Subsistence Homestead Communities of the 1930s

Norvelt and Penn-Craft were the firstsubsistence homestead communities in Pennsylvania.

Norvelt in Mount Pleasant Township

Map of Norvelt

Norvelt, in Westmoreland County, is the site of Pennsylvania's first subsistence homestead. The homestead was originally called the Westmoreland Homesteads, sought to address the needs of unemployed bituminous coal miners and their families. It was one of the homesteads designed by the Division of Subsistence Homesteads for "stranded industrial" workers to "help them build new lives."

WestmorelandNorvelt Plowing

Work began on the site in 1933 and, by 1937, 254 homes had been constructed. Government administrators and homesteaders worked together to develop Norvelt's community life. A cooperative farm, store, and garment factory were developed. In addition,23 social and community groups were organized in Norvelt. Today, a number of original houses remain, and Norvelt has been integrated into the surrounding area.

Penn-Craft in Luzerne Township

Penn Craft

Penn-Craft, in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, was the state's second subsistence homestead. While it was modeled partly on the government program, Penn-Craft was administered by the American Friends Service Committee. This Quaker Group, headquartered in Philadelphia, had extensive relief experience in mining communities. Several AFSC officers had actually been employed in the federal Subsistence Homestead Program.

Housing in Penn CraftTemporary Housing in Penn Craft

So that community life could begin while houses were still under construction, Penn-Craft settlers built temporary wooden homes that could later be converted into chicken coops.

The Friends strove to ensure ethnic and racial diversity, a high-degree of self-help, and a strong sense of democracy in the new community. Like Norvelt's homesteaders, the people of Penn-Craft soon began a cooperative farm, store and garment factory. Penn-Craft was founded in 1937, and still retains a strong sense of community, no doubt a by-product of the continued presence of original homesteaders and their children.

Further Information

The Southwestern Pennsylvania Heritage Preservation Commission was created by federal law in 1988 under the Department of the Interior. This Commission was charged with identifying, preserving and interpreting America's industrial heritage in southwestern Pennsylvania. Through partnerships developed between federal, state, and local governments, the business community, organizations and private individuals, the Commission has engaged the southwestern Pennsylvania region in the preservation of its heritage.

As part of its work, the Commission has conducted surveys of significant industrial, engineering, historic and cultural resources in southwestern PA. One such survey undertaken by the Historical American Buildings Survey / Historic American Engineering Record (HABS/HAER) compares and contrasts the two subsistence communities of Penn-Craft and Norvelt. This survey, from which this exhibit was created, is housed in the IUP Special Collections and University Archives in Manuscript Group 74: America's Industrial Heritage Project (HABS/HAER).

The results of this and other inventories have been published by HABS/HAER through the Commission, and are available to the public (a complete set of these publications can be found in Manuscript Group 75: Southwestern Pennsylvania Heritage Preservation Commission Records). The measured drawings and the large-format photographs produced during this process have been deposited in the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. The remaining research material has been retained at IUP. This material includes the 35mm photographs taken by the HABS/HAER teams, some research notes and correspondence associated with the project, and maps and blueprints of regional sites and buildings.