The first rehabilitation farm project to be established in Nebraska, and among the first in the country, was established at Kearney. Fifty-seven acres of land were purchased by the Rural Rehabilitation program. The land lay just north of the north line of East Lawn and east of the branch line tracks. Eight homesteads of about seven acres each were established on this track, and work subdividing the land, erecting fencing, homes and other improvements began in the summer of 1934. Under provisions of the act regulating the rehabilitation farmsteads, tenant families assigned to the homesteads would rent the property for a period of one year, having to prove their adaptability to their new lifestyles. After one year, they were allowed to purchase the tract at cost, paying small payments over a long term contract. L. A. White, director of the program within the State of Nebraska stated, “It is hoped through this plan to permanently take care of a good many families who through no fault of their own are in such shape that they cannot help themselves, and who are worthwhile folks, and families who can and will, if given a chance, be able to take care of themselves.”
The houses would consist of four rooms, plus closets and pantry space. Enclosed porches on the rear of the houses would provide additional sleeping space during the summer. The houses all have oak floors, which were purchased as cheaply as softer woods and would be more durable. The barns would provide space for cows, storage for feed, seed and tools. As far as possible, the families selected for the program would contribute to the construction of their own homes. The small farmsteads would also include chicken houses, ditches for irrigation and fences to divide the farmsteads.
Harry Dole, assistant state director of the program announced, “It’s rehabilitation, in the broadest meaning of the word. It’s not charity. These folks once had things, but have lost everything through no fault of their own. We simply want to try to help them get back on their feet.” The idea was to provide subsistence farms to families who had lost everything. They would not compete with established farmers because their land lent itself better to crops that could be grown and sold locally at farmers’ markets. Meanwhile, occupied with farming ventures, they would not compete with other local men who were seeking employment.
In late July, eight local middle-aged men who were “good citizens” were selected to occupy the eight resettlement farmsteads just outside Kearney. The recipients included the William Ayres family the three children, the William Howard family with three children, the R. D. Phillips family with six children, the Charles Ralston family with three children, the Fred Romjue family with three children, the Joe Suchy family with six children, the W. D. Willard family with three children, and the Henry Zeller family with six children. The men ranged in ages from 29 to 45.
By September, four of the eight houses had been nearly completed, and foundations for the second group were being poured. Within another month, the eight houses were all framed. Mid-November found the houses and barns erected, as well as the chicken houses. The small amount of time it took to construct these twenty-four structures gives an indication of how simply built the houses were. They were constructed of simple frame construction with few, if any amenities. They were wired for electric lights.
In December 1934, upon completion of the farmsteads, a program was held in the Kearney Junior High School, attended by Governor Charles W. Bryan and Governor-Elect Roy L. Cochrane, during which a drawing was held in order to determine which family would accept which farmstead. In accepting his farmstead, and speaking on behalf of the other tenant farmers, R. D. Phillips stated, “Thank God for a man like President Roosevelt. He had patience enough to listen to his wife until she dictated this project out here. This project is going to be the greatest thing ever done in this nation. It’s going to succeed.” Of all the New Deal projects, this program was perhaps most dedicated to helping people help themselves. By providing the destitute with their own subsistence farms, the government hoped they were putting people’s salvation in the own hands on a family by family basis. However, Mr. Phillips was not at all prophetic: the relatively few families that this program aided were not able to offset the extreme expense of the program. In the end it was cancelled.
Kearney Daily Hub, 5 July 1934. Kearney Daily Hub, 5 July 1934. Kearney Daily Hub, 9 July 1934. Kearney Daily Hub, 27 July 1934. Kearney Daily Hub, 13 September 1934. Kearney Daily Hub, 3 October 1934. Kearney Daily Hub, 16 November 1934. Kearney Daily Hub, 28 November 1934. Kearney Daily Hub, 6 December 1934.
Project originally submitted by Jill Dolberg on July 17, 2015.
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