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Allegany County



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A New Deal for Allegany County
(See Photos Below!)

      Allegany County seems to have received a lot of attention during the Great Depression/New Deal era.  Therefore, I've created a photo exhibit specifically for Allegany County projects carried out by the WPA, PWA, CWA, and CCC.  This page not only highlights the projects of Allegany County, but also provides good examples of the types of New Deal projects throughout Maryland (as well as the nation).

     So, why would Allegany County be the recipient of a large number of Maryland projects?  I'm going to suggest four possibilities.  First, the WPA was focused on hiring large numbers of jobless people, and Allegany County may have had a higher unemployment rate than other Maryland jurisdictions.  The Western Maryland coal industry fell off during the 1920s and 30s as petroleum became an increasingly competitive energy source.  Coupled with the onset of the Great Depression, this must have caused enormous hardship for the area.

     Second, work programs may have been very prevalent in Allegany County because of the St. Patrick's Day Flood of 1936.  The flood caused great damage (requiring immediate repair work), and the WPA photo collection at the University of Maryland College Park Archives shows many flood walls being erected in Allegany County subsequent to March 1936.  Thus, the St. Patrick's Day Flood of 1936 not only necessitated repair projects, but also may have prompted local officials to fortify their defenses against future floods.  

     Third, Allegany County (as a whole) may have been more interested in federal help than other counties.  The WPA usually required localities to fund part of the cost of proposed projects.  While some officials in Maryland may have been turned off by this requirement--causing fewer projects to be initiated in their areas--perhaps officials in Allegany County were not.  And, if true, it might be further evidence that unemployment in Allegany County was particularly bad.

     Finally, Allegany County may have had serious infrastructure inadequacies--inadequacies that officials were desperate to address.  If so, and considering those financially troubled times, the offer of federal aid may have come at a very crucial and fortuitous time.  

     An article in the April 24, 1936 edition of the Baltimore Sun highlights the hardships faced by some Allegany County residents.  Speaking of residents in Lonaconing and points south, Mrs. Margaret Lewis--Maryland's Red Cross field representative--reported that "WPA projects are urgently needed and it must be soon...It is not directly flood relief.  It is due to the closing of mines.  These mines are now inferior veins of coal--will not meet government tests.  The district is not suitable for farming.  These people, already impoverished by years of diminishing work, have no prospect of employment.  The towns, depression-hit, have no funds.  It is too far to come to Cumberland for employment...We have been helping--from an emergency standpoint...We have given food and clothing.  Our local chapter cannot cope with an unemployment situation of such major consequences"  ("Want Of Work In Western Md. Called Acute," p. 28).

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Photo credits: Unless otherwise noted, all black and white photos were taken by the WPA, are in the public domain, and provided courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.  All color photos--unless otherwise noted--were taken by Brent McKee.  Click here for more information on photo credits, permission to use, and exhibit descriptions.

 You can scroll through all the photos below, or jump to the section you want to see:

1. Parks

2. Schools

3. Green Ridge State Forest

4. Book Mending

5. Sewing

6. Roadwork

7. Sidewalks

8. Retaining Walls

9. Water Mains

10. Sewers

11. Bridges

12. Dams

13. Cumberland Airport

14. Flood Relief

15. Sealing Mines

16. Cemeteries

                
 1. Parks

Above: Allegany County residents enjoying the pool at Cumberland's Constitution Park, in June of 1939.  This pool was one of only nine pools built or improved by the Maryland WPA and was part of project #'s 3098 & 3422.  Across the nation, the WPA built or improved 2,073 pools (Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-1943, Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946, p. 135).


Above: The Constitution Park bath house and pool during construction, August 1938.


Above: The Constitution Park bath house and pool as it appears today.  (Photographed March 2011).

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 2. Schools

Above: The Public Works Administration provided some of the funds for the construction of Fort Hill High School, and the WPA developed the area around the high school, e.g., roads, driveways, athletic fields.  The above picture shows excavation for an athletic field (Maryland WPA project #265, December 1935).


Above: The construction of the Fort Hill High School football stadium (Maryland WPA project #265, May 1936).


Above: Like the Fort Hill High School project, the Public Works Administration provided funds for Frostburg's Beall High School, and the WPA developed the area surrounding the building.  The description card for this photo reads, "Looking south west intersecting Rt. 40, shows condition before WPA forces commence work on project. Beall High under construction in background." (Maryland WPA project #3704(57), October 1940)

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 3. Green Ridge State Forest

Above: The "CCC Boys" of Camps S-53 and S-58 lived and worked in Green Ridge State Forest (see here).  This is a view of the forest from behind the park headquarters--photo taken July 2011.  In addition to forestry work, the CCC built a cabin that has been recognized as historically significant (see Maryland Historical Trust report here). 

