In 1934, during perhaps the most disparaging time in American history, the town of Eleanor (initially called Red House Farms), became one of three Subsistence Homesteads built in West Virginia under the Roosevelt Administration. A total of 150 families selected for the Town of Eleanor were offered a challenge and a chance for new life.
The tract of land for the community comprises 2,200 acres costing approximately $29 an acre. The site of the dwellings and the farm land, comprising about 800 acres lies in a half-moon shaped valley. It is a setting of natural beauty. The straight edge lies along the banks of the Kanawha River and to the north the semi-circle is marked by sharp sloped wooded hills. The roughly semicircle valley is from a quarter to three quarters of a mile wide and about a mile and half long.
Each house is on a plot of from three-quarters of an acre to an acre. The plot also provides for a barn, a chicken pen, a garden and a lawn with shrubbery. The houses are built chiefly of cinder blocks. Wood is used in the interior, but little on the exterior. The dwellings range from three to five rooms and designed in several different basic styles. Their appearance is sturdy, comfortable, serviceable, economical, neat and architecturally well designed.
The property is bisected by by U.S. Route 35, which separates a 500-acre tract of rich bottom land along the river from a higher level. The homesteads dot this upper level, aligned on a series of semi circular streets radiating toward the hills from a center at the administration building, the original "Red House." Supposedly built in 1840 by Peter Ruffner, the placid brick Red House with its graceful white pillared portico and converted slave quarters may have been standing as early as 1825.
Along with the Red House and the 150 dwellings, the project contains a community farm and barn, public owned gas works, school (first located in the barracks). greenouse, canning plant, carpentry shop, factory, farmers market, restaurant, filling station, garage and pool room. The community had its own newspaper, The Melting Pot. Homesteaders participated in local government, town-meeting style, in the Red House Association. Employment could be found in community projects, local public works and private industry. All wasn't work in the community. Women's and men's clubs, ball teams, 4-H, band scouts, American Legion and Auxiliary, an harmonica band, parties, square dances, school and church all contributed to the social life of men, women and children.
The homesteaders pay between $8 and $15 per month rent. Utilities are more than reasonable. Gas is sold at a flat rate of 50 cents per month, water at $1.50, and electricity averages about $4 monthly.
A free medical clinic is an important part of the community, although the resident physician charges a nominal fee for certain medical needs.
Each new family of homesteaders is placed on probation for one year before attaining the status of permanent resident. Men classed as farmers are employed in the farming and dairying occupations, producing corn, wheat, oats, tobacco, beef, pork, and dairy products, while the others work in the cooperative canning plant, the workshops or greenhouse. At present excess labor is employed at a standard hourly wage of 45 cents working a quarry from which is taken the rock ballast and paving for driveways and sidewalks.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is reported to have made five trips to this project. She expressed amazement at the quality of the work accomplished with the money spent. The Relief Administration fixed $2,150 as the average cost of each house, including land and outbuildings. Of the original 150 homes built, 146 still remain.
Sometime during 1935, the projects name was changed from Red House Farms to Eleanor in honor of the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt who had been instrumental in the projects success. The main road through town is known as Roosevelt Blvd.
Original homesteader, Kathleen Gilreath was appointed Postmaster for the Project Post Office. She continued to serve the town as Postmaster for fourteen years until her death.
Julia "Judy" Pickens RN, another original homesteader was employed as the project nurse.
In 1946, 10 men formed an organization and were granted a state charter to operate as a corporation to manage the town. This corporation was known as Washington Homesteads Association. It was under this corporation that people were allowed to purchase their homes. Bye this time, several of the original Homesteaders had moved on. The homes these homesteaders had occupied were rented by the Association to new families that had moved to the community. When the homes were sold, these new families along with the homesteaders purchased the homes they were renting. In August, 1947, the community celebrated the "burning of mortgages" for the 150 homes. All "families" living in the community now own their homes outright. The corporation owned the homestead administration building (The Red House) and the utilities.
On November 20, 1965, a delegation from the town of Eleanor filed an order with the Putnam County Court for incorporation. The incorporation election was held in March 1966, and by majority vote the town was incorporated.
It is sad to say, but all of the original homesteaders are deceased. Mrs. Ada Sanson, the only remaining homesteader living in Eleanor passed away on December 21, 2001, she was 96 years of age. Many of the homesteads are still occupied by children and grandchildren of these homesteaders.
Second Generation Homestead children living in Eleanor are: Linda Allen Harris, Myrtle Allen Boggess, Lois Allen Erwin, Frank Allen, Lena Ball Casto, Adolphus Browning, Marlane Crockett Carr, Ervine Crockett Wolfe, Jo Eddie Crockett, Bob Crockett, Dimple Cockrell, Allen Davis, Paul Egnor, Andy Franisco, Betty Gilreath Hartley, Shirley Gilreath Rayburn, Lois Hale Rutan, Kathline Hudson Gatens, Eugene Hudson, Helen Kosa Hester, Oscar Kosa, Fred Milhorn, Romana Moxley Lemon, Tom Newman, Barbara Noffsinger Kosa, Wanda Pickens Hescht, Lillian Runions Raynes, Francis Sanson, John Sanson, and Ruth Smith Hull. There are 38 third generation children living within the town.
