Home Sweet FFA Home (10/2/2020)

During my first year of teaching high school agriculture in Medicine Lodge, Kansas (1969-70) I did exactly what my Tarleton Ag Ed teacher educators (Billy Irick, J. B. Morton) taught us to do. They said to become an integral part of the community. So, I joined the local Lions Club and coached a Pony League baseball team. The Lions Club sponsored the Boy Scouts and needed a Scoutmaster, so I was recruited to be the Scoutmaster. I soon became an essential part of the community.

One of the discoveries I made as Scoutmaster was the Boy Scout Troop owned a building for meetings. The building was a church that had ceased to function. The building was really owned by the Lions Club, but the boys adopted it as their own. We held troop meetings in the auditorium, then each patrol had a room in the basement for their patrol meetings. There was even a kitchen for refreshments and an open area for games. We even had an outbuilding in which to store our tents and camping gear. It was a neat setup.

As I thought about the building, I sort of wished the Medicine Lodge FFA had a building like that they could call home. Little did I realize that during the 1930s and 40s, it was common for FFA chapters to have Chapter Houses. Only later when I started reading back issues of The Agricultural Education Magazine did I make that discovery. This Friday Footnote will focus on FFA Chapter Houses.

The FFA Chapter House

Let’s take a nostalgic tour across America and visit some FFA Chapter Houses.

Toyack FFA Chapter – Roosevelt, Utah. Perhaps the most famous chapter house was in Utah. So why is it arguably the most famous of the various FFA chapter houses? It was featured on the cover of the March 1937 issue of The Agricultural Education Magazine (see Figure 1), it was dedicated by W. T. Spanton, the chief of the National Agricultural Education Service in Washington, and was later listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  [Curator’s Note: Toyack is an Indian term meaning “it is good”.]

Construction on the chapter house started in 1932. This community is 100 miles from the nearest railroad and many of the houses the students lived in were made of logs with earthen roofs (Stimson and Lathrop, 1942). This makes the construction of a chapter house even more noteworthy, especially during the Great Depression and drought.

Irwin Clement, FFA chapter reporter, describes the construction of the chapter house (Clement, 1937, p. 142):

This building is unique in that it is a house or home for Future Farmers, built by Future Farmers. The building [32 x 48 feet] is located on the grounds of the Roosevelt High School…Ninety-one loads or rock were hauled a distance of 18 miles [by team and wagon] and hand chipped by chapter members ready to be laid up in the structure. To supply the 17,000 feet of lumber required in building the house, the Toyack Future Farmers cut logs in the forest on Moby Mountain, 50 miles to the north. The trees were “logged up” by the boys and hauled by team into the forest sawmill. The lumber was hauled by the boys to the building site.

Other building materials such as gravel, cement, lime and steel were gathered by members of the chapter from the Uintah Basin. Some of the plastering sand was hauled as far as 30 miles. The building is lined inside with adobe bricks made by members in their own mud mill. The whole inside is plastered with a new type of plaster finish. The reinforced steel used in the concrete foundation and wall cap was selected from abandoned farm implements and machinery.

A unique feature of the chapter house is the brick fireplace. One brick in this mantle was donated by state associations of nearly every state in the United States and by nearly every FFA chapter in Utah. Each brick is properly identified by the name of the donor in carved letters and is made of stone characteristic of the locality from which it came.

Irwin goes on to describe the modern furnishings found in the building and says it is large enough to house many of the chapter members overnight following a banquet in the winter.

The Chapter House was officially dedicated on November 7, 1936. Harvey Natches, honorary Indian Chief of the Toyack Chapter, led the procession from the high school to the entrance of the chapter house where he welcomed the guests in his native tongue. The seal on the door was broken by Dr. W. T. Spanton who then gave an address about the FFA. Unfortunately, this building no longer exists.

Figure 1. The Toyack FFA Chapter House

Stamping Ground FFA Chapter – Kentucky. The Stamping Ground boys built their own Chapter House. At first they considered building one of logs, but there were not enough logs available. Several times they tried to acquire old buildings to tear down and move. All without success. They continued to save their money (over a three year period) and in 1937 erected the building. shown below. It is 30 feet long and 22 feet wide with a porch 8 feet wide and 20 feet long. The foundation is two feet thick and thirty inches in the ground and made from native limestone rock quarried by the boys. The walls are made from 2×4 studs covered on the outside with 8″ redwood weatherboarding. The roof was covered with wood shingles (Better Farm Equipment and Methods, 1938).

