September 28, 2008

Timberville, Bird Haven, and the WPA

This weekend turned out to be cloudy with rain off and on. There was a bit of sunshine this afternoon so I insisted we go up to Timberville for their craft show event. Not too many vendors had braved the weather, so we didn't spend much time there, but made our way to the Plains District Museum which just opened on Main Street (Route 42). It used to be located on a side street but we didn't know their hours and never visited it there.

They have a variety of artifacts including an impressive collection of arrowheads collected in Rockingham County. We were almost back to the front door when I spied an exhibit about Bird Haven, which is not far from "downtown" Basye and Bryce Resort.

The display focuses on a time when Bird Haven housed an artisan center. The drawing on the right caught my eye - I believe it's a building which still stands, although it's now in bad shape and looks unstable. It's back in the woods next to a "No Trespassing" sign, and when we saw it from the road we wondered what it was. Apparently it was part of the art colony back in the 1930's.

Under the picture is a display case showing tools used by the craftsmen and a few items that they made. A logo from the display is shown below.

I was curious about the "Shenandoah Community Workers" so I searched on the web and found a description in the Virginia WPA Guide written around 1939. This follows a few sentences about Orkney Grade, telling you what you'll find if you turn on Alum Springs Road (VA 265, County 717):
...straight ahead to a lane (R), 1.5 m., that leads 0.7 m. through woods to BIRD HAVEN. The Shenandoah Community Workers were organized here 'to develop and demonstrate practical methods of applied forestry . . . to give its members education in craftsmanship . . . all income of which shall be used for Community purposes.' Here local craftsmen fashion furniture, toys, fireplace equipment, hooked rugs, and quilts, from patterns evolved by their ancestors.
I'm grateful to UVA for posting the WPA Guide to the Old Dominion, even though it appears to have been scanned in so there are some errors. The WPA Guide was a New Deal project designed to provide work to writers and others who had lost employment during the Great Depression.

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  1. Just purchased a beautiful half oval fruit bowl all wood that sits on an attached wood base. Anyone know how old this is? The label is still on the back although worn. Lynn 662-233-4005

  2. been in that place, years ago. is very creepy, like one day all time stopped, circa 1938. There was also a factory next to it, and an abandoned US Post Office,where I found such items as old WWII US War Bonds (the ones I found were quite valuable) old stamps, etc. In the factory were stack after stack of bowls, toys, and wooden products, like little wooden cradles and tots, little wooden zebras or wooden wheels. Found lying about, lotsof huge lathes and wood cutting timber saws, huge ancient models. Found an antique Victor Talking machine (not the later RCA Victrola) but the original company, thing was beautiful (non-working) may be still sitting there to this day. The owner of the property in the 70's was a friend, so that how I got access. Those Comm. Worker bowls worth about $200 a pop, seems some still out there, saw such on E-bay. I was young guy at time, so I thought the joint was spookhouse cool. Classic coke machines in the breakroom and also founf bunch of old WPA paperwork...they had somethin g to do with was owned by a family called Clark...did you see a big White House across the creek from the Display House (that was the company name for the building depicted in this picture) well it was built in 1906 or so, Clark had once been governor of Connecticut, and that place was his summer home, then he retired there, and was involved in the early 30's in establishing The Shen. Comm.Workers. I even put in a little work in the factory (years after the joint was closed) helping the property owners cut wood on one of the at the time still operational timber saws. well I will post more about this later..i would love to have that picture...still have some of the old stamps I found in the place, and I know where a bowl is.

  3. I have a small item that is a cobblers bench (very well constructed) with the sticker on the underside "Shenandoah Community Workers, Shanendoah Alum Springs, VA". I'm sure my Aunt purchased it in the 40's on one of her trips south. Although I have been clearing out my house of all bric-a-brac, somehow I couldn't seem to part with this item at this time. Maybe someday it will be seen on ebay.


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