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Norvelt native of the third generation will showcase the town's history of the New Deal

When word began circulating in the early 1930s that the government was creating a 250-lot New Deal community in Westmoreland County, some politicians and members of the region’s upper crust couldn’t understand it.

When news started spreading in the early 1930s about the government's plan to build a 250-lot community as part of the New Deal in Westmoreland County, some politicians and wealthy people in the area didn't comprehend it.

“They didn’t understand why the government was doing this for these coal miners, who they didn’t think deserved things like running water or electricity,” said Sandra Schimizzi, 70, of Greensburg, who grew up as the third generation of her family to be raised in Mount Pleasant Township’s Norvelt neighborhood.

Anthony Wolk and Stephen Sofranko, Schimizzi’s grandfathers, were recruited by agents of Henry Clay Frick in the late 1800s to work in the coal industry in Western Pennsylvania. They were among the recipients of lots in the “Westmoreland Homesteads” community. A generation later, most of their children were able to attend college.

Schimizzi will give a presentation on the history of Norvelt at 10 a.m. on April 11 at the meeting of the American Association of University Women in Murrysville.

In 1933, Norvelt became the fourth of 99 planned subsistence homestead communities subsidized by the federal government as part of the National Industrial Recovery Act for dislocated miners and industrial workers. The Quaker’s American Field Service Committee was recruited to implement and build the subsistence project and established a camp in the summer of 1934.

“The Quakers were conscientious objectors, and during World War I they went overseas, fed people and worked to build homes for people who’d lost them in the war,” Schimizzi said. “After the war, they worked in Europe but also in West Virginia with coal miners who’d lost their jobs. Franklin Roosevelt heard about it and asked them to work on these subsistence communities. The American Field Service Committee managed the process of building Norvelt, and provided training to the homesteaders.”

More than 1850 people applied for 250 lots which made up the “Westmoreland Homesteads” Plan and those chosen helped build their own homes on a lease-to-own agreement. Homes were equipped with a chicken coop, grape arbor, provided seeds, plants, fruit trees as well as establishing a co-op to help the homesteaders become self-sufficient with community garden plots, a chicken barn, incubator, a pig farm and a barn with cows to provide meat and dairy products.

Schimizzi grew up in a large family in the town.

“The original homesteaders would often make a lot on their property and give it to their children,” she said. “When my mom and dad got married, my grandparents gave them a lot. All my mother’s family stayed in Norvelt. Three of their kids were given lots on Stephen’s property and two others lived nearby.”

Schimizzi and her mother Valeria Wolk co-authored the book “Norvelt: A New Deal Subsistence Homestead.”

The presentation will be at 10 a.m. on April 11 at the library, 4130 Sardis Road in Murrysville. The public is invited. For more, see Murrysville-pa.aauw.net.

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