Hugh Macrae and the idea of farm city : race, class, and conservation in the New South, 1905-1935

WCU Author/Contributor (non-WCU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Thomas Luke Manget (Creator)
Western Carolina University (WCU )
Web Site:
Richard Starnes

Abstract: In 1921, Hugh MacRae, a Wilmington businessman, launched his campaign to build Farm City. A fusion of country living and urban amenities, Farm City was to be a demonstration in community planning, an experimental solution to what many conservation-minded reformers saw as the problem of rural life. Based on his experience in colonizing the Wilmington countryside with European immigrants, MacRae undertook a thirteen-year lobbying campaign to build Farm City in hopes that it would show reluctant southern farmers how greater cooperation in economic, social, and intellectual affairs could make rural community life more attractive. Along the way, he enlisted the help of a variety of reformers, writers, and politicians, both northern and southern, who came to believe that the concept of Farm City could point the United States toward a more sustainable future. In 1933, MacRae finally received his chance to build Farm City when the New Deal’s Division of Subsistence Homesteads placed him in charge of Penderlea Homesteads. This thesis chronicles the story of the idea of Farm City through more than a decade of ever-growing popularity and explores the reasons why this particular group of Americans, specifically MacRae, championed such a utopian ideal. The idea of Farm City was born in the mind of a southern progressive who was concerned with making agriculture more socially and environmentally sustainable. Influenced by the prevailing intellectual trends of the conservation movement, including the Country Life Movement, MacRae held a deep conviction that healthy national development required the establishment of a happy, stable, yeomanry that could effectively husband the nation’s resources, but his vision for the countryside was skewed by southern progressive notions of race and class, and he came to see Farm City as a way to simultaneously strengthen the South’s racial and social order and pave the way for more efficient resource development. MacRae’s campaign initially attracted support from elements of the national conservation movement, including New South advocates, who largely shared his agrarian convictions. However, throughout the 1920s, as national conservation ideology drifted further away from securing the yeomanry, MacRae increasingly turned to his fellow southerners for support. By the onset of the Great Depression, Farm City had become a southern cause, but it was no longer part of the New South vision. Rather, its supporters now embraced the idea as a way to preserve an agrarian way of life against the onslaught of northern industrialism. In tracing the story of the Farm City idea, this thesis will shed valuable light on the relationship between agrarianism and conservation and illuminate some hidden corners of progressive conservation ideology in the South.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2012
Colonization, Conservation, Division of Subsistence Homesteads, New South, Progressive Era, Reclamation
Penderlea (N.C.)
Utopias -- North Carolina -- Penderlea
Collective settlements -- North Carolina -- Penderlea
MacRae, Hugh, 1865-1951

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