Allen Chester

Country Guitar, Fiddle, Harmonica; Skyline Farms Band; born Jackson Co., AL April 7, 1913

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame

The Skyline Farms project, established by the federal government in Jackson County in 1934, was one of the more unique socioeconomic experiments in Alabama history. Founded on Cumberland Mountain, the cooperative farming experiment was intended to offer jobs and social welfare to unemployed Alabama farmers devastated by the Great Depression. Skyline Farms was one of 43 such projects attempted in various depressed parts of the United States, but it was one of the largest in terms of development, expenses, and national publicity.

During the mid-1930s, the federal government purchased approximately 13,000 acres of land in Jackson County in northeastern Alabama, where it hoped to create a cooperative, planned community. Like most New Deal programs, Skyline Farms followed the Jim Crow laws of the South a nd was for whites only. A similar project named Gee's Bend Farms was established for African American farm families at the Gee's Bend community in Wilcox County. The communal center featured buildings that included a school, a commissary, a warehouse, and a manager's office. The remaining land was divided into 181 farms, varying in size from 40 to 60 acres. Families for the project were chosen from area relief rolls, primarily from Jackson County, and were provided with a house and farming equipment and were to repay the costs, which averaged close to $1,500 per unit, for these facilities over time through money made from selling crops, primarily cotton and potatoes. Records indicate that they were to have received animals as well, but it is unclear if this portion of the plan was ever implemented. Residents were members of the cooperative and together owned a store, a marketing association, a pre-paid health care program, and a pre-paid veterinary association, all of which were subsidized by the federal government.

In the early 1940s, Skyline Farms fell on hard times as cotton crops failed because of the unsuitable land and climate in north Alabama. A switch to potatoes failed as well. The federal government constructed a hosiery mill in the community to boost the economy, but it too failed as a result of a war-time shortage of nylon. The communal factory at Skyline Farms and other project sites brought charges of socialism from some members of Congress as well. Internal factions developed among participants over the management of the project, and beginning in 1944 the federal government began to liquidate the project's assets, selling to private buyers. Of the original farm families, only two were able to buy their farm units.

Today, all that remains at the site is the school building, which is now used as a local elementary school, and a few other buildings. The sandstone community school was partially designed by landscape architect William Kessler and is listed on the Alabama Register of Historic Places. Several of the houses, the commissary, and the project manager's office are now privately owned, as are the factory and a warehouse that still exist.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Alabama

Recordings

Title-Skyline salty dog [sound recording]

Performer-Skyline Farms string band

Recording engineer-Halpert, Herbert

Place of Publication/Creation-Scottsboro, Alabama

Date Recorded-05-05-1939

Language-English

Form-sound recording

Collection Description-H. Halpert 1939 Southern States Recordings

Performance note-Played and sung by the Skyline farms string band.

Notes-Players and singer from Scottsboro, Ala.

Players: Chester Allen, guitar and violin, Joe Sharp, mandolin, Herbert Green, violin, and Thomas Holt, guitar.

Venue-Skyline farms

notes-Guitar, Fiddle (violin), Mandolin

Subject-United States of America--Alabama--Scottsboro

AFC Number-AFC 1939/005

AFS Number-AFS 02944 B01

Repository-American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

Source: Library of Congress

 

 

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