September 2013
Homeplace & Community

Preserving the Past to Educate the Future

Speckled throughout the rural landscape of Skyline in Jackson County are a handful of sandstone buildings. Unknown to many, these structures represent a time and place in history. “Skyline Farms Colony” was formed under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program in 1934. For Depression-stricken tenant farmers, this program offered 40 acres and a mule, membership in a co-op supply store, a home with an outhouse, healthcare and the opportunity of an education for their children. This colony was expected to be one small spark to help ignite the country’s recovery from the Great Depression.

  Left to right, the Rock Store was once the commissary for Skyline Farms. Today it houses the Skyline Farms Heritage Association Museum. Made of locally quarried sandstone, it is on the State Historical Registry and the Association is working to make it a part of the National Historic Register. A plaque is masoned into the sandstone of the store.  It is in close proximity to the Rock Scool. They both contributed to encouraging the community. (Credit All Photos: Skyline Farms Heritage Association)

Before the first seed was ever planted, Skyline was just 18,000 acres of coal mining and timberland. Many local men were employed as road workers to cut a road from Scottsboro up the mountain to where Skyline is today. In 1934, Jackson County Probate Judge J.M. Money made a phone call to his U.S. senators to let them know a section of land on Cumberland Mountain was for sale. He and other representatives from the area drove to Montgomery to talk with the Federal Emergency Relief Administration about the opportunity for their county to benefit from the New Deal. The ample farm land and availability to the future TVA made Skyline and Jackson County a perfect fit.

Skyline Farms Colony consisted of more than 200 farmers. They took a chance on this new program by agreeing to a 40-year loan at a 3 percent interest rate. This program was not a hand out. Families had to work to clear their land, help build their homes and farm the land.


  Clockwise from above, artifacts donated by locals are arranged in the museum to further tell the story of Skyline Heritage Farms.  Middle Tennessee State University has helped the Skyline Heritage Farms Association organize all the artifacts in the museum. The commissary now showcases artifacts used during the time of the Skyline Farms colony.

Not just the farmers benefited from this colony. FDR wanted the communities to thrive so morale would be lifted, and community was a very important part of the farming colony. Other people were employed at the commissary, in the doctor’s office, as carpenters who built furniture for homes, in the school, as road workers, at the cotton gin and as recreation leaders. Musicians and square dancers entertained the members of the colony. A group of musicians and dancers were invited to the White House to perform for the Roosevelts during a party.

Education was one of the most successful features of this colony. The school building began construction in 1936. Skilled masons were hired to build the school while teaching workers the trade of masonry. Two years later, the school was opened and about 420 children were in attendance. Today, a portion of Skyline Elementary School still uses the sandstone part of the school.

  The Rock School is a part of the Skyline School campus and was built in 1936. Education was one of the great benefits of the farming colony.

Architect W.H. Kessler designed some of the locally quarried sandstone homes, school and other buildings in the colony. Sandstone chimneys, foundations and even complete houses peek through the landscapes today as evidence of those colony homes build in the 1930s.

The Skyline Farms Heritage Association is a grassroots group primarily devoted to the preservation of the original buildings used in the colony. They are using their time and energy to preserve the historical legacy the farming colony has had on their local town.

Today, their main project is preserving what locals call the Rock Store from weather damage. The store was once the commissary of the farming colony and was the main hub of life for families in Skyline in the 1930s. The store now serves as the Skyline Farms Heritage Museum. A warehouse and cotton gin were both located behind the commissary. With help from Middle Tennessee State University and Northeast Alabama Community College, the association has organized and arranged artifacts donated by locals to tell the story of the farm colony. The museum is open in the spring and summer on a biweekly basis and by appointment at any time during the year.

One of the future plans includes buying the rock building across the road from the Rock Store. This was the farm manager’s office, and where farmers went to sign up for the program and get loans to plant their crops. Financial support and grants are helping the association reach this goal. The commissary is on the Alabama Historic Registry and the colony as a whole is in the process of being put on the National Historic Register.

The farm colony was in operation for about 10 years, closing at the end of WW II. Only two farm families WERE ABLE TO PAY off their loans while others moved on to jobs in larger cities. Skeptics say the program did not fulfill its economic promises. HOWEVER, children were educated, hope began to be restored and a community was formed as a result of this plan.

The Great Depression left deep trenches in the lives of the Appalachian people in Northeast Alabama. These buildings are witnesses to the efforts of a farming colony that began here almost 70 years ago and, what seems ordinary today, were at one time the hope of a new and successful life for farming families in Jackson County.

To learn more about Skyline Heritage Farms, contact Deborah L. Helms atThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.or visit the Skyline Farms Heritage Association’s Facebook page. n

Anna Wright is a freelance writer from Collinsville.