Brave New Town

1936
The forge is displayed in a 1936 view.

Credit: Arthurdale Heritage, Inc.

Revisiting Arthurdale, W.Va., a Depression-era experiment

By Michael Byers

Of the six original buildings that constituted the old public school in Arthurdale, W.Va., four are still standing. Set back along a quiet road off Highway 92, 17 miles southeast of Morgantown near the northern edge of the state, the long white clapboard structures are boarded up against vandals. The copper gutters and downspouts have been stolen, and broken glass glitters in the high, unmown grass of late May. From the open doorway of the low-slung, sprawling high school comes the unmistakable smell of mold.

"Just imagine," says Dave Hall, propping the door open with a shovel, "Eleanor Roosevelt coming down here."

Inside, the smell grows stronger. Hall reaches around in the dark and flips on a few lights. In use until six years ago, the high school's old classrooms have retained a worn, occupied look. The floors are warped and scratched, and most of the furniture has been taken away, but a few classrooms are still crammed with rows of student desks, which manage to look uncomfortable even with no one in them. Antiquated computer terminals, lined up on the floor, await destruction. Gray lockers march in regiments down the corridor.

"Take a look down here," says Hall, a board member of Arthurdale Heritage, the town's nonprofit preservation group, which is racing to save the school buildings from further deterioration. At the end of the corridor, a large chemistry lab stands empty but for a pair of laboratory tables, one of which sits askew in the middle of the room, its old gas nibs still intact. The other has nearly been swallowed up by a huge hole in the floor.

"I wouldn't get too close over there," he advises.  

For the remainder of this article, e-mail us to purchase a back issue. Or read more excerpts from this issue.