The chimney is a work of art. Six feet wide and three and one-half feet thick with a wood fireplace that will hold a three-foot log. It is made entirely of native limestone. Each rock cut to fit and laid in mortar with a rake joint. The mantel is a piece of walnut four inches thick that was obtained by cutting down a tree and hauling to a sawmill.

The boys did all the work with the exception of the chimney. The boys quarried all the rock, laid the foundation, hauled the rock, built the building and everything about it with the exception mentioned. For weeks fifteen to twenty boys would gather on Saturday with trucks and teams to haul rocks. They worked during school in the agricultural period, after school until dark and went back nights and worked until eleven o’clock—not just once but dozens of times.

To finance the work, the boys had saved $250.00 and the County Board of Education agreed to match this amount. Two of the local industries gave $100 each, but not until the boys had nearly completed the work and they were convinced of its value. Many of the local merchants gave $25.00, $15.00, $10.00, etc. Most of the donations were smaller, but all helped. The boys sold magazines to raise money and gave a program.

When this building was erected the chapter had a twofold purpose in mind. First as a Chapter House and, second, as a model in the “Home Beautification and Improvement Campaign” which the group started the first of the year; aimed to stimulate more interest in better homes, newer furniture, better lighting, paint on outbuildings and homes, gates swinging, shrubbery planted, grass sowed, etc. All of these tending to make a happier and more profitable farm life. End of story?? No!

Figure 2. The Stamping Ground FFA Chapter House

Soon after completing the chapter house members found that this building was too small for their parties and meetings and that an addition would be necessary. In the early summer of 1938 they started constructing an addition on the back side of the main Chapter House which was 22 x 30 feet in size, identical in architecture as the old building. With this addition the building now forms a “T”.

Money was raised by popular subscriptions, sale of magazines, dues from F. F. A. treasury and the $150.00 won by the Chapter in the 1937 National Chapter contest. The Chapter divided itself into two groups and the losers gave the winners a party. The two members that raised the most money received some special recognition and they were given F. F. A. belt buckles as they raised $49.00 and $44.00 respectively.

After several weeks of raising funds they started work on the building. Some of the stone was quarried but most of it was obtained from a friendly road contractor who hauled it to the school. The boys did all the work including stone masonry, painting, wiring, carpentry, plumbing, etc.

Figure 3. Building the Addition to the Stamping Ground FFA Chapter House

The addition served as a recreational room and a kitchen. There were cabinets, a sink, and stove. The other part of the building is equipped with ping-pong tables, checkerboards, etc. When the boys wish to serve food they merely remove the nets from the ping-pong tables which are covered with a waterproof covering and they had enough space for thirty-six people to eat.

Figure 4. The Stamping Ground Chapter House kitchen.

Milton FFA Chapter Log Cabin – Alpharetta-Milton, Georgia. In 1934-35 the agriculture students at Milton High School in Milton, Georgia built a log cabin. The historical sign outside this structure reads as follows:

Over one hundred members of Milton High School’s Future Farmers of America built this rustic cabin. Teacher P.L. Elkins provided seed money and oversight for the project. The purpose of the project was to give the young men an opportunity to learn all steps in creating a log cabin. Hand-hewn log construction with cement chinking characterizes this one-room, one-floor cabin with a loft and fireplace. Trees from the Bob Nesbit farm were used for logs, and Alpharetta merchants and farmers provided other supplies. The cabin is emblematic of log homes built by early Georgia settlers. It was then used as a meeting place for organizations, and even a Milton High School prom. The cabin serves as a teaching museum for the Alpharetta Historical Society.

Figure 5. Log Cabin Historic Sign

The Cabin was a hands-on project that involved the entire community. Alpharetta merchants contributed needed supplies to help complete the project. The students cut and hauled donated pine trees to the Cabin site. The foundation was laid using rocks provided by farmers and cement supplied by local merchants. The Cabin was originally an FFA clubhouse and also served as a central meeting place for the community for meetings, dances, parties, weddings and suppers. The only construction help the FFA boys received was in building the chimney. Almost all these boys grew up and were part of the “Greatest Generation” who served our country in WWII.