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 4. Book Mending

Above: The description for this photo reads: "Workers on Library Project #241, Cumberland, Md.  Supervisor, Mrs. Perry, inspects a book which has been renovated."  (Photo taken April 1938)

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 5. Sewing

Above: The description card for this photo reads: "Display of finished garments ready for distribution."  The photo was taken in Cumberland in December 1937, and is listed as Maryland WPA project #7706 at a "Training Work Center."  It seems that this particular WPA project paid the jobless to learn a new skill which (as an added benefit) provided clothes to the less fortunate.  The WPA sewing projects were enormous.  Nationally, the WPA produced half a billion garments and articles.  In Maryland, the WPA produced over 1.7 million garments and nearly 210,000 other sewing articles (Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-1943, Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946, p. 134).

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 6. Roadwork

Above: Allegany County seems to have attracted a lot of WPA attention to its roads (see my Roads exhibit).  Here, at Maryland WPA project #3489, workers are improving Arnett Terrace in Cumberland.  (Photo taken in November 1938) 

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 7. Sidewalks

Above: WPA men creating a sidewalk on Humbird Street in Cumberland.  The description card reads: "Showing sidewalk forms and placing cinder bed."  (Maryland WPA project #683, April 1937)

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 8. Retaining Walls

Above: This retaining wall on Route 40, in Frostburg, was Maryland WPA project #3355 (photo taken in November 1938).


Above: The Frostburg retaining wall as it appears today.  (Photographed August 2011).


Above: An information plaque on the Frostburg retaining wall.  (Photographed August 2011).

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 9. Water Mains

Above: One of the earliest Maryland WPA projects was this water line on Bedford Street in Cumberland (Maryland WPA project #11, December 1935).

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 10. Sewers

Above: Sewer installation on Warren Street in Cumberland (Maryland WPA project #42, April 1936). 

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 11. Bridges

Above: A bridge with an interesting design, over 15-Mile Creek in Little Orleans.  The description card for this photo reads: "New type of bridge eliminates ford.  Shows left side view of 'low water bridge'..." (Maryland WPA project #3446, January 1939).


Above: The Little Orleans bridge as it appears today.  Note the "1938" engraving.  (Photographed December 2011).

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 12. Dams

Above:
The Savage River Dam, actually in Garrett County, was constructed to lessen the threat of flooding in Cumberland and surrounding areas.  I haven't done much research on the WPA's dam work in Maryland, but my understanding is that the Savage River Dam was started as a WPA project, but later completed by the Army Corps of Engineers.  The WPA did not finish the job because of the impact of the war and/or because of the closing of the WPA program altogether at the end of June 1943.  (See, e.g., "WPA To Drop 3,000 From State Rolls," Baltimore Sun, June 27, 1941, p. 13)  Photo taken January 2012.


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 13. The Cumberland Airport

Above: Developing the Cumberland Airport (which is actually just across the state line in Wiley Ford, West Virginia) was Maryland WPA project #3914-1.  This October 1941 photo shows workers building a retaining wall over a railroad tunnel that runs under the airport.  (I think the tunnel still exists, but is no longer in use)

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 14. Flood Relief

Above: The WPA helped clean up Cumberland after the St. Patrick's Day Flood of 1936.  This photo, taken on March 25, 1936, shows workers on N. Mechanic St. (Maryland WPA project #496).


Above: A new flood wall in Midland (Maryland WPA project #577-3120, October 1937).  Perhaps "spooked" by the St. Patrick's Day Flood of 1936, many Allegany towns had flood walls erected by the WPA.
 
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 15. Sealing Mines

Above: The Maryland WPA sealed old mines, thus preventing them from being places of potential danger.  The description card for this photo reads: "Opening No.5--Washington No. 5 Mine--before work on sealing was started."  The exact location of this mine was not included on the photo description card, only that it was in Allegany County (Maryland WPA project #459, July 1936).

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 16. Cemeteries

Above: WPA workers constructing a memorial building for war veterans at the Philos and St. Peter's cemeteries in Westernport (Maryland WPA project #3232, April 1938). 


Above: The memorial building as it appears today.  The plaque on the building reads, in part: "IN MEMORIAM, LEST WE FORGET, This building is dedicated in remembrance of all those who took part in all wars to preserve the freedom and liberty for our country who now sleep in peace in Philos and St. Peter's cemeteries."  (Photographed August 2011)     

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