Beaver County’s Recovery in the 1930s


Photo: Lodge at Raccoon Creek State Park Today. The park was built in the 1930s by CCC teams of unemployed young workers, like the Western PA CCC camp above.

Impact of 1930s
Still Seen Locally

By Bob Bauder
Beaver County Times

Feb.1, 2009 – President Barack Obama’s plan for putting Americans to work by rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure is an old idea, dating back to the Great Depression and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Among the alphabet soup of agencies created during the New Deal, the Works Progress Administration stands out as one of the most successful.

From 1935 to 1943, the WPA spent about $10.5 billion (about $159 billion in 2008 dollars) and employed about 8.5 million Americans who would have otherwise been on relief rolls.

The WPA also provided disaster relief for hurricane and flood victims, including western Pennsylvania residents during the 1936 St. Patrick’s Day flood. Its workers sewed clothing and bed sheets for the downtrodden. They delivered library books on horseback to America’s rural outposts. They cleared slums, repaired toys, helped the sick and provided electricity to places that had never before seen an electric light.

“In fact, there was scarcely anything they did not do,” Nick Taylor wrote in his 2008 book “American-Made.”

But perhaps the most important accomplishment was providing dignity to Americans who had been groveling for handouts for years.


On the local scene, WPA workers built storm sewers piping Walnut Bottom Run in Beaver Falls from the northern end of town to the Beaver River on the southern end.

They constructed what was then Gypsy Glen Park (now Shaw Park) in Beaver, including the borough swimming pool, a picnic pavilion and high school’s football stadium, all of which still exist.

They built stone walls, storm culverts, sanitary sewers and bridges along countless miles of streets and highways across the region.

They built Monaca’s Allaire Park (now Antoline Park) and repaired the borough building, mended books in Aliquippa’s B.F. Jones Memorial Library, mapped New Galilee, conducted a housing survey in Beaver Falls, improved the old Five Points and Scottsville schools in Hopewell Township, surveyed New Brighton and recorded inscriptions from tombstone in cemeteries across Beaver County.

WPA workers organized and inventoried the historical collection, library and archives at Old Economy Village in Ambridge. In addition, the Old Economy Visitors Center has on display a mural of Father Rapp, leader of the Harmony Society, painted by WPA artist Richard Hay Kenah of New Brighton for the old Ambridge High School on Park Road.

They assisted the Civilian Conservation Corps (another New Deal agency) in building what became Raccoon Creek State Park.

“There were countless other projects around the county at that time that were funded by the federal government and were WPA projects,” said Dick Shaw of Beaver. Shaw, 81, who headed the Michael Baker Corp. engineering firm for years and still serves as its board chairman, has a lasting memory of WPA workers laying a road bed on Beaver’s Second Street.

“Now we have slag that we put down, and we come along and roll it in,” Shaw said. “This was rock, and they were out there breaking it up with sledge hammers to create the base.”


The Works Progress Administration’s legacy survives after 70 years throughout the Beaver Valley. Some of the most visible local landmarks created by the WPA include:


Water department pumphouse

The waterworks building at 599 Atlantic Ave. was built of brick in 1895. In 1936, the WPA refaced the building with cut stone that was quarried in the borough. The landmark building now resembles a castle. WPA workers also raised the water pumps inside the building and extended a boat landing in front of the building.


Stone steps and wall

WPA workers built a long set of stone steps at Eighth Street and Sixth Avenue in 1940. The same year, they constructed a stone wall on Fifth Avenue running between Sixth and Fourth Streets. Marker stones on both structures read “WPA 1940.”


Post office art

New Deal artists created paintings and sculptures in numerous post offices across the United States during the Depression. At one time three Beaver County post offices — Aliquippa, Beaver Falls and Midland — contained artwork produced under the Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture, later the Section of Fine Arts. A mural at the Beaver Falls post office and a sculpture in the Midland office are still there.

Beaver Falls

Painted by New York City-born artist Eugene Higgins in 1938, the mural depicts a farming family reading mail near their mailbox with a plowman and team in a newly furrowed field and a postal wagon in the background. From the expressions on their faces, the “Armistice Letter” is possibly word from a loved one fighting in Europe during World War I.


A wooden high-relief sculpture depicts two steelworkers working in a mill. One is pouring molten metal from a hand-held ladle and the other works with heavy tongs. The artist was Humbert Albrizio, born in New York City, and the piece was installed in 1940.


Painted by Niles Spencer and installed in 1939, the mural “Western Pennsylvania” was damaged when removed during a renovation in 1965 and is now stored in the Smithsonian’s Museum of American Art, in Washington, D.C. Dallan C. Wordekemper, federal preservation officer for the postal service, said he intends to inspect the mural to determine whether it can be restored. If it can, it will someday be returned to Aliquippa.


The U.S. Postal Service is seeking a three-piece wood relief that once hung in the Coraopolis post office.

Wordekemper said the relief created by Nena de Brennecke was installed in the former post office on Fifth Avenue in 1939. The post office building was sold around 1980, and Wordekemper’s records indicate that the relief was moved to a new post office in Moon Township.

However, postal officials in Moon and the Pittsburgh postal district don’t know the whereabouts of the relief. The owners of the old post office building on Fifth Avenue said the relief was not in the building when they bought it.

Wordekemper said he is attempting to track the piece. Postal art was created for the communities where it was displayed and should remain in those communities, he said.

Anyone with information about the artwork is asked to call Wordekemper at (703) 5….


From 1935 to 1943, Works Progress Administration workers built:

• 650,000 miles of roads

• 78,000 bridges

• 125,000 civilian and military buildings

• 800 airports (built, improved or enlarged)

• 700 miles of airport runway

Workers also were responsible for:

• 900 million hot lunches served to school children

• 1,500 nursery schools operated

• 225,000 musical concerts presented to 150 million people

• 475,000 art works 276 books and 701 pamphlets created

Source: Nick Taylor’s 2008 book “American-Made”

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