After decades of poor farming practices, many small farms in East Tennessee were unsustainable by the early 1930s and the Great Depression left thousands of coal miners and other industrial workers unemployed.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed 200 social experiment sites across the country that would allow out-of-work Americans the opportunity to build their own home and work at a job, just as long as they took care of their community. One of those towns is located right up the road in Cumberland County.
The Cumberland Homesteads is the site of the largest national historic district in the Volunteer State. Men from around the region submitted applications to be given the opportunity to move to this social experiment. Living 20 men to a barn, they would have to prove themselves as positive contributors to the area.
Charles Tollett of the Cumberland Homesteads Association said, "It was a general pattern for homesteaders to be approved to work here before they were selected to be homesteaders (and) selected to bring in their families. So they were given a job first -- an opportunity to demonstrate their workmanship qualities, and then the decision would be made, OK we're gonna invite your family."
The men worked six days a week. Two of those days earning about a 25¢ a day, the other four days were spent putting their faith in the federal government that those long hours worked would go to pay off the land and materials to make their homes.
Tollett said "It's significant because it's the first time the federal government recognized itself as having the responsibility for the daily lives of its citizens."