Search for the Garden: Planned Communities

This article originally appeared in Southern Exposure Vol. 8 No. 1, "Building South." Find more from that issue here.

Everett Pippin’s house at No. 6 Deep Draw Road is one of 250 built between 1934 and 1938 as part of the Cumberland Homesteads, a New Deal resettlement project. Their stone forms are scattered over a 10,000-acre tract once owned by the Missouri Coal and Land Company in Cumberland County, Tennessee. 

Fifteen miles away the Fairfield Glade Resort/Retirement Community is taking shape on another 10,000-acre tract of Cumberland County’s once remote forestland. Begun in 1970, Fairfield Glade is now a growing community with over 1,000 permanent residents, 750 privately owned homes, 10,000 lot owners, a complete range of recreational “amenities” (golf course, indoor/outdoor tennis courts, Olympic-size swimming pool, seven lakes, marina, craft center, riding stables, miniature golf course, ball field and health club complete with saunas and jacuzzi), a country club, restaurant and dinner theatre, a 100-room lodge and convention facilities for 300. “With its own shopping facilities, post office, fire and police departments, the Glade is fast becoming a totally self-sufficient community,” claims a brochure. 

Driving south from Interstate 40 along U.S. Highway 127 through Crossville, you enter the Homesteads without knowing it. Gradually you become aware of one stone house after another, each one distinct yet somehow tied by an invisible thread to the one behind it. 

These houses appear comfortable with their environment and with one another, and the closer you observe the more you are impressed that no two look alike. This is in part due to the cleverness of the designs, and even more to the incomparable quality and infinite variations in Cumberland County “Crab Orchard” stone. But it attests primarily to the individual attention that each of these houses received. Each is a work of art, hand-crafted by those who would inhabit it and who believed that they were incarnating a dream. 

The Homestead houses have been praised as representing “more beauty and comfort than has ever been assembled in a like space anywhere in the United States,” and castigated as “a pile of rocks with a roof over it.” They have a rich history which speaks of the human capacity to turn desperation into decency and adversity into abundance. Their simplicity, the ingenuity and inventiveness built into them, their essentially conservative nature imply builders who dealt in the basic necessities of life, who “made do” with the resources at hand and who cooperated with nature for shelter and food.

Back on the road toward Crossville, comfort of a different kind is touted in a barn-wall size billboard which shouts 

Happy days are always here! 


Resort Community — Homes — Homesites — Town Homes 

Visually, Fairfield Glade replaces Homestead’s earthiness with a certain ethereal quality. The Barbie and Ken plasticity of the Wilshire Heights Townhouses and the Towne Centre complex give way to a ticky-tacky monotony along the streets dotted with “single family shelter units.” With rare (and expensive) exceptions the only thing that distinguishes these houses is their remarkable similarity — an impression reinforced by the leapfrog pattern of their placement. 

There is a kind of beauty and an undeniable attractiveness to the Glade. The crisp manicure of the golf course, lawns and open spaces, the omnipresent cleanliness, the studied similitude, the apparent isolation from the work-aday world, and the fingertip availability of facilities beyond the reach of most people combine to give the Glade a striking seductiveness. And this “beauty” was worth over $5 million in lot and home sales in 1978 (with S6.5 million projected for 1979). 

The Homesteads began in hard times. By December, 1933, the Depression had touched every Cumberland Plateau village and farm. Everett Pippin cut a few railroad ties that summer — “when I could get the work” — for 50 cents a 10-hour day. “People were practically on starvation,” he recalls. “Young people can’t hardly imagine that times was ever that hard here.” 

Roy and Edna Gossage were on strike against the Harriman Hosiery Mill. They had hoped that the Hosiery Mill jobs would get them back on their feet. “We had reunited the family,” Mrs. Gossage remembers. “Before we got the mill jobs I had my youngest daughter with me and was living with my mother. The other children were farmed out to our other relatives. ... I didn’t know when they hired me that they had to let somebody else go, but that’s when I learned there were 24 socks in a dozen.” 

