Favorite New Deal Site

Tell Us About Your Favorite New Deal Site

Send us a first-person story of 100 (or so) words describing the site and why you chose it. Submissions will appear in future issues of The Fireside! Be sure to include a photo (with photo credit). Send to [email protected]. Thanks!

An East Texas Treasure

CCC men at Caddo Lake State Park. Courtesy, NARA.

In 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps arrived at Caddo Lake State Park, a maze of sloughs, bayous and backwaters in Uncertain, Texas, hard by the Louisiana border. Beset by mud, mosquitoes and local political bickering, the men dredged the lake, built roads and trails and constructed the entrances, pavilion, shelters, cabins and campsites using materials harvested from the surrounding parkland. My father took me there on my first fishing trip six or seven years later. We met our guide near the lake. He steered our rowboat through giant bald cypress trees draped with Spanish moss. The sun was visible only briefly at noon. I came equipped with a cane pole and a bobber. I don’t remember catching any fish that day, but seventy-five years later, Caddo Lake State Park is still my favorite New Deal site.
— Milton Jordan, Georgetown, Texas

Eola School (former) Addition – Eola TX

The original Eola School was built in 1928. In 1939, a five-room addition, a gym/auditorium, a rock wall, and two water towers were added with the help of Work Projects Administration (WPA) funds and labor. In 1983, the school closed. In 2005 the school was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is currently the Eola School Restaurant and Brewery.

The five-room addition was added to the west side of the original building. It is constructed of rough faced limestone with brick trim. The gym/auditorium extends off the rear or north side. It is spanned by a barrel vault with brick buttresses along the east and west sides. The low limestone wall surrounds the entire property. There are two concrete water tanks.

The Work Projects Administration (WPA) project, as part of a larger uncompleted project: “The 1940 addition was financed with federal and local funds–$60,000 Work Projects Administration (WPA) funds and $15,000 Eola School District funds. The project started October 24, 1939 and was completed October 5, 1940. WPA records specify the construction of a secondary school, gymnasium and 22,119 gallon concrete water storage tank. The secondary school was to be attached to the west end of the existing building. The playground would be enclosed with a rock fence. The August 25, 1940 San Angelo Standard-Times announced the opening of school on September 5 and stated the new gym, 3 classrooms, a library-study hall and rest rooms were finished.”

Located in a west Texas rural farm community, the Eola School was built in two phases. The first section, a stucco building housing classrooms and an auditorium, was constructed in 1928. A 1939 WPA addition substantially enlarged the school by adding three rooms and a limestone and brick barrel vault gymnasium. WPA work also included a 3.5-foot tall limestone wall around the property and two concrete water tanks. The Eola School closed in 1983. As of 2016 the building houses the Eola School Restaurant.

Eola is 18 miles east of San Angelo, Texas. The Eola School is located southeast of the intersection of FM 381 and FM 765, bounded by FM 381 on the west and a rock wall on the north, east, and south.

“We Patch Anything”: WPA Sewing Rooms in Fort Worth, Texas

Women at work in a WPA sewing room.

WPA Sewing Room
Women at work in a WPA sewing room.

For most people, the name WPA brings to mind images of men laboring on highway projects and building parks and schools, but during the Depression, women, too, were heads of households and in need of employment.  Work programs for women were first established in 1933 through the Women’s Division of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), and later came under the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Some women were placed in clerical jobs or worked as librarians, others went to work canning, gardening, and sewing. Nationally, some 7 percent of WPA workers were women engaged in sewing projects. Sewing rooms could be found in rural areas and large cities alike.

In Fort Worth, Texas, for example, the first sewing room opened in 1935. Later, separate sewing rooms were created for white and African American women. Job training was provided. Illiterate women received basic educational instruction. Starting pay was $35 a month for 140 hours work. The federal government paid for salaries, with the city and county paying a percentage of expenses. All the items produced stayed in Tarrant County.

Fort Worth, Texas A WPA Sewing Room operated here from 1939-1941.

The Parker-Browne Company Building
Fort Worth, Texas
A WPA Sewing Room operated here from 1939-1941.

The Fort Worth seamstresses took great pride in their work, proclaiming that the initials “WPA” stood for “We Patch Anything.” They repaired used clothing and created new garments, for which each woman was responsible from beginning to end. Each item included a WPA label with the inscription “Not to be sold.” The finished items were sent to the surplus commodities depot to be distributed to needy individuals—sometimes the women themselves—on the order of city and county welfare workers.

The worker’s average output was two and a half garments a day (not including trim), and included men’s trousers, boys’ coveralls, baby clothes, and diapers. So as not to stigmatize those who were issued WPA clothing, great care was taken to create unique designs. A special department altered stock patterns. The local newspaper noted that one pattern could be used for fifty dresses, yet no two would look alike.

By 1940, Fort Worth’s sewing rooms employed 650 women ranging in age from 35 to 64. The work month had been shortened to 130 hours but pay had increased to $46.80. The sewing rooms in Fort Worth reportedly produced 2,341,369 garments and 130,408 household articles.

As the United States geared up for World War II, many women found better paying jobs in the defense industries. The WPA sewing rooms were disbanded in 1941, ending a successful and popular program that gave women not only the means to provide for themselves and their families, but also skills, camaraderie, and a sense of self worth.

Susan Allen Kline is an independent historian who specializes in the preparation of nominations to the National Register of Historic Places. She is a Living New Deal research associate based in Fort Worth, Texas.