The Cumberland Homesteads Tower

Cumberland Homesteads

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

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 stone bridge at Cumberland Mountain State Park
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.

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

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.

The 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.

Click the photo to make it bigger.

Cool telephone!

The bedrooms are pretty small, aren't they?


Here is one of the upstairs rooms.
The Cumberland Homesteads Tower Museum is open from March through December.

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

Tell them that Tennessee History for Kids sent you!