Working 12 hours a day for 25 cents an hour in a hot, smelly, dusty mill with no fringe benefits, no bargaining rights, no job security, and arbitrary firings soon got to the Gossages. 

“They gave me preferential treatment because my mother knew the manager, but I saw too many foremen come up to someone and say ‘we won’t need you tomorrow.’ That was it. Women would sit at their machines and cry because they had children to feed. There wasn’t a thing they could do.”

In October, 1933, they walked out, initiating the first attempt to have the National Recovery Administration’s Blue Eagle emblem pulled from a factory for refusal to bargain collectively. 

Luther Hodge was also on strike — against the Fentress Coal and Coke Company in Wilder. “I went into the mines at 16 and worked solid for 15 years,” Hodge recollects. “I was making pretty good wages, $3.65 a day running a motor. The company cut wages once and tried to cut them again — that’s when we come out on strike. It didn’t hurt me too bad, but some of the boys was about on starvation. They just couldn’t make it on what they was getting. Men would come to work without breakfast and work all day with nothing to eat. Children was crying because they was hungry.” 

The strike grew bloody in April, 1933, when imported gun thugs cut down Hodge’s “special friend,” local union president Barney Graham. Then the action began to sputter out. Some men returned to work; others left. A few, including Hodge, held out, refusing to work for a company that would not pay a living wage, and scraping by on “what little WPA work we could get — 12 days a month for a dollar a day.” (For more on the Wilder strike, see Southern Exposure, “No More Moanin’”[Vol. I, Number 3-4]). 

Struggling with the whims of the economy, the Pippins, Gossages and Hodges were unaware that plans were afoot that would change their lives. Tucked away as Section 208 of Title II of the 1933 National Industrial Recovery Act was a little-debated amendment authorizing a $25 million revolving loan fund “to provide for aiding the redistribution of the overbalance of population in industrial centers.” 

The Back-to-the-Land movement popularized by Ralph Borsodi’s Flight From The City had received official sanction from the U.S. Congress. By July, 1933, the Division of Subsistence Homesteads had been set up in the Department of the Interior under the direction of M.L. Wilson, a pragmatic Midwesterner who had been an Agricultural Extension Agent, a successful wheat farmer, a university professor and a consultant to the Bureau of Land Management. The Division aimed to demonstrate the feasibility of decentralizing industry and of “rehabilitating ‘stranded’ industrial groups” in communities that had “a new relationship to the land.” It made the first loan to Borsodi’s Council of Social Agencies for the development of 200 homesteads for unemployed industrial workers in five tracts around Dayton, Ohio. 

“We are taking a new direction, charting a new road,” Wilson told The Literary Digest in February, 1934. “Big cities can be too big. We are seeking a balance between urban and rural life — a balance which will offer the crowning advantages of both modes of life in a new structure of civilization.” 

In January, 1934, the nineteenth homesteads project (the fourth “stranded groups” project) opened its office in Crossville, Tennessee, as Cumberland Homesteads. 

“Crossville finds itself transformed within a week from an easy-going county seat into a dizzily whirling cog in the machinery of the New Deal,” reported the New York Times on February 4, 1934. “The county is in a festive mood — convinced that the Depression is gone and that a new day has dawned for the hills.” 

The first few weeks at the Homesteads moved with the precision and dispatch of a well-orchestrated military campaign. Under the direction of Chief Architect Macy Stanton, a Philadelphia Quaker who had come to the Homesteads by way of the TVA, work crews cleared the first fields. They set up a sawmill, built the barn at No. 1 Grassy Cove Road, moved a work crew into that barn, built the house at No.l Grassy Cove, moved the administrative offices from Crossville into that house, built barns at several of the homesites, moved potential Homesteader families into these barns and began construction of the first dozen houses. 

