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Tiny House History: New Deal Era Great Depression Tiny Homes


Obviously we’re all well aware that tiny homes didn’t originate with Jay Shafer, but it’s cool to see some vintage photographs of tiny living!

Our reader, Liz, sent us these photos of women and children living in shacks (that look quite similar to the tiny houses of today!) while their husbands felled timbers and milled wood to build their own homes in Jackson County, Alabama. This was part of the “New Deal” attempts to resettle farmers who had lost everything in the Great Depression.

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Tiny Homes of Yesteryear: Skyline Village

New Deal Era Tiny Homes in Jackson County, AL 3

Images via Alabama Pioneers

This was the community of tiny homes. As you can imagine, there was no electricity or plumbing.

New Deal Era Tiny Homes in Jackson County, AL 2

Images via Alabama Pioneers

Wives and children lived here while the husbands built their forever homes. You can see a wood stove behind the little girl.

New Deal Era Tiny Homes in Jackson County, AL

Images via Alabama Pioneers

The men felled the trees and milled all the wood.

New Deal Era Tiny Homes in Jackson County, AL 4

Images via Alabama Pioneers

After much labor, these precious small homes awaited them!

New Deal Era Tiny Homes in Jackson County, AL 5

Images via Alabama Pioneers

It appears that throughout history, the need for affordable living hasn’t changed much! The bottom picture is of Dignity Village.

What do you think? Would a Skyline Village work today?

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Our big thanks to Liz for sharing! 🙏

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Natalie C. McKee

Natalie C. McKee is a contributor for Tiny House Talk and the Tiny House Newsletter. She's a wife, and mama of three little kids. She and her family are homesteaders with sheep, goats, chickens, ducks and quail on their happy little acre.
{ 6 comments… add one }
  • September 15, 2021, 7:48 pm

    I remember thinking of my maternal grandparents’ farmhouse as HUGE when I was a kid. Then at some point it occurred to me that they had raised 11 kids in two bedrooms (three counting grandma and grandpa’s very small bedroom). They were fairly big bedrooms, I guess, but not THAT big, although I guess not having indoor plumbing saved some room.

    Before they moved into that house, my mom was born (in 1933) in a log cabin built by a former slave. I suspect it was pretty tiny.

    There are a lot of circumstances in which tiny makes sense, and one of those circumstances is “hard times.”

  • Marsha Cowan
    September 15, 2021, 8:27 pm

    I love history and this bit of history was fascinating. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    • Natalie C. McKee
      September 16, 2021, 6:06 am

      So glad you enjoyed it!

  • Patricia
    September 16, 2021, 12:04 am

    I also remember my grandparents home, in the mountains of N. Carolina. It had 2 bedrooms a kitchen and a dining area, and a small sitting room downstairs. Upstairs was a large attic that was split in half, one side for the boys and one side for the girls, (I believe there 10 of them all together). I remember as a child when I was about 8 years old all the uncles and son-in-laws dug out, by hand, a septic field and well to get indoor plumbing for the grandparents, who were getting too old and frail to go out to the outhouse and pump water by hand. That was in the late 1950’s, so actually not that long ago. So what started as a small church, eventually grew to have enough room (tight as it was) for a dozen people.

    • September 16, 2021, 5:53 am

      Funny you should mention the septic field — I was also about eight when my grandparents got their first indoor toilet. Every man in the extended family showed up to install plumbing, lay pipe (they’d paid someone with equipment to dig a lagoon, but I think they hand-dug the trench for the pipe to it), etc. That would have been in the mid-1970s.

      We take a lot of stuff for granted these days in terms of amenities. And the people building tiny houses are getting very good at making sure we don’t have to give those things — showers, toilets, cooking facilities, etc. — up to live tiny. Some of the builds featured on this site just amaze me.

      • James D.
        September 16, 2021, 7:37 am

        Yes, it wasn’t until the 1970’s that indoor plumbing finally got wide spread. There’s a lot that changed even in just the last half century…

        The move to people using showers more than bathtubs… Since the advent of electricity and air conditioning, how houses have evolved and the trend of the last half century to be more energy efficient and airtight vs houses that needed to breath… How houses use more synthetic materials and more chemicals are used… Big advances in technology like the Internet that completely changed how people live and interact… How house designs have become more monolithic and only really started to become commonly large starting from about the mid-1950’s, really kicking off after the 1970’s, but houses built before then were on average below 1000 Sq Ft nationally but still are in other countries like the UK… How housing became increasingly more industrial and people became less self sufficient and reliant on modern technology and services…

        While other things are actually very old and not a modern invention that people think are new… The first electric car was invented in 1834, long before the industrial revolution and modern internal combustion engine… The exploration of history can be a real eye opener for many people… Though, have to watch out for revisionist these days that want to edit history…

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