This is an attempt to list all the tangible New Deal contributions to New York City: bridges, highways, tunnels, airports, schools, public buidings, housing, parks, playgrounds, pools, beaches, marinas, piers, art, and other creations that can be seen and touched (if they still exist). Best viewed on a wide screeen. Bear in mind, these are only the New Deal projects that have been found in the very spotty historical record so far; the actual New Deal contribution is much greater. To illustrate: the FY 1938-39 WPA Summary Report notes that in New York City in those twelve months alone, the WPA did an almost inconceivable amount of work; see the summary at the end of the report, which does not reflect work done or paid for by other New Deal agencies such as PWA, NYA, or USHA. See the project here.
Author Paul Baicich wrote for the Jacobin about the need for a 21st-Century Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Titled, “A Green New Deal Needs a 21st-Century Civilian Conservation Corps,” the piece outlines the critical role the CCC can play in the context of the Green New Deal and the building of a “climate-ready economy.” Read the story here.
The children and grandchildren of FDR and his of the women and men who designed and implemented the New Deal, wrote a letter to Vice President Biden. “We must fight for a 21st Century New Deal,” argue James Roosevelt Jr., Henry Scott Wallace, June Hopkins, Tomlin Perkins Coggeshall, and Harold M. Ickes. In the letter, they call for bold government action in response to the hardship caused to millions of Americans by the COVID-19 pandemic. Read the letter here.
Living New Deal Director, Richard Walker, was quoted in a piece published in the Morning Call. The story explores how the New Deal can serve as a model for the coronoavirus recovery plan. Read the piece here.
Living New Deal Board Member Eric Rauchway published an essay in the Guardian. Titled, “Roosevelt’s New Deal offered hope in desperate times. We can do the same now,” the piece reflects on the Roosevelt Administration’s nation-building programs, which remain “unsurpassed” since. Read the entire essay here.
Rose Aguilar spoke with Living New Deal’s Gray Brechin and Richard Walker for the May 14 edition of Your Call on KALW. Walker and Brechin reflect on the state of the country and the unfolding crisis to argue it’s time for a New New Deal.
Living New Deal Director Richard Walker was interviewed by Seth Sandronsky in Multibriefs. “A new New Deal is possible,” said Walker, “If only there were the political will to do it.” Walker made a case for a Public Health Corps that could “mobilize the jobless to go help in hospitals, rest homes and clinics.” Read more here.
A few months ago I was in Noble County in northeastern Indiana, wearing one of my other hats, giving a presentation at a remote state park, one that came into the system after the New Deal. Fully half of Indiana’s state parks and all but two of its state forests were developed or improved by New Deal agencies. I spent the night in Ligonier, a small struggling city with a rich historical heritage.
Ligonier is on what was once an old military road, an Indian trail before that, which became part of the original Lincoln Highway route in 1913. Adventurous early automobile travelers took to the road with camping gear, and any number of towns or private entrepreneurs set up tourist camps featuring set-up sites, running water, outhouses at the least and sometimes real toilet facilities and showers, and a degree of safety. Often there was a small store where a traveler could purchase supplies. Such a tourist camp soon opened west of Ligonier, at that time a thriving manufacturing community.
But in 1928 the Lincoln Highway across Indiana was rerouted into virtually a straight east-west line that soon became US30. If one wished to travel across the country on the Lincoln Highway, the idea of saving miles and skipping populous areas to the north such as South Bend must have been appealing. Not only that, State Road 2, that part of Lincoln Highway from Fort Wayne to South Bend (designated US33 in 1938), ultimately passed around Ligonier, and the tourist camp was left high and dry.
Since I research the Lincoln Highway and other early twentieth century roads, naturally I headed out on the old road to explore and to my delight discovered a New Deal treasure. WPA Project 54-52-309 created a city park on the property in 1935. The gateposts do not quite match those of the tourist camp, so they may have been newly built by the WPA, or they may have been altered or moved and rebuilt. The following year another WPA grant funded the construction of a stone shelterhouse in what became Woodlawn Park, completed in 1937. Inside the shelter is an awkwardly lettered plaque, perhaps a repair or replacement of the original. Other WPA features in the park include a large fieldstone flower bed that likely was a fountain originally and another, larger circular fieldstone enclosure that may have been a shallow pool with concrete steps leading toward it. Surrounding it are three mysterious stone platforms. None of these resources is especially well maintained. No doubt some of the playing fields on the property originated with the WPA, but more have been added, along with a large open picnic shelter and some utilitarian buildings.
Parks and recreational facilities were seen as especially suitable for WPA projects; an administrator in the 1930s pointed out that they “are flexible and can offer employment where there is greatest need; most of their expenditures go directly to local unemployed labor; they do not compete with private enterprise, and. . . they make permanent contributions to better living conditions and increased opportunities for more abundant living.” Not only that, they were highly visible and could readily make use of native or discarded material, such as the abundant fieldstone, a remnant of the glaciers withdrawal from northern Indiana, used here, no doubt once the pride of Ligonier.
Gray Brechin was interviewed by By Patrick Sisson for a Curbed story titled, “Stimulus isn’t enough. Our cities need a post-pandemic New Deal.” Reflecting on the current crisis, Brechin noted that, “advocates and boosters of the New Deal constantly spoke of ‘increasing the health of the country in the broadest possible terms,’ part of what he calls the ‘lost ethical language’ of the program. Improving health, both physical and economic, was a measuring stick for success.” Read the story here.
“The WPA built hospitals across the country, especially in rural areas,” he says. “The program also vastly increased the staff of nurses. It helped expand the network of orthopedic hospitals, increased access to hydrotherapy clinics for those suffering polio, and even had workers sewing masks, the ’30s equivalent of manufacturing PPE.”
Brechin said advocates and boosters of the New Deal constantly spoke of “increasing the health of the country in the broadest possible terms,” part of what he calls the “lost ethical language” of the program. Improving health, both physical and economic, was a measuring stick for success.
A reproduction of a New Deal mural was recently unveiled at the Barnesville Post Office in Ohio. Painted by local artist Twyla Fisher and commissioned by the Belmont County Historical Society, the mural is a replacement for the original Treasury Section of Fine Arts (TSFA) mural by Cleveland artist Michael Sarisky in 1937. The original mural, “Air Mail,” was hung in the Post Office lobby, but was taken down in the 1970s and subsequently lost. Read the story here. Photo credit: This Week News.
Check out our latest map and guide to the work of the New Deal in Washington, D.C. It includes 500 New Deal sites in the District alone, highlighting 34 notable sites, and includes an inset map of the area around the National Mall which can be used for self-guided walking tours.