On August 22, 1935, the Grant County Board of Education submitted a WPA proposal to build a new school in Dwyer, a homesteading community straddling the Mimbres River, 40 miles southeast of the county seat in Silver City.
The board had been busy the summer and into the fall, preparing similar project proposals for far-flung rural school districts in the county.
It justified the need for the Dwyer school, stating in the application that the original adobe schoolhouse, constructed 30 years prior, “is unsafe and is beyond repair. It is poorly lighted and hard to heat sufficiently for pupils’ needs,” concluding, “a new building is needed that would be inductive [sic.] to modern educational trends and methods” (WPA OP-65-85-244).
The Board suggested the school be built of rock, as “an abundance of excellent stone is near the present site.”
The project resulted in a flat-roof, three-room school after a plan prepared by the New Mexico WPA chief architect, Willard Krueger.
Two other WPA projects in 1938 and 1939 made further improvements to the school, including erecting a long, stone perimeter wall and a set of stone steps near the highway.
These and the school were the only WPA projects activated in this tiny community.
The WPA played an important role in developing school infrastructure in New Mexico during the Great Depression. Prior to the New Deal, New Mexico’s more than 900 school districts relied primarily on property taxes to fund new school construction.
Given the state’s low tax base, especially in poor, rural areas, the monies provided by the PWA and WPA proved a boon to school construction.
According to one figure, by 1937 the WPA had financed 257 new school buildings, 54 playgrounds, 15 gymnasiums, and remodeled 56 schools (Nanninga, 1942: 111).
By the conclusion of the New Deal, 361 schools had been constructed with WPA funds, representing the seventh highest expenditure on schools in the United States during the Depression (Kammer, 1994: 53).
The school is now a private residence, but its front façade and the wall and stone steps are readily visible from the highway (http://goo.gl/YIo3jC).
Kammer, David. The Historic and Architectural Resources of the New Deal in New Mexico. Multiple Property Documentation Form prepared for the Historic Preservation Division, 1994. Nanninga, Simon P. The New Mexico School System. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1942. WPA Official Project Files # 65-85-244, 465-852-214 and 665-85-2-258.
Project originally submitted by John Murphey on April 14, 2015.
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