Cannery Row

When government bureaucrats first presented plans for a large cannery, the Cumberland Homesteaders laughed at it for being so obviously out of line with their skills, interests and productive capacity. Ignoring this common sense wisdom, the planners plunged ahead and built the cannery. Ervin Peavyhouse recalls the following conversation with Community Manager Major Oliver and Farm Manager Richard Coolbaugh. It took place at the first meeting of the Homestead Cooperative following completion of the cannery, a meeting called to assign Homesteaders crops to grow for the cannery. 

Major Oliver: Mr. Coolbaugh, who’s first on the list, how much land does he have and what can he do with it? 

Mr. Coolbaugh: Peavyhouse is first. He has 11 acres and he’ll need about two acres to pasture his cow. 

Major Oliver: Then he can raise four acres of beans and five acres of tomatoes. 

E. Peavyhouse: Just a damn minute. What do you expect me to feed my stock this winter? What are we supposed to do — raise a cannery crop and buy our damn livestock feed? Is this thing going to be compulsory? 

Major Oliver: There ain’t a damn thing compulsory except to pay your house rent. 

E. Peavyhouse: Then I’ll farm however I damn please. Maybe I can raise an acre of beans and an acre and a half of tomatoes. 

According to some Homesteaders, the cannery “would have operated in the red even if we had donated everything we grew to it.” In any case it failed. Other economic development schemes, hatched deep in the recesses of some New Deal think tank, were similarly loosed on the Homesteaders:


·      Hogs shipped without notice, with no preparation, and no money for feed.

·      Horses starved because some bureaucrat forgot to budget money for hay.

·      A “new kind of pre-digested sorghum” proved unmarketable because, as one oldtimer recalled, “it tasted like a mixture of motor oil and glue.”

·      A cooperative coal mine failed for lack of funds to rescue flooded machinery. 

·      Hosiery mill machines were installed before it was discovered they couldn’t be used with the available power supply.


Simultaneously, under the watchful eye of Personnel Director D.F. Folger, a refugee from academia also by way of TVA, 10 Family Selection Workers fanned out across the Plateau to identify, screen and recruit potential Homesteaders. “We will spend not less than three months investigating the character, ancestors and life environment of those who are applicants for farms,” Folger told the Crossville Chronicle on January 25, 1934. 

“A family and a good name — that’s how you got to the Cumberland Homesteads,” recalls Elizabeth Inman. Project Manager F.O. Clark, a former missionary to the Orient and for 18 years Dean of Agriculture at Berea College, told the Crossville Chronicle, ‘The great and enduring foundation on which this development is to rest is honesty, industry and the proper spirit of cooperation.” 

Potential applicants were warned in a leaflet: 

Only families that have a reputation of being hardworking, honest, sober and good citizens will be chosen. Those selected must be willing to farm under the supervision of and in cooperation with the Agricultural Advisors. Only families willing to try new ways and who want to learn can succeed. It is absolutely necessary that each family fully cooperate with the management and other families in building a new community and a new way of living. Anyone not willing to work cooperatively for the good of the entire community should not apply. 

These rigorous criteria notwithstanding, it appears that sometimes who you knew was as important as who you were. Everett Pippin was recruited for the Homesteads by one of his former teachers who was working as a Family Selection Worker. Luther Hodge and his Wilder buddies found the Homesteads through the personnel director at TVA’s Norris Dam, who knew Folger from his TVA days. Other Homesteaders were former students of F.O. Clark, friends of Homesteads staffers or were recommended by local businessmen or politicians. And at times Folger could expedite the whole procedure, collapsing three months into three hours. 

As one talks with the Homesteaders a familiar experience emerges. Over and over, it is the story of a young family desperate for work and excited by the vision of beginning again and building a new life, recruited because of their “good name,” their reputation for being honest, hard-working, energetic and community-minded, and frequently their demonstrated leadership potential. Always it is the story of moving into the barn, building a community. Men who had never laid a stone became masons; men who had never owned a hammer became carpenters; others similarly learned plumbing, wiring, mechanics, heavy equipment operation. 

