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Community members, officials endeavoring to convert ‘Eleanor house’ into museum

By Ali Schmitz, Staff Writer
CHRIS DORST | Putnam Review
An original New Deal home at 617 Roosevelt Blvd. in Eleanor which may eventually be turned into a town museum.
CHRIS DORST | Putnam Review Some items on display inside Eleanor’s museum at the town hall in the Red House are a photo of President Franklin Roosevelt and a photo from the 50th anniversary of Eleanor in 1985.
CHRIS DORST | Putnam Review Historical items on display at Eleanor’s Town Hall inside the Red House.
CHRIS DORST | Putnam Review The dead end of Chestnut Street in Eleanor concludes in a grassy lot next to Roosevelt Boulevard and a church parking lot.

When Marlane Crockett Carr moved to Eleanor at age 4, the town was nothing more than a few homes and dirt roads -- but to her, it was paradise.

Carr, now 86, grew up in a small home in Boone County during the Great Depression. Her father was one of fewer than 150 men selected to move to the town, a subsistence community created during the New Deal and named for first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

She’s spent decades pushing for the town to open a museum celebrating the town’s history in one of the original “Eleanor houses.”

Her dream may become a reality.

Eleanor recently purchased one of the original homes built during the New Deal for $150,000. A home at 617 Roosevelt Blvd. may eventually be converted into a town museum.

A new historical commission for the town would be in charge of the project.

Cam Clendenin, one of the town’s council members, said the project will take a few years to complete.

The home is just a bonus, according to Town Recorder Linda Casto.

Town officials have been working for months to purchase property for months in order to connect Chestnut Road to Roosevelt. Chestnut is currently a dead-end street, but initially was attached to Roosevelt, according to maps drawn up in the 1930s and multiple original homesteaders.

Over multiple decades, people stopped using the road. Trees grew over the road, and property owners claimed the land as their own.

There were plenty of reasons the town wanted the land, including that it would lower fire insurance rates for people who lived in the neighborhood and allow emergency vehicles to cut through the property.

The town sued a property owner in the late 1980s to gain right-of-way access. They lost a long court battle for the right of way.

So when the land was put up for sale last year, town officials began negotiating the purchase of the land and the home on it. They initially considered selling the home after the road was completed.

But multiple town council members, including Clendenin, felt like the home had to be preserved.

Clendenin said the town will eventually start encouraging people to donate items from the 1930s. They already have a small collection of items donated to the town in a room at Red House, the historic building that houses the town hall.

Now the town is in the planning process for getting grants to repair the home so the museum can become a reality. Clendenin said it will take about five years before it’s complete.

Carr still remembers the first family who lived in the home, including the five children. She refers to many of the 150 homes still standing by the names of their original owners.

According to Carr, she’s one of only 14 original homesteaders still living in the town. She never left because Eleanor was a place full of hope.

For her, Eleanor will always remind her of the first time she woke up in her new home -- running through the halls, repeatedly flushing the toilet in awe and staring out the window looking to see if there were any children who lived in one of the dozens of white houses on the muddy street.

“I just thought I died and went to heaven,” Carr said.

Carr never left -- she raised her three children here, served as a town council member and planned multiple events for the town, including a memorial service at the small cemetery.

After she retired, she began researching the town’s history, collecting photos and stories and teaching people about the town’s history.

She’ll go into classes at George Washington Elementary and watch children’s eyes light up. Some will talk about how their grandparents being homesteaders. She’s even witnessed children fib, saying they had family members that were homesteaders, just so they could claim the town’s history.

“There’s so much pride,” Carr said.

When she heard the town was considering turning the home they purchased into a museum, she was ecstatic.

“It was like I was a kid on Christmas,” Carr said.

Carr hopes when people visit the museum, they will feel the same way.

While the town now has drug stores, a Dairy Queen and a swimming pool, the museum would be a piece of the old town Carr says she’ll never forget. After all, in Eleanor, her family had running water, her father had a job and she had a community to call her own.

“Here, I didn’t have to see my daddy cry anymore, and cut cardboard for padding for his shoes,” Carr said. “I really thought this was the most beautiful place in the world.”

Reach Ali Schmitz at ali.schmitz@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4843 or follow @schmitzmedia on Twitter.


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