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TN History for Kids

Cumberland Homesteads

A reunion of some of residents of the original Cumberland Homesteads community.

Near Crossville is a place that was completely changed by the government a long time ago.

The Cumberland Homestead Tower

Back in the 1930s, the federal government bought about 10,000 acres of land and turned it into what was then known as a "substinence homestead." The Cumberland Homestead, as it became known, eventually consisted of about 250 homes; a school; a park area (now known as Cumberland Mountain State Park); and a beautiful stone water tower and headquarters building.

Most of these structures are still there.

The tower has been turned into a small museum, with displays on the history of this interesting community. You can even climb to the top of it and see a great view of the Cumberland Plateau below.

The stone bridge at Cumberland Mountain
State Park

One of the old homestead houses is open to the public and has been furbished to look exactly the way a house would have been decorated when it was built.

And the park that the government built is today known as Cumberland Mountain State Park.

Now we're going to tell you about some of the things you'll see when you come on this trip.

The interior of the museum

When you walk into the tower building you'll see that there are rooms connected to it in several directions. One of them is devoted to the history of the homestead; another to the families that lived there; a third shows you some of the household items that you would have found in a 1930s house.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visits the
Cumberland Homestead in the 1930s
PHOTO: Library of Congress

It is important to remember how this community differed from the ones in which most of us live today. The Cumberland Homesteads was a planned project. The government carefully chose everyone who was allowed to live there; built the roads and infrastructure; and supervised the construction of every house.

However, people who lived in the community provided most of the labor, and had to build their own homes.

History displays at the museum

The idea of the Cumberland Homesteads is that everyone would have a small farm (between about 20 and 40 acres). When they weren't working on their farm they would be working at one of the factories owned by the homestead (there was a canning factory here at one time). So this was, in some ways, like the Ruskin Commune in Dickson, Tennessee (although the Cumberland Homesteads was created by the government, while the Ruskin Commune was entirely created by its members).

The view from the top of the tower

And don't even think about leaving the tower museum without a trip up the long stairs to the top of the tower.

One of the homestead houses

When you leave the tower we suggest that you drive around to see some of the houses built during the homestead years. You should be able to pick them out from the other houses in the area. They are made of Crab Orchard stone (which is mined in the area).

The house you can tour

You can also tour one of the houses, and see what the interior would have looked like in the 1930s and 1940s, when people first lived here.

 

 

 

 

 

Here are some interior shots of the house that you can tour. You can click the photos to make the bigger.

 

The interior of the house

 

 

 

An upstairs room

 

The bedrooms are really small
Cool telephone!

 

The Cumberland Homesteads Tower Museum is open from March through December. It's biggest event of the year is in September, and it is called the Apple Festival.

The organization that runs the museum has its own web site, and can be found here.

Tell them Tennessee History for Kids sent you!

The Cumberland Homestead Museum is located in Cumberland County, not far from the city of Crossville and Interstate 40. It is about an hour's drive from Knoxville and two hours drive from Nashville. 

Since the museum is located almost adjacent to Cumberland Mountain State Park, many people combine visits to both places.