The project children included one set of triplets and four sets of twins. The triplets were Irene, Eileen and Eugene Guthrie. The twins were Dan and Sam Tope, Edna and Lois Allen, Joe and Gilbert Bayless and Tom and Dick Newman.
According to records, about 90 of the original homestead men worked on the project as it was being built. These men were housed in the barracks and fed in a mess hall. Besides building the houses and barns, they worked on roads, water, sewer and whatever else necessary to complete the job. The quality of work done bye these men was excellent. The town is still using most of the water and sewer lines installed in 1934. The fact that 146 houses still remain speaks for itself. We owe a debt of gratitude to these hard working, dedicated people. The first families moved into the project on
April 1, 1935.
For more information and history on the Town of Eleanor,
we welcome you to visit or call the Town Hall anytime.
Telephone: 304-586-2319 Fax: 304-586-2828
-Eleanor Town Hall-
As of January 4, 2001, this building became the new Eleanor Town Hall. As you look at the picture, town hall offices are located in the wing on the right. The museum, when completed will be located in the room which has the light shinning through the back window. The wing on the left will be called the Homestead Room. This is a large L shaped room with an adjoining kitchen area and handicap restrooms. The Homestead Room is now complete and available for rent.
"The Red House"
A long time dream of many residents of Eleanor became a reality Monday, November 8, 1999, when Mayor Johnny Harris and John DesMeules, Chairman of the Building Commission signed the final papers transferring ownership of the Red House to the Town of Eleanor.
Throughout the years, according to the time period, the house has been known by several names. Among them, the "Ruffner House," the "Red House" and the "Brick." It is listed on the Historical Property Inventory Forms as the Ruffner House.
The house sets on a three-acre plot of ground. It is a two and half story brick architecture style, built around a central stair hall. The sign in front of the house states it was built in 1840, however, there is reason to believe it was built possibly earlier. The center section of the house is the original structure. The federal government added the two wings, porch, dormers and balcony in 1935 when it was used as the administration building for the project.
Several stories of local folklore have been associated with the house from earlier years. One being, the murder of a slave on the third floor stair landing. Another often told story is a secret tunnel leading to the river that was used as a underground railroad.
The future holds gallons of paint, hours of labor and the efforts of many volunteers. If we work together and dedicate ourselves to this project, we will reach a time when we can enjoy the ownership. Then we can walk about the house and grounds and mingle with the memories of those who walked before us.
(Thanks to Marlane Crockett Carr for writing this article.)
In May of 1946, deed book 84, page 197, at the Putnam County Court House show the "administration building, a two and one-half story brick with east and west wings" was deeded to Washington Homesteads for one dollar. This was the former Ruffner House or Red House. The administration building was later sold by Washington Homesteads to Dr. Lyle Moser.
"Early Occupants of the Red House"
Sometime around the 1890's, the Samuel Earl Gibeaut family lived in the Red House. Near the year 1920, Frank Fitzsimmons lived there followed by his brother Christopher who had a large family. When they moved to Pennsylvania, a family of Bolden's occupied the house until the Christopher Fitzsimmons family moved back where they remained for several years, farming the large river bottom. When the house was purchased by the federal government, the C.H. King family was living there and working the farm land. C.H. and his wife, Ruth also had a large family. Their children numbered fourteen, ten boys and four girls.
(excerpts taken from an article written by Charles Harper and Forest Grant)
The Red House has a protector, overseer, or guardian angel (which ever you choose to call him) that the employees have named Sam. Sam pays a visit from time to time, but unlike the most of us, who like to be seen, but not heard, he likes to be heard, but not seen. Sam's presence adds to the historical folklore of this 1800's home. Old stories about the maginificent Red House with it's connecting slave quarters still surface from time to time, days when slavery was common and slaves were disciplined in a harsh manner.
Rumors or stories include the existence of a tunnel to smuggle slaves from the river to the big house. After much searching, the employees have found no evidence a tunnel exists. Did it ever, it's possible, but it will probably remain a legend and not a proven fact.
The South-East Wing
"The Homestead Room"
Renovation of the Homestead room is complete, this wing has a kitchen, large L shaped banquet or meeting room, fireplace with electric insert and handicap restrooms. A large walk-in cooler which was used by the project store is still intact and will remain in this section as part of history, it may be used for storage. The hardwood floors the government installed in the 30's have been refinished in the banquet area. This area includes the length of the wing plus the L shape takes in the bay window area. The kitchen is located in the room next to the garage with the two smaller windows. Reservations for the room rental are now being accepted at the town hall. Rentals will begin on July 1, 2001. For information on fees, rules and regulations for the Homestead Room, please call the town hall at 586-2319.
"New Town Offices"
The Town Hall moved into the new offices on January 4, 2001.
There is an office for the utility clerk, town clerk, recorder and mayor, a conference room, small kitchen, work area, rest room and ample storage for town records. The additional room will benefit all involved, but especially the public. No more conducting business in a small crowded room with no privacy.
You are welcome to stop in for a visit!
Last modified on Wednesday, March 09, 2005