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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

New Deal Stimulates Local Area

Some of the workers on the Bradford Academy addition in 1935. It was locally financed and provided much needed jobs. Seated lst from left Charles "Walt" Osgood, 3rd from left: Ralph Lawrence, 5th from left: Merrit Davis. Standing 3rd from left: Charles Zwicker, 10th from left: Mack Renfrew. If you know others, please list in comment section and they will be added. Below: Work progresses on the addition (photos courtesy Bradford Historical Society)

Originally published in the Journal Opinion
April 22, 2009.

The media is widely reporting the economic downturn and the government’s attempts to stimulate the economy. The $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes both tax cuts and government spending. New Hampshire officials estimate that the state will receive $860 million in federal aid over the next two years and Vermont anticipates more than $700 million.

This money will be used to retrofit public buildings, repair roads, expand education and medical programs, increase employment and promote sustainable energy technology. Money will also be available to assist economically challenged businesses, homeowners and unemployed workers.

Many of those who disagree with this recovery plan feel that the efforts are misdirected. Others worry about the impact on the national debt and growth of government influence in the private economy.

Similar programs and criticisms can be found in the federal and states’ response to the Great Depression. The goal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal was to lift the nation out of its most serious economic situation. Numerous federal programs sought to bring about relief, reform and recovery.

The Public Works Administration (PWA) was established in June 1933. Its “pump priming” programs made contracts with private construction companies to build public works including highways, dams, public buildings and airports. In its six years of activity, the PWA’s 34,000 projects created employment for hundreds of thousands.

According to Richard Judd’s The New Deal in Vermont, the PWA did with grants what the Hoover Administration had tried to do with loans. By 1936 over $4 million had been spend on 64 projects in Vermont. One of the local legacies of the PWA is the addition to Bradford’s Woods School Building.

In late November, 1933, Bradford voters decided to build an addition with assistance from the PWA. A grant of $7300 was secured, but afterfurther consideration it was decided to locally finance the addition through the sale of bonds to finance the edition. As the building was crowded with both intermediate grades and high school students, the original gym/auditorium plan was amended to add four classrooms and a new central heating plant.

The Carl Dwinell Company of Orleans, Vermont was hired to build the addition and work was begun in late October 1934. In April, 1935, after the winter break, it was reported that, “work on the new addition was progressing rapidly.” Initially, bricklayers, carpenters and general laborers were on the job with more added as construction proceeded (see photo). This was definitely not the “make-work” labor for which some PWA projects were criticized.

In September, students had the use of the “splendid new” gymnasium, 374-seat auditorium, study hall and science and home economics rooms. It was reported that, “the gymnasium has been described as the best of its kind…” between Hanover and St. Johnsbury. Formal dedication was held on November 7, 1935, “before a capacity crowd with both the auditorium and gymnasium being filled to hear the concert and speaking program.”

The total cost of the addition with new desks and auditorium seats at $35,758.65. School programs and athletic events were now held there rather than the Colonial building and third-floor Armory. Town meetings were moved from the old Town Hall to the more comfortable auditorium.

Fairlee considered building an airport under the Civil Works Administration (CWA). In February 1934 voters gave almost unanimous approval for the project. The airport was to be built on land leased north of town, between the present Fairlee Motel and Hodge family farm. The total cost was projected to be $60,000. When only $20,000 was approved, the project was abandoned.

Haverhill historian Katherine Blaisdell describes several projects under both the PWA and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Federal grants in 1937-9 were used to build a reservoir for North Haverhill and a bridge in Haverhill Corner. Corinth sought a CWA grant to dig a basement under the Corinth Academy building. Apparently the grant was not received as there is no basement there.

One of the most significant programs of the New Deal was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). It was created in March 1933 as part of the Administration’s 100 day blitz.

