|Vol. VII, No. 3, Spring 1994|
by Robert Gilmore
Robert Gilmore is Senior Consulting Editor to OzarksWatch, Provost and Professor Emeritus, Southwest Missouri State University.
For fifty summers thousands of sun-and-water seekers have crowded the outdoor swimming pool in back of the Health and Recreation Building (now called McDonald Arena) on the Southwest Missouri State University campus in Springfield. Few, however, have known that the Olympic-sized pool in which they are diving, swimming, splashing, and sunning was a project of the WPA, the Works Progress Administration.
Work on the pool began in 1935, the year the WPA was created. The excavation, according to Dr. Roy Ellis, former president and SMSU historian, was done by pick and shovel and the debris hauled away in wheelbarrows. The slow pace of this project helps explain why some cynics of the time defined WPA as meaning, "We Piddle Around."
Although few WPA activities were renowned for their speedy completion, in fact an impressive number of projects were carried out and a large number of persons were put to useful employment over the lifetime of the agency, 1935-1943. Some 8.5 million persons built improved roads, highways, streets and bridges, and constructed or reconstructed thousands of public buildings-schools, courthouses, libraries, jails, auditoriums, etc. Jim Denny, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, estimates that the WPA was responsible for an average of ten public buildings for every county in the nation.
The Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC (1933-1943), was another of the alphabet agencies created in the early days of the Roosevelt administration as part of the New Deal program. Its purpose was to utilize unemployed youth by providing useful projects for them to complete. Both the WPA and the CCC were active in the Ozarks, and evidence of their building efforts is still part of the landscape of most Ozarks communities.
Although there were a number of wood projects, native stone was by far the construction material of choice, especially for the CCC. An excellent example is found at Devils Den State Park in Washington County, Arkansas. Here the CCC boys used stone to build everything from drainage ditches to cabins to a massive dam. In Carter County, Missouri, the WPA covered an 1871 frame courthouse building with a concrete and cobblestone surface, creating the only courthouse in Missouri with this type of construction. Other interesting WPA stone projects are found on the lakefront at Branson and in the City Park in West Plains.
When driving through the Ozarks it is both fun and instructive to try to spot, as I recently did, WPA or CCC structures that are still being used. Some of the photographs I took appear below. They represent only a few of the hundreds of WPA/CCC Ozarks building projects that have been preserved and are being used today.
Reeds Spring, Missouri
Swimming Pool; Health and Recreation Building, Southwest Missouri State University, Springfield. The Health and Recreation Building was built with a combination of state and local funds and grants from the WPA and the PWA (Public Works Administration).
The historic photo shows the Health and Recreation Building (now McDonald Arena) under construction about 1940.
Ozark County Court blouse.
Devil's Den State Park,
Washington County, Arkansas.
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