Figure 6. The Milton FFA Log Cabin

Recently the cabin was moved from its original site to a city park to make way for a new STEM building. As part of the events surrounding the move, an open house was held. The photo below shows George Jones (age 97), one of the boys who helped build the cabin, with the Cambridge High School FFA officers. “I remember all that hard work we put in it,” Jones said. “I skinned the bark off the logs, and you’d get that resin all over you.” Jones told students how they gave the ceiling a rustic look by glazing the wood with blow torches. According to the new custodians of the cabin, the Alpharetta and Old Milton County Historical Society, this log cabin is only one of two existing log cabins used as FFA meeting houses.

Figure 7. FFA members posing with George Jones,
one of the 1934 students who built the cabin.

Other Chapter Houses

I don’t know how many FFA Chapter Houses existed and how many might still exist. The following is information about some of them:

Gore FFA Chapter, Georgia – a 14 x 16 cabin was built in 1933. It was built for holding meetings, both social and business. Each boy furnished his share of the materials. A few farmers gave a small amount of logs which were hauled by the boys to sawmill to be cut and used for ceiling and flooring. The cabin was located on the school campus about 100 yards from the school building. [Hendrix, Frank (1934). Georgia Boys Landscape Cabin Grounds. The Agricultural Education Magazine. Vol. 6 No. 12.]

Figure 8. Gore Chapter House

Sugar-Salem FFA Chapter in Idaho bought a 28 x 30 log cabin near Yellowstone National Park that had to be moved because of the construction of a dam. Students dismantled the cabin and moved it to the high school grounds and reassembled it. This was the first chapter house in Idaho. [Peterson, Don (1940, January), A Chapter House in Idaho. The Agricultural Education Magazine. Vol. 12, No. 7]

Chester FFA Chapter, Montana – An old schoolhouse, 40 by 22 feet in size, was acquired from the Board of Education and was turned into a Chapter House. The members remodeled the building completely and furnished it at a cost of about $100.00. The equipment includes electric lights, ping pong and pool tables, easy chairs and a library of 150 books and magazines. It is open during the week to F. F. A. members as well as other groups. In the spring of 1938, a demonstration day was held at which time all eighth-grade boys were entertained at an open house. This chapter house was one of 13 that existed in Montana in 1939. The Deer Lodge FFA also had a chapter house. [FFA Convention Proceedings 1938 & 1939]

Soso, Mississippi – The Twelfth Biennial Report on Vocational Education in Mississippi for 1941 states “The FFA chapter house at Soso is a credit to the chapter one of the best in the State.”

Homestead, Florida – Picture of the chapter house is in Supervised Farming in Vocational Agriculture (1943) by George Deyoe.

Figure 9. The Homestead, Florida Chapter House.

Carnesville, Georgia – had a FFA cabin [Scranton, L. L. (1934). Fun and Work for Future Farmers. Interstate, Danville, IL.]

Shawnee Mission, Kansas had a chapter house. [The Kansas Future Farmer, Jan. 15, 1936]

Clarinda, Iowa FFA built a chapter house in 1941.

Ward, Alabama had a chapter house in 1937. See below.

Figure 10. The Ward FFA Chapter House

Concluding Remarks

During the heyday of FFA Chapter Houses, they were a welcoming beacon in a sea of despair. Most of the houses were built during the great depression era and life on the farm was dismal. The Chapter Houses were a refugee and gave the members a place where they were welcome and provided a sense of belonging. Many of the Houses provided recreation, games, books, and magazines. The members had a sense of ownership.

While it would be rare to find an FFA chapter house today, the question should be asked does your FFA chapter and agricultural education program give off the same “vibes” the chapter houses did?  Are all students welcome? Do they feel at home? Do they feel ownership of the program?

If your FFA has a chapter house or if you know of past FFA Chapter Houses in your community or state, I would love to know about it. You can contact me at gmoore@ncsu.edu.

Selected References

Clement, Irwin (1937, March). Chapter House Dedicated. The Agricultural Education Magazine. Vol. 9. Issue 9.

Stimson, R. W. & Lathrop (1942). History of Agricultural Education of Less Than College Grade in the United States. U. S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.

The Stamping Ground Chapter House (1938, February). Better Farm Equipment and Methods. Vol. 10. No. 6.