|"Early History of the area"
The decision by the federal government to build a third Homestead Community in West Virginia would ultimately bring this area into national prominence.
Before we begin charting the development of the town presently known as Eleanor, perhaps a little background description would be in order.
The Putnam Leader....
in an article dated September 9, 1920, it was reported that Putnam-on-Kanawha had a big day:
Putnam-on-Kanawha, the new town below Red House, was a place of much interest to the people of the County and the Kanawha Valley this week. The Stock Show exhibits were declared by all to be fine, and the managers of the new town have received much praise for the able manner which they got the farmers of the county to bring in their exhibits. The crowds attending on Labor Day was estimated at over three thousand, while the other two days of the Show was some smaller. Quite a number of amusements were indulged in, including aeroplane flights, baseball games, public speaking, dancing, etc. Records of this venture were not located, but a panoramic photograph taken the day of the sale will soon be displayed at town hall.
This tract of land was located on the north side of the Kanawha River, downstream and across from the Putnam County seat of Winfield. The site's development possibilities were noticed in the 1920's, when real estate speculators promoted it as "Putnam-on-Kanawha." As luck would have it, only a few lots were sold in this commercial scheme and the property was later acquired by the federal government.
In the 20's and early 30's, there were few houses on this property. One small house situated just back of the present entrance to Eleanor Circle near the hills was occupied by Ed Runyons, a farm laborer. Then upon the knoll near the present Volunteer Fire Department lived the Leander Higginbotham family. A few hundred yards north toward Buffalo Creek lived the M. S. Wandling family, and just up in the field a short distance lived the Wilfred Hills family. An old house situated near the present lower end of Eleanor was torn down about this time. Near where Eleanor's First Baptist Church is presently situated, stood a house occupied by Tick Hill and his wife. Guinns had a filling station located across the road from the present Super America. C.H. King, who was living in the Red House owned a piece of vacant property.
(contains excerpts from an article written by Charles Harper and Forrest Grant)
When the government purchased this land in 1934, these families were either bought out or exchanges of property were made. A store, service station and living quarters combined was built for the Guinns, it was located where the Eleanor Exxon now stands. The house beside Guinn's store was built for Mrs. Higginbotham. C. H. King was given the next piece of property where Super America is now located. The next house was built for the Wandlings. The Wandling family had purchased a large farm on Route 34 and left the town in 1928 but still owned their former property in town. Mr. M. S. Wandling later sold their new house the government built for them to Lloyd Shank for $2,700.00.
Of these families, The Guinns ran their business for several years. The community children liked to visit the store to buy penny candy. C. H. King and his sons built a garage and filling station which they operated for years. In the early years, Mr. King had square dances on the lot beside his station, later, the station became a favorite hangout for the young boys in town. Sue King Jividen, granddaughter of Mr. King is the only close relative still living in Eleanor. A son, John lives in Midway, approximately three miles below Eleanor. Otho Higginbotham, son of Mrs. Leander Higginbotham has lived in Eleanor since the age of eight, Otho turned 90 in July. He has delivered mail on horse back, worked for Honaker's garage and evenually purchased a filling station and garage in Eleanor which he and his son Ronnie operated for many years. Tom Sheridan, grandson of Mrs. Higginbotham now resides in the home the government built for his Grandmother. Estel Wandling, son of the Wandling family returned to Eleanor with his wife Edith after the war. Mr. Wandling served as cemetery caretaker under the Washington Homestead Corporation and the Town government for over 50 years retiring in 1999. Mr. Wandling is now deceased, his presence is truly missed by all in this community.
Although none of these families that remained in Eleanor are considered Original Homesteaders, the fact remains, they were the original land owners or the children there of. They have each make a contribution to the town in their own way, and it is time we recognize them. They are a part of our heritage and our history.
The children of the town attended a one room school building that was located on the highway, half-way down in the town. The school was named Oak Dale. This school was attended by children from the town and the surrounding area. The school was used until 1928 when it was sold to Mr. Quinn by the Board of Education. Mr. Quinn changed it into a dwelling and service station the same year. Children from the following families attended this school. Wandlings, Higginbothams, Boldens, Grants, Wrights, McDaniels, Ballards, Lieukarts, Fitzsimmons, Scherers, Kings, Jeffries and Edwards. Approximately forty pupils attended in all.
Estel Wandling (a student) served as janitor at the school for three years at $30.00 per year. He deposited the total amount of $90.00 in the Winfield Bank that went broke in 1929. He lost all of his deposit.
In 1926, the road, Route 35, (now Rt. 62) was being graded to be surfaced with gravel from Buffalo to Plymouth. The contractor doing the job was Smith and Bender. Two of the Wandling boys, Ray and Robert were hired to operate two of the Motel T dump trucks on the job.
A large saw mill was still here at this time, located over on the creek bottom at the foot of the hill. Mr. Courtney operated this mill and had all the virgin timber cut in this area in the early 1900's. A rail track was laid up the side of the creek and around the hill sides to carry the logs on rail cars to the mill. All the hills on the east side were cleared off, bare.
A large house was built across the creek over a cold water spring. From here we carried all our drinking water. The men of the town worked together and built a swinging cable foot bridge across the creek for our use when the water was high.
(Information for this article was supplied by LarryWandling as written by his father, Estel Wandling in January 1985.)
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.
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 by 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"
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.
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.