Life in gardens: Woodbine

Woodbine, Iowa, 1940, J. Vachon, Library of Congress“Planting a garden in the backyard, Woodbine, Iowa,” May 1940, by John Vachon, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (both photos here).

Woodbine, Iowa, 1940, Library of Congress

In the spring of 1940, John Vachon was on assignment for the Farm Security Administration in the Midwest.

. . . I photographed Spring – clothes blowing on the wash line, kids playing marbles, women planting backyard gardens, blossoms on trees.

— John Vachon’s journal

Woodbine is a town of about 1,400 people on the Boyer River.  It was named for the woodbine vine (Parthenocissus vitacea) by the wife of the first postmaster, according to the community’s website.

Green space

Greenhills, Ohio, 1938, J. Vachon, via Library of CongressGreenhills, Ohio, October 1938, by John Vachon for the U.S. Resettlement Administration, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Greenhills, Ohio is one of only three “Greenbelt Towns” built [by the federal government] in the United States. The other two are Greenbelt, Maryland, and Greendale, Wisconsin. The three towns had their start during the Depression Era.*

.  .  . The building of these towns provided much needed jobs for those in the trades (brick layers, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, etc.), as well as people not in the trades who worked at clearing land, digging trenches, etc.

.  .  . The most important aspect of these towns was to provide low income families with affordable housing to raise their children in and a safe environment with access to large open “green” spaces. Pathways were created in each section of homes to connect the sections to each other, as well as provide a pathway to the Village center.

— The Village of Greenhills website

There are more Library of Congress photos of Greenhills here.

*The first residents moved in in April 1938.

The Sunday porch: the hollows

There seems to be a potted oleander on the left side.

The front porch of a home of the extended Nicholson family of Nicholson Hollow (top three images) in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, October 1935.*

The Shenandoah National Park is a narrow strip of supremely lovely wilderness along the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. It begins at Front Royal, about 75 miles west of Washington, D.C., and ends west of Charlottesville.

The park was authorized by Congress in 1926 and fully established by the end of 1935 — two months after these pictures were taken by Arthur Rothstein for the U.S. Resettlement Administration (later the Farm Security Administration).

In order to create a fully “natural” environment, over 450 families were moved out of the park area under the process of eminent domain. Most were small farmers who had been portrayed in a widely publicized 1933 sociological study as desperately poor, primitive, and cut off from 20th century society.


After they were gone, the Civilian Conservation Corps destroyed their homes and outbuildings. The only structures saved were some log houses and rail fences around Nicholson Hollow.


In the mid 1990s, the National Park Service sponsored an archaeological survey of 88 pre-park human settlements in Nicholson, Corbin, and Weakley Hollows.**

The findings of the study strongly refuted the earlier claims that the families (who were indeed often poor) were cut off the modern world. Researchers found china plates, mail order toys, 78 RPM record fragments, pharmaceutical bottles, and automobile parts.

CorbinPorch view of Corbin Hollow from one house of the Corbin family (above and below).

The Corbins were very hard hit by the Depression-years decline of the nearby Skyland Resort, which had previously given them employment and a market for their crafts.


There are two very good papers on the displaced people of Nicholson and Corbin Hollows on the National Park Service website, here and here.

Corbin Hollow farm, Shenandoah Natl. Park, 1935, LoCAbove: another Corbin Hollow farm.

ViewAbove: an abandoned house in Nicholson Hollow.

More of Rothstein’s Shenandoah images are here. Recording the last days of the park’s human inhabitants was his first assignment with the Resettlement Administration.

*All the photos here by Arthur Rothstein, in 1935, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

**In 2000, not long after the study was completed, a forest fire destroyed all but two of the remaining above-ground buildings.

Life in gardens: conversation

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I like this trio of photos by Louise Rosskam, which capture two men on a town common bench evidently enjoying a funny story or joke.

They were  taken in Vergennes, Vermont, in August 1940.*

New England commons were (and are) community spaces that probably evolved from the lots originally set aside for village meetinghouses or churches.  After the mid 19th century, many began to function like parks.†

Although Rosskam was not employed there, a series of photos that she took in rural Vermont became part of the picture archives of the Farm Security Administration.

In a 1965 oral history interview, she related how she proposed taking these pictures for the FSA, where her husband, Edwin, was a photo editor.

. . . [O]nce I took a vacation in Vermont, and I said to Roy [E. Stryker, head of the Information Division],”Could I take some pictures for you?” you know, “I’ll buy my own film and everything.” And he said, “Oh, here’s some film,” and then he starts rambling along about Vermont and really it didn’t sound as if it had anything to do with what you wanted to do at all. You started talking about hills, farmhouses and how people build a little extension on the house for the old people, and about pickled limes, the sky and how to get to Vermont 50 years ago, you know; by the time you got through listening to him ramble along, you begin to get some sort of formation in your mind of what there was up there so that when you get out there (phone rings)-

LOUISE ROSSKAM: (continues after phone conversation) But I’m sure that everybody sitting around, listening to Roy ramble, as it seemed, began to get his mind turned in the direction to be open to a lot of things that ordinarily he wouldn’t perceive when he got to a place. Don’t you think that’s true?

For many years afterward, her Vermont photos were attributed to her husband.  The records were corrected in 2001.

Laura Katzman, an associate professor of art history at James Madison University, curated two exhibits of Louise Rosskam’s photos and described her work like this:

She was one of those documentary photographers for whom the people and the work were so much more important than her name or her career. . . .  She tried to erase herself as much as possible. It was a pure documentary ideal that was impossible to achieve: let the subject feel comfortable, take yourself out of it and see what happens in the encounter. She did this beautifully because her ego wasn’t invested in it.

You can see four more photos by Rosskam of the Vergennes common by clicking on ‘Continue reading’ below.

*All via the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

†Vergennes is actually a city — the first chartered in Vermont and currently its smallest (in population). It is approximately 2.5 sq. miles in area.

A Kodachrome heirloom

Photo by Russell Lee. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

This photo of a homesteader’s garden in Pie Town, New Mexico, September 1940, was taken by Russell Lee, a photographer of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information. It was part of a 2006 Library of Congress exhibition of early color images taken between 1939 and 1943, “Bound for Glory: America in Color.” Thanks to links by Studio G and The Denver Post.

Click this link to see a larger version or to buy a print.  Click here to see another view of the same homesteader’s garden.