland, Morgan, and Fentress Counties. Forty percent came from White, Scott, Roane, Putnam, Rhea, and Bledsoe Counties. Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the president, visited the project on July 6, 1934. She addressed the Homesteaders while standing on the back of a lumber truck.
The Federal Government, TVA, the University of Tennessee, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the Civil Conservation Corp (CCC), and the Homesteaders worked together to create the planned community. Wells were dug first, barns built next, and finally the houses were built. All construction materials were made from the natural sandstone and timber they cleared from the land. The houses were of English cottage design. They were built of stone with wood shingle roofs and siding. The Homestead men learned new skills as carpenters, plumbers, and electricians. Other residents worked in the project’s handle, canning, or furniture factories, the saw mill, hosiery mill, or the loom house. The families lived in the barns until the houses were completed. Later, the houses were rented by the Homesteaders for about $2.00 a month. Household goods were purchased at the project commissary with “credit hours” or script earned from the resident’s employment. The Cumberland Homestead School that residents helped build provided education for their children. Cumberland Mountain Park was created for recreation. Churches were formed in their spare time. The University of Tennessee’s agriculture extension agents helped the farm families learn new ways to produce better crops, preserve food, and make clothing. A project nurse provided health care as there was no hospital and few doctors in the remote area.
“Winter Storm” is the historic home of an original Homesteader, Fate King. The house consists of three bedrooms, kitchen, living room, and one bath. It is located in a pastoral setting, with a breathtaking view of the Cumberland Mountains. Most families at the time it was built had never had electricity or indoor plumbing. With the birth of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), these luxuries became a reality for the people of the Cumberland Homesteads. What began as a government housing project quickly turned into an idealistic community. Friendships with neighbors and schoolmates developed into life-long relationships. The small farms were eventually sold by the government, with the first offer to buy the property going to the Homesteaders who had built the community with their labor and love. Approximately one-half of the original Homesteaders bought their homes from the government. Other families simply could not afford to purchase the property and sadly left.
The name “Winter Storm” evolved from a tornado that struck the area on November 10, 2002. Though many new houses in the area were demolished, the little stone houses stood fast. They suffered much superficial damage, but no structural defects were noted. This in itself is a tribute to the people who gave so much to create this community. Their strength is evident today in the stone houses they left behind. The Cumberland Homestead community is now a National Historic Area. Today, Crossville, Tennessee is a modern and fast growing small city with a diverse culture. It is only a two hour drive to Knoxville, Nashville, or Chattanooga. It has wonderful opportunities for a relaxing vacation. The warm days, cool nights, and clean mountain air are enticing. Come see for yourself, you may never leave!