Tupelo, Mississippi would be involved in three of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal projects. Two were controversial parts of the New Deal. Many know that Tupelo was the first “TVA” city, but few recognize the white houses located between the Natchez Trace Visitor’s Center and the old U.S. highway 45 as the remains of another New Deal program.
When Congress failed to pass a Bill that would finance homestead projects around the United States, the projects were added to the National Industrial Recovery Act. The Act passed easily and planning for the homestead projects began. President Roosevelt envisioned a program that allowed lower income workers to raise much of their own food through subsistence farming while continuing to work in industry. This would create more expendable income that would be spent buying products from industry thereby making industry stronger. Each home would come with a new pressure cooker for canning vegetables to enable year round implementation of the idea.
The projects would face trouble from the start. First, President Roosevelt underestimated the costs of the project (the Tupelo Homesteads would be built with a continuously growing budget.) Secondly, in the years after the creation of the project, it would be shuffled among agencies that would want to hold it to standards and expectations that the homesteads was not designed for. Of the 43 sites originally approved across the U.S., only 34 would be built. The Tupelo site, several miles north of the city and crossing Highway 45, was announced in late 1933. This came less than two months after the city of Tupelo signed a deal with the TVA for electricity. Unlike most other homestead projects, the Tupelo project would have running water(from a well with a pump) and electricity.
In 1934, President and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt would make the trip to Tupelo. They would visit just a few days after the first families moved into their new homes in November. The primary purpose of the trip to Tupelo was for the President to give a speech at Robbins field to build up the TVA, but they would also visit the homestead project. Shortly after this visit, the project would begin to face trouble. None of the first residents of the homestead would end up buying their home. This was partly due to the fact that people who met the strict requirements for approval to get in the project were not likely to submit to the strict guidelines for the project. The homestead projects would also begin to gain recognition as another New Deal welfare program on the national level.
In Tupelo, the final nail in the coffin would be a tornado that devastated much of the town in April 1936. The improved economy as a result of rebuilding after the storm and new housing that was of better quality than the homestead project were available and attainable by the homesteaders. Most would move.
The third New Deal project that would impact both Tupelo and the Homestead project in Tupelo was the building of what would become the Natchez Trace Parkway. The Daughters of the American Revolution campaigned for a project that would preserve the trail that ran from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee in the preceding and early days of the new nation. The construction of the parkway would begin with funding from New Deal programs.
By the end of the 1930s, the TVA and National Park Service(NPS) employees were renting many of the homes originally intended for long term settlement. In 1940, the NPS would become the owner of the homes and they became part of the Natchez Trace Parkway. Since the 1950s, the homes have been used for various purposes, primarily administrative. There are only three of the original homes left.