WPA Today   

Roads



WPA Poster

Roadwork by the Maryland WPA
(See Photos Below!)

     Across the United States, the WPA created or improved 651,087 miles of roads, streets, and highways.  This is enough roadway to circle the Earth 26 times.  In Maryland the figure was 1,348 miles.  For comparison, consider that Delaware had 203 miles of work done by the WPA, but Illinois had 45,149 miles of work (the most).  This huge volume of work highlights why the WPA is most remembered for its creation and improvement of roadways.  DATA SOURCE: Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-1943 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946, p. 135).

     The WPA's roadwork was important for several reasons.  First, it allowed for a large number of jobless men to be employed quickly.  Because roadwork necessarily consists of miles of work, and because the WPA often prioritized employing the jobless over utilizing heavy equipment, tens of thousands of Americans could be put to work quickly.  Second, the WPA's work helped strengthen our national defense.  Roads to military bases and airports were built or improved.  Third, the WPA's roadwork helped private business.  For example, the WPA created "Farm to Market Roads" to improve the delivery of farm products to consumers.  And fourth, the WPA's roadwork--like it's other infrastructure work--helped set the stage for America's post-World War II economic boom.  Business expansion was made easier with WPA-created roads, water & sewer systems, airports, bridges, and so forth.

     Consider the following statement by Professor Jason Scott Smith:

"The PWA sponsored a tremendous amount of the New Deal's infrastructure, but the WPA also put its resources behind this cause, devoting 75 percent of its funds and projects to construction.  These programs secured the foundations for forging a national market after 1945, spurred dramatic advances in economic productivity, built networks of roads and airports..." (Building New Deal Liberalism: The Political Economy of Public Works, 1933-1956. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010 paperback edition, p. 259). 

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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.         



Above: Grading Christie Road, near Cumberland (Maryland WPA project #3639, June 1939).


Above: Widening West Street in Annapolis (Maryland WPA project #3369, February 1939).


Above: Improving and relocating Loartown Road, Allegany County. The descriptive card for this photo reads: "East end of road, trees cut, logs ready to be moved from rightaway." (Maryland WPA project #3315, July 1938)


Above: Improving College Avenue in Salisbury, Wicomico County (Maryland WPA project #3295, August 1938).


Above: This is the first of three pictures of South Street in Cumberland. For a point of reference for these three pictures, look for the tall chimney of the cube shaped building--in this picture, it's behind the utility pole. The description card for this photo reads: "Looking north on South Street. Shows condition of street before WPA forces commence work." (Maryland WPA project #3290, April 1938)


Above: Second photo of South Street in Cumberland (note the point-of-reference chimney down the street, to the right). The descriptive card for this photo states: "Showing subgrading with curbs & gutters completed." (Maryland WPA project #3290, October 1938)


Above: Third and final photo of South Street in Cumberland--same angle as previous photo, but further back. The descriptive card for this photo reads: "Sect. showing sidewalks, curbs, gutters, walls and driveway completed." (Maryland WPA project #3290, May 1939)


Above: Working on Johnson and Front Streets in Westernport, Allegany County (Maryland WPA project #3181, December 1937).


Above: Improving Elder Street in Cumberland. The description card for this photo reads: "View East on Elder Street from Virginia Ave. showing concrete curbing completed and progress of work on street grading." (Maryland WPA project #3117, September 1937) 


Above: Excavating for Chinquapin Round Road in Annapolis.  For those familiar with this area, the picture indicates a very different landscape than what we see today. (Maryland WPA project #759, April 1938).


Above: A street and sidewalk project in front of the old Annapolis High School building. The building now serves as the home for the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, on Chase Street (Maryland WPA project #646, July 1937).


Above: Widening Maryland Avenue in Annapolis.  The photo description card reads: "Sidewalk laid under WP 628. Street widen from ink line under WP 627. (Maryland WPA project #628 & 627, August 1937).


Above: Paving a road in Ralston, Baltimore County (Maryland WPA project #541, September 1936).


Above: Paving Loch Raven Boulevard in Baltimore (Maryland WPA project #270, July 1936).


Above: Paving Loch Raven Boulevard to the Baltimore City line (Maryland WPA project #270, September 1936).


Above: Creating a brick surface on Saratoga Street in Baltimore City ((Maryland WPA project #210, October 1936).


Above: Working on a farm-to-market road in Frederick County, near Burkittsville (Maryland WPA project #197, April 1937).


Above: Working on a farm-to-market road in Prince George's County (Townsend-Grimes Road). The description card for this photo reads: "Hauling concrete from a central mixing plant & unloading it into culvert headwall forms." (Maryland WPA project #130, July 1936).


Above: A small bridge/culvert on Bowman Road, near Cumberland (Maryland WPA project #3704(33), April 1940).


Above: Creating a farm-to-market road near Earlton, Prince George's County (Maryland WPA project #296, December 1935).
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