Vermont’s former forest commissioner Perry Merrill described the impact of this program in his book Roosevelt’s Forest Army. It marshaled three million unemployed men to “build fire towers, truck roads, firebreaks, planted millions of trees, reclaimed thousands of acres from erosion, built countless Federal state parks and campgrounds, salvaged timber from the New England hurricane blow-down of 1938, and improved fish and wildlife habitats.” Major dams were built at locations such as Waterbury and East Barre to prevent a recurrence of the ’27 Flood damage.

The work was done in camps that provided a rugged but healthy environment. The enrollees were paid $30 monthly, of which $25 was sent home. The men were taught work skills and good health habits. The men often interacted with local residents by presenting plays, playing ball and attending social events. These interactions were not always peaceful as fights sometimes broke out between the young men and locals. Testimonials from enrollees indicate that, overall, the experiences were often life changing.

Merrill reports that Vermont had 30 camps that employed 40,868 men of whom 11,243 were Vermonters. Among other improvements, their work created the basis for Vermont’s recreation industry.

Locally, Thetford State Park was the result of a CCC project. The 262-acre site was given to the State in 1931 by Dwight Goddard. In 1935 the CCC established a camp there. By 1937, the young workers had build a road to the summit of the hill as well as a log picnic shelter, a toilet building, 14 stone fireplaces and tables in a picnic area.

The park was opened to the public in 1936. According to a park pamphlet, “all that is left of these original structures are the remains of some fireplaces which are now hidden in the woods.” Currently, “this hidden gem” remains open with tent/trailer sites and lean-to shelters as well as trails for running, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

A larger CCC project resulted in the development of the 28,000-acre Groton State Forest. The ten-mile road connecting U.S Route 2 at Marshfield with U. S. 302 in Groton was the longest stretch of the roads built by the CCC in Vermont. According to the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, two CCC camps were established in Groton in 1933. Company 1217 from the east side of New York City set up at Ricker Mills, later replaced by another group (see photo). They built a picnic area and ranger quarters in what is now the Ricker Pond State Park.

Within the Forest, the CCC also developed what are now Stillwater, and Kettle Pond State Parks as well as the road and facilities at the top of Owl’s Head. Company 146 from Rhode Island made camp in Marshfield in 1933 and worked on the New Discovery State Park as well as projects on Owl’s Head and Kettle, Osmore and Peacham Ponds.

Sometimes CCC men were brought in to assist in emergencies. In July 1934, 50 men from the Sharon camp joined local firefighters in battling a forest fire on Fairlee Mountain. Despite the dry underbrush and steep slopes, their combined efforts during the “stiff all-day battle” brought the fire under control. Corps participants were instrumental in the response to the Flood of 1936 and the Hurricane of 1938. Following that hurricane, 100 CCC enrollees worked to clean up the damage in the Haverhill area.

In New Hampshire, 19 camps employed 22,114 men of whom 10,618 were from the state. According to Blaisdell, one of the first to be opened was Wildwood. Other early CCC camps were at Warren, East Warren and Benton. The work included restoring Long Pond, planting trees on abandoned farm fields, improving and protecting forest stands and road projects. Camp Chippewas was established in 1934 at the Lime Kilm as a camp for unemployed transients. In 1937 it was reopened as a camp for unemployed girls.

Significant employment was created during these years by highway improvements. Both the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations made this a major response to high unemployment. Vermont also had an aggressive state program of road work. By 1931, highway work was the principal form of unemployment relief in Vermont.

Locally, this emphasis resulted in many towns voting to support local road projects. At a special town meeting in December, 1931, the voters of Bradford approved $500 to match $1,000 from the State for road work. With reference to the burden of direct local relief, it was felt that “…the work be provided rather than force men to apply for town charity.”

Local projects in 1933-4 included work on the highway from Ely into Thetford, improvement of the road from Bradford to Orange, completing the resurfacing of what is now Route 5 from Fairlee to the Canadian line and work on U.S. 2 from Barre to Wells River. In neighboring New Hampshire, a number of road and bridge projects were undertaken with federal assistance from the WPA and CCC.

