Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Palmer Lake Fire Dept. benefited from WPA

Colorado workers received highest wages in nation paid by WPA

By Rob Carrigan, robcarrigan1@gmail.com

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his trusted adviser on the program, Harry Hopkins, purposely crafted a route to economic recovery while at the same time, lessening the importance of the “dole.”
Colorado, perhaps more than many other states, benefited heavily from the Works Progress Administration (WPA)  projects.
Locally, the fire station in Palmer Lake was built through a Work Progress Administration (WPA) project in 1937. The new structure, of Pueblo design, was said at the time to be one of the most up-to-date buildings in the community.
An addition was completed in 1970s, according to information from the Palmer Lake Historical Society.
The first, volunteer fire department in Palmer Lake was organized by Byron Medlock.  As Chief, he purchased the first fire engines. And, according to former firefighter Harry Krueger, even an elk, bagged around 1944 by Byron Medlock, and named Bosco, began hanging then on the fire station wall.
“The Works Progress Administration (WPA) had the most impact on the landscape of Colorado than any other New Deal program. By the time the WPA ended its projects in Colorado in December 1942, it had employed an estimated 150,000 people statewide and spent more than $120 million in construction,” according to PBS.org.
Throughout the state, the WPA built or improved more than 9,400 miles of roadways, 3,400 bridges and viaducts and 21,000 culverts. The new roadways were built with the intention that the state could take better advantage of its tourist and recreational potential. The roads also helped in the recovery of Colorado's agricultural and ranching economy, especially in the Eastern Plains.
In addition, the WPA helped build 1,347 public buildings, 494 schools, 110 parks, 195 playgrounds and athletic fields, 32 wading or swimming pools, 78 utility plants, 279 miles of water distribution pipes and mains and 224 miles of sanitary and storm sewers in Colorado.
The WPA, one of many 1930s New Deal relief and recovery programs, was to put people to work, according to History Colorado.
“Most projects were designed to spend a majority of the funds on labor, not materials.  Additionally, few projects used powered machinery in order to allow for hiring more men.  Therefore, WPA buildings and structures in Colorado are marked by a high degree of craftsmanship, albeit untrained, provided by primarily unskilled labor.  The quality of masonry work varies widely, undoubtedly reflecting not only different teams of workers, but also the growing skills gained by the men.  The use of local materials in order to keep costs low is another hallmark of WPA projects.  This resulted in some similarities of appearance within a region.  WPA projects in eastern Colorado were simply designed, often by the local sponsor or occasionally by the regional WPA engineer.  The buildings were influenced either by local traditions or were based upon contemporary styles.”
“It is interesting to note that WPA service projects in Colorado employed women. Many rural women were given jobs gardening, canning, sewing, distributing commodities and serving hot school lunches. There were also projects related to adult education and the arts,” says PBS.org.
The program was not, however, without its critics.
A Senate committee reported that, "To some extent the complaint that WPA workers do poor work is not without foundation. ... Poor work habits and incorrect techniques are not remedied. Occasionally a supervisor or a foreman demands good work."
The WPA and its workers were also sometimes ridiculed as lazy. The organization's initials were said to stand for "We Poke Along", "We Piddle Around", "We Putter Along", "Working Piss Ants", or the "Whistle, Piss and Argue gang". These were sarcastic references to WPA projects that sometimes slowed down deliberately because foremen had an incentive to keep going, rather than finish a project, according to information provided by David A. Taylor,  in Soul of a people: the WPA Writer's Project uncovers Depression America (2009).
But according to historians, more than 88 percent of WPA funding went directly to wages. Colorado workers received the highest wages in the nation paid by the WPA, ranging from $40 a month for non-skilled labor to $94 a month for skilled workers. The agency also spent more than $1.6 million in Colorado for service projects providing goods and services to the needy, producing more than 6.7 million garments, 5 million quarts of preserved food and 22 million hot lunches.
"The Work(s) Progress Administration was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on May 6, 1935, as a reaction to the Great Depression, to provide relief work for unemployed persons through public work projects.  The WPA provided jobs to unemployed workers on public projects sponsored by federal, state, or local agencies; and on defense and war-related projects. Between 1935 and 1943 the WPA provided almost 8 million jobs at a cost of 11 billion dollars, and created a legacy of public welfare that has become monumentalized through their still used buildings, roads, dams, schools, indexes, oral histories, and art.  The Work(s) Progress Administration was abolished by an executive order on December 4, 1942,“ according to the Colorado State Archive.
Photos: Fire station, shortly after it was built, in 1938. And with the first firetruck. WPA sign, now on display at a new WPA and CCC presentation for the Lucretia Vaile Museum by  Palmer Lake Historical Society. Finally, the fire station today. Historic photos courtesy of the Palmer Lake Historical Society and Vaile Museum.

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