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Preserving West Virginia: Arthurdale Schools

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A school system in Preston County was way ahead of its time, thanks to Eleanor Roosevelt, but now it needs updating. The Arthurdale Historical Society and the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia (PAWV) have a plan to keep the history alive while helping the community grow.

"They represent a time in our nation when we were coming out of the Depression," said Lynn Stasick, with the PAWV.

At that time, poverty was everywhere and education just wasn't a priority. That was until Eleanor Roosevelt took an interest in the area and designed the "utopian" community in Arthurdale with a new approach to learning.

"It started out as a way to give kids a lot of opportunities that kids in Preston County haven't always had, especially in rural West Virginia for the time," said Julie DeBasie, the Americorps Vista with the Arthurdale Heritage Association.

The first lady and educator Elsie Ripley Clapp developed "progressive" education.

At a time when all students crammed into the same room, Arthurdale's students attended the first version of our modern system with primary, middle and high schools.

"A lot of the homestead children tell us that the most unique thing was that they could participate in after-school activities so they had things like cheerleading and they had sports and could be on sports teams," DeBaise said.

The schools closed in the 1950s and the buildings have sat vacant ever since, falling behind the times.

In 2012, the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia added the buildings to its "endangered properties" list. Now, there are plans to convert at least the high school into apartments.

"You've got some really great windows and you've got a magnificent staircase that I think people who would live there would really value that historical charm," DeBaise said.

Many of the graduates still live in the area and remain invested in what happens to "their" school.

"It's nice to see them coming back from just storage and revisiting the heritage. A lot of people graduated school here," Stasick added.

If the project goes well in the high school, the other buildings could become apartments as well.

"It's been mixed reviews, honestly," DeBaise said. "I think the more that we ease them and talk to them about it the more receptive they have been to it ... I think ultimately it will be a really good thing for the community."

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