Marking Time highlights one of the more than 2,500 markers that have been installed throughout the state since 1914 as part of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program, operated by PHMC's State Historic Preservation Office.

The Wall Street Crash of 1929 drained Americans of their life savings and the resulting Great Depression hit rural southwestern Pennsylvania particularly hard. Industries collapsed and high unemployment struck the region’s bituminous coal workers.

In 1934, the federal government and the AmericanFriends Service Committee, a Quaker social service organization founded in 1917 in Philadelphia, established the planned community of Westmoreland Homesteads — today’s Norvelt — in Westmoreland County. Congress created the Division of Subsistence Homesteads (DSH) under the Department of the Interior. Interior Secretary Harold L. Ickes (1874–1952) wanted spare, temporary housing to which President Franklin Delano Roosevelt agreed — until First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt opined that she saw the project as a vision of the future to give hope to the beleaguered. She insisted on modestly comfortable homes with modern conveniences, such as refrigerators and washing machines obtained from government surplus.

The government contracted Paul Amos Bartholomew (1883–1973), a native of nearby Greensburg, to design the community in Mount Pleasant Township, described in a DSH promotional brochure as “ingenious architecture.” He later designed Norvelt’s school, general store, tea room, gasoline station, and repair shop. About 720 acres were set aside as a cooperative farm. Bartholomew designed wooden frame houses,ranging from 750 square feet with four rooms each to 835 square feet with five rooms. Six-room homes were built, but with an extra child’s room squeezed into the 835 square feet. Curving roads and a rolling terrain gave the community a picturesque appearance.

The houses had central heating, a one-car garage, grape arbor, a small poultry house for up to twenty-five chickens, two shade trees, fruit trees, berry bushes, and ornamental shrubs. Water came from an artesian well pumped to a reservoir, or to fire hydrants, while disposal fields and individual septic tanks facilitated sewage. Crops grown in gardens and the communal farm and livestock sustained each family with enough surpluses to sell at market. Subsistence farming proved insufficient to provide all needs. A non-profit group, the Cooperative Association, obtained a government loan and built a small garment factory that employed 150 of Norvelt’s residents by 1940. The association also operated the general store in Norvelt’s Trade Center building and leased out a lunch counter, barber and beauty shops, and a medical office where doctors charged patients $1.50 per month.

About 1,850 families applied, from which 254 were selected. A 1940 survey determined that 75 percent of Norvelt’s residents were native Pennsylvanians. Norvelt, the fourth of one hundred govern- ment-planned communities across the country, was sharply criticized. Virginia’s Senator Henry Bird derided the program as “extravagance” for “simple mountain folk.” Mrs. Roosevelt prevailed, however. When she visited Westmoreland Homesteads in 1937 after the completion of the last dwelling, residents gratefully agreed to rename the community Norvelt, borrowing “Nor” from Eleanor and “velt” from Roosevelt.

The government dismantled its homestead subsistence program in 1944. On September 8, 2002, the PHMC dedicated a state historical marker on Mount Pleasant Road (Route 981) near the Norvelt Fire Department, commemorating an unexpected success of the New Deal.