In an article on a project on Piermont’s River Road, the United Opinion pointed out that this type of project “not only helps the unemployment situation, but it puts money in circulation thought the purchase of materials….” It also reported on the ongoing debate over whether to improve roads through the use of cement or asphalt.

In January 1932 it was reported that over 3000 men were employed on road projects in Vermont, a number that would rise to over 4600 by late 1934. Under the National Recovery Act, additional funds were made available from the federal government.

By August 1934, Vermont had received New Deal program assistance of over $4 million for non-federal projects such as roads and flood control. This was greater than any of the other New England states; New Hampshire having received $2.6 million.

These are only some of the stimulus programs that impacted the area’s local economy and infrastructure. There were also programs that helped the aged, farmers, artists, writers, financial institutions and others. They will be covered in a later article.

The criticisms of the Obama plan echos those expressed by the Republican-leaning United Opinion in the 1930’s. The editorial page expressed concern over the rise of public ownership over private, government intrusion in the free market and the rising national debt. In November 1934 it suggested, “This generation will never get the load of national indebtedness from off its back. Its children will be carrying the burden for years to come.”

Despite the criticisms and failings of these programs, they offered a life-line that kept “the wolf from the door” for many. It is upon these New Deal programs that the present stimulus program is modeled. Will President Obama actions keep the present “Great Recession” from becoming Great Depression II? Many hope so.

One of Groton State Forest CCC Camps

Some of the Camp 146 CCC Enrollees from Rhode Island preparing to work on Groton State Forest in 1933. They were one of several camps that built roads, campgrounds and other facilities. Photo above is of the camp library. (photo courtesy of John Jurras, Camp Educational Advisor/CCC Teacher).

John Jurras, Camp Educational Advisor is shown below with enrollees (photo courtesy of John Jurras).

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

In Times Past in April, 1909 and April 1959

It was reported in The United Opinion 100 years ago this month.

Spring floods on the Connecticut were higher than during the previous 22 years. The Piermont correspondent wrote that were it not for the recent repairs to the Piermont Bridge, it might have been lost.

The Newbury news included the following: "Several of our staid and dignified citizens have the automobile bug buzzing, and are contemplating purchasing a machine."

They could have purchased a Four Cylinder 20-22 h.p Ford Touring Car from the Jackman Co, in East Corinth for $850.

In time for Easter, Doe Brothers store in Bradford was offering men Spring Suits for $9-$18.

The newspaper carried a month-long series of the adventures of ex-President Teddy Roosevelt as he undertook "A Trip to the Big Game Country" of Africa. His adventures included both lion and elephant hunting.

It was reported in the Journal Opinion 50 years ago this month:

The investigation into the December 31st murder of Newbury's Orville Gibson was underway, with new evidence and interviews being held. By the end of the month two Newbury men were charged with the murder and trial plans were underway.

Piermont reported that a large crowd had gathered in the Town Hall for a minstrel show. The performance "was a lot of fun from start to finish and gusts of laughter greeted the many jokes."

Easter hams were on sale at the Fairlee and Wells River First National Stores for 55-63 cents per pound. The First National Store in Fairlee was located in the now-destroyed Colby Block.

The new Bradford Armory was accepted and equipment was moved in.

The Bedell Bridge restoration project got underway with the formation of a committee.

Hill's Five and Ten bought out John's 5 cents to $1 Store. Within the next month John's had a giant closeout sale that drew a large number of customers. A panel discussion on the 50 years of business will be held at Hill's on Wed., April 29, 2009 at 7 p.m. Open to all.

Bradford merchants announced that beginning May 1, Bradford stores would be open late on Friday nights rather than Saturday night.

Fairlee's 6th grade students petitioned the government to exempt their teacher and principal Donald Lindsley from being drafted. The drive began when Calista Chapman wrote a letter to President Eisenhower indicating the difficulty rural communities had in securing good teachers such as Lindsley.