But, like Eden, Cumberland Homesteads had a flaw: inevitably the hard-working leaders recruited to the Homesteads came into conflict with the utopian ideals of the planners and the bureaucracy of the federal government. From the Homesteaders’ point of view, the bureaucrats saw the project as a comfortable whistle stop on the New Deal gravy train. The opportunists and petty empire builders came from Washington and from the federal regional office in Raleigh with the regularity of the seasons, trying to devise some scheme, according to one who dealt with them, “by which they could justify themselves and perpetuate their jobs.” 

To the planners the Homesteads appeared a readymade opportunity to create their controlled utopias: all use of property was subject to approval of project management; individuals could sub-lease property only to other Homesteaders approved by project management; and all “settlers” (as Homesteaders were called by project officials) were required to “maintain the property in good condition” as defined by project management and forbidden to permit “any unlawful acts or nuisances upon the property.” 

Homesteaders reacted by forming a union and by bombarding their elected representatives with letters and occasional delegations. Homesteaders believe that one particularly offensive Community Manager was replaced as the result of an investigation Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt initiated on the basis of their letters to her. 

Three interrelated issues surfaced as points of contention between the Homesteaders and project managers: how and by whom decisions were made; what were the terms of the purchase contract by which Homesteaders could acquire their individual pieces of property; and how were Homesteaders to be credited for time they worked on the project without pay. 

Homesteaders wanted to achieve their independence as individuals and as a community as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Some project managers seemed to be intent on stretching out the process as long as possible, thereby retaining a need for the project structure and for themselves. 

The “credit hours” issue was finally settled around 1940 when Homesteaders persuaded Congress to enact legislation establishing a formula for translating their “credit hours” into a dollar equivalent to be applied against the purchase price of their homestead. 

The purchase contract controversy was also settled as a result of relentless Homesteader pressure, but not until after 1941. The final purchase contract effectively reduced from 80 to five years the time that Homesteaders would be subject to the decision of project managers. The original contract had specified a 40-year purchase period and a subsequent 40 years during which any major decisions about the use of the property would be subject to approval by project managers. The final contract provided for a straight five- to 15-year purchase period. Most Homesteaders paid off their places in five years. The decision-making problem was never fully resolved as the Homesteaders became the laboratory for many New Deal experiments (see box). 

Such problems notwithstanding, the Cumberland Homesteads was a remarkable achievement. Folks from the Harriman mills, farm boys from the Plateau hills, refugees from the Wilder violence came together and out of their adversity and diversity, and in spite of the badgering and bungling of the bureaucrats, created a stable life in comfortable homes of their own and built a community that most still consider “an ideal place to live.” 

While the Homesteads probably harmed some areas by skimming off their most able young leaders, Cumberland County gained, for the Homesteads ended the Depression there. The project deposited a dynamic community of skilled and energetic people who made their mark on what is generally considered to be the Plateau’s most progressive and livable county. The Homesteaders seem to agree unanimously with Elizabeth Inman, “There’s never been no place better to live than here on this Cumberland Homesteads.” And though there is no love lost for the bureaucrats, residents know they could not have done it alone. Most would agree with Ervin Peavyhouse: “This is one of the finest things the government has ever done for people.”


The idea that is becoming Fairfield Glade sprang to life in January, 1970, when Fairfield Communities, Inc. (then Fairfield Communities Land Company), purchased 10,000 acres of undeveloped, inaccessible woodland for $150 per acre. With the filing of the first deed to a Fairfield Glade lot nine months later, a new era in Cumberland County history began. Whether or not it will prove as successful as the Homesteads era remains to be seen, but tourism has already begun to surpass farming as Cumberland County’s number one industry. 

Fairfield Glade is one of seven similar communities being developed by Fairfield Communities, Inc. Stretched across the upper Sunbelt like a spider’s web across a fly’s path, these “master-plan” communities cater primarily to Midwesterners who don’t like or can’t afford the single season monotony of Florida or Southern California. People are attracted to the Glade by its apparent solitude, security and price. 

