Volume 4: Resettlement
1930’s Ithaca faced many of the same problems our city faces today: high unemployment rates, economic depression, and anxiety among residents facing a future filled with uncertainty. President Roosevelt met these challenges with the creation of programs and agencies that would redirect national resources for the benefit of Americans. The Resettlement Administration was one such agency, led by Under-Secretary of Agriculture Rexford G. Tugwell. The agency was created for the purpose of moving poverty-stricken Americans into government-designed communities, and turning the slums in which they formerly resided into parks and forest areas. Some of the federally-designed communities were merely suburbs, while others were carefully planned farm cooperatives. The cooperatives included housing and a full staff of management personnel who oversaw the operations of both the housing developments and farms. The government began the project by targeting under-utilized lands outside major cities and constructing suburbs. They then relocated farmers in “marginal” areas where land was unmanageable to better locations, transforming their old properties into forests. More than half of the area known today as the Newfield State Forest was vacated and changed from farm to forest land by the Resettlement Administration.
Many Tompkins County farmers and their families were moved from infertile farms to “greener pastures” and given federal loans to help them finance new agri-ventures. Among these was Grant Hallett, an Ithaca farmer who made headlines in the New York Times for being the first farmer in the east to be resettled by the government. He was moved from his 100 acre farm on Bald Hill to a more fertile site nearby and given a modest federal loan to aid in re-establishing his home and farm. For the Halletts and other Finger Lakes families, resettlement represented a fresh start in a time of great hardship, however, the agency’s plan was deemed a failure by both the government and the public at large. Resettlement participants in the mid west rejected the idea of federally-governed communities, and much of the general population was denied the opportunity to participate in the program due to a lack of funding. Tugwell’s vision for economic recovery ended swiftly and the resettlement agency was eventually absorbed by the Farm Security Administration. In spite of this apparent failure, Tugwell’s work was not forgotten; his ideas helped improve the lives of many Ithaca farmers and set the stage for the development of suburban communities throughout New York state over the next twenty years.
New York Department of Conservation. “Newfield State Forest: History”. NYS DEC. web. 1/10/11.
Staff Correspondent. “New Farms from Old: 70 New York Families Moved to “Greener Pastures”. New York Times Nov. 1, 1936. Microfilm.
Staff Correspondent. “Visit First Farm in Resettlement; Mrs. Beck and State Officials See New Start of Families in Finger Lakes Area. New York Times Oct. 22, 1936: 20. Microfilm.
Rothstein, Arthur. Grant Hallett, Resettled Tenant Farmer, Tompkins County, New York. 1937. Farm Security Administration, Office of War, Washington D.C. Library of Congress. Web. 6 Jan 2011.
Rothstein, Arthur. Wife of Farmer Resettled on Farm Tenancy Project, Tompkins County, New York. 1937. Farm Security Administration, Office of War, Washington D.C. Library of Congress. Web. 6 Jan 2011.