According to some who have looked, a $35,000 townhouse at the Glade would sell for $60,000 in Florida and $75,000 in California, and the current $120-a-year Community Club dues are a “super bargain” when matched against the cost for comparable facilities elsewhere. People generally buy for present recreation and future retirement (retirees are Fairfield’s primary market target). Since it already seems crowded at times, one might wonder what the Glade will be like when all 15,000 lot owners are residents. The catch is they won’t be. One of the nice things about doing business with retirees is that they die, making room for more retirees. 

“With your purchase of property at Fairfield Glade,” begins the little booklet ceremoniously given the new owner, “you are a member of the nation’s most exciting new concept in city government — the Fairfield Glade Community Club.” What you have, in fact, bought into is a concept as old as the city in America — the company town. As outlined in the booklet, the Fairfield Glade Community Club is totally controlled by Fairfield Communities, Inc., through its 10-to-l voting advantage over residents. A 32-page declaration of Covenants and Restrictions, considerably more detailed than the brochures, makes it clear how the power of the Fairfield Glade Community Club serves the interests of the developer:

·      The Club owns and operates certain recreational facilities constructed by the Developer, roads and streets, fire and police department, Civic Center and community maintenance department.

·      Club shall construct, own and maintain the central sewage system (at least one-third of which serves the Developer’s commercial and convention facilities); • All utility easements, including sewer, are reserved for the Developer;

·      Exterior maintenance can be done to individuals’ property with or without their consent, with the cost assessed against the owner as additional Club dues;

·      “Obnoxious or offensive activity” is prohibited;

·      Any oil drilling or mining operations by property owners is prohibited (oil, coal and mineral rights are reserved to the Developer, making this provision moot);

·      An Architectural Control Committee, appointed by the Developer, must approve all construction on, landscaping of and other improvements to privately owned lots. 

“We believe there must be an irrevocable commitment to create a viable and livable community,” writes President C.R. Warner, Jr., in Fairfield’s 1978 Annual Report. There are those, however, who question Fairfield’s commitment to this “full-spectrum creator of communities” philosophy. Eighty-eight resident property owners filed suit against Fairfield in 1978 seeking to break the Developer’s control of the Community Club and to have the Club relieved of the debt incurred in the construction of the sewer. While their suit attacks the structural inequities and peculiarities of the Community Club, the plaintiffs seem equally concerned about the possibility that Fairfield will desert the Glade, leaving the Club and them saddled with the debt. 

The suit is reminiscent of the conflict between Homesteaders and their project managers. Many of the issues having to do with how and by whom decisions are made and the terms of the contracts under which individuals purchase their property are substantially the same. Whether Glade residents can force concessions from the company as Homesteaders did from the government remains to be seen. Homesteaders were assisted by a changing political climate and the susceptibility of elected officials to persistent political pressure. Without these aids, Glade residents must depend on the law. One doubts whether the retirees living in the Glade have the kind of tenacity that carried the young families of the Homesteads to victory. After all, they are mostly older people who have come here to die, rather than young people building a foundation for the future. 

Further, it seems unlikely that Fairfield will leave the Glade. Fairfield’s top leadership, most of whom have been with the 12-year-old company since its infancy, exhibit a strong paternalism toward the Glade (their second property). More to the point, profits provide a strong proprietary interest in remaining. 

Fast becoming recognized as a bellwether in the resort/ retirement community development field, Fairfield was one of the few companies that survived the 1973-75 real estate recession without suffering an operating loss. Since then profits have risen steadily from $940,000 (72 cents per share) to $3,007,000 ($2.14 per share). During the past four years, Fairfield has acquired five additonal properties while increasing its after-tax profits by 100 percent. Since 1978 Fairfield’s common stock has risen from $4.50 a share to its current (December, 1979) high of $11.63. Other than the Glade suit, the company’s biggest headache seems to be an IRS ruling (currently being contested) that it owes $681,000 in back taxes. 

Moreover, during the past three years Fairfield Communities, Inc., made more money from building houses than from lot sales. While Fairfield expects to have most Glade lots sold by 1982, its directors plan to be building houses there for the next 50 years, and will continue to own and operate the commercial and convention facilities indefinitely. All this lends credibility to Communication Director Deborah Douglas’ claim that “There will never come a time when Fairfield is gone from the Glade.” 

While Cumberland Homesteads was the most influential factor in Cumberland County’s history during the first half of this century, Fairfield Glade may come to occupy a similar position in the latter half. Glade President George Donovan exaggerates only slightly when he claims that Fairfield Glade is already Cumberland County’s “largest taxpayer, largest real estate agency, largest purchaser of construction materials and largest employer.” All but the last of these claims are accurate, and the Glade’s 260 year-round and 170 additional summer seasonal employees make it one of the county’s major employers. Donovan is only slightly less accurate when he claims that these contributions are made with little demand on public services. The only conflict between Glade residents and the county at large that has yet broken into public debate is over maintenance and proposed rebuilding of the county road connecting the Glade with the outside world. Rumor has it that Fairfield plans to solve this by building their own road. But no one seems ready to contemplate the demand for public services that may be created if Fairfield Glade reaches its projected 10,000 to 15,000 population. 

The Glade and similar developments have helped to fuel an explosive escalation of land prices. Land that sold for $100 to $150 per acre or less in 1969 goes for $1,000 per acre 10 years later. Quarter-acre lots carved out of the land Fairfield purchased for $150 an acre sold for $2,500 in 1970 and sell today for $5,000 to $10,000. 

The developments have helped to over-stimulate some industries, primarily real estate, construction and tourism, which are especially vulnerable to recession. Cumberland County, with a population of 28,000, has 25 real estate agencies. The Glade’s 85,000 visitors seem to have diminished some in 1979, and county tourism revenues are down this year. 

Much of the Glade’s employment is in seasonal service occupations (waitresses, cooks, clerks, maids, janitors, golf course attendants, etc.) which are traditionally lowwage and also highly sensitive to recession. The Glade’s claimed contribution to the rise in per capita income appears to be due primarily to the in-migration of higher income individuals. The average hourly wage in Cumberland County is still below $4.00, and per capita income is only 55 percent of the national figure. There can be no doubt that Fairfield Glade pumps considerable money into the Cumberland County area, but it has hardly solved the County’s employment problems. Unemployment is currently 9.6 percent and has fluctuated between nine and 16 percent for the past several years. 

But these figures tell only part of the story. The Homesteaders — poor, rural families, deeply rooted in their sense of place — represented a traditional genre of Southerners; the Glade residents represent an entirely new breed — restless, rootless retired couples, newly and barely affluent, with Midwestern and urban sensitivities. No one seems able to predict the long-term cultural and political ramifications of such rapid growth in a community’s retiree population or of the growing resentment and tension between these new residents and long-time natives of the county. What problems will arise from an economy based primarily on consumption rather than production? The potential cultural impact and distortion in social values that may result from the lifestyle symbolized by the Glade threatens disruption to a rural way of life that has sustained and given meaning to five generations of Cumberland Countians. 

Midway between the Homesteads and Fairfield Glade, the “Dun Rovin’ Estates” development, occupying what was formerly a Homesteads corn field, recalls to mind Elizabeth Inman’s words: “I hate to see all these developments. Maybe I shouldn’t feel that way, but to me this Homesteads is something special. I hate to see it cut up into subdivisions.” 

Unfortunately, while the Homesteads may be the ghost of Cumberland County past, Fairfield Glade is probably the spirit of things yet to be. One is reminded of Lot, who separated from Abram in search of the Garden of the Lord only to end up in Sodom.


Special thanks to Edna Gossage Blue, Luther Hodge, Ed and Elizabeth Inman, Ervin and Elizabeth Peavyhouse and Everett Pippin.