Bob Mitchell: WPA provided needed help in Depression era

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Back in the days that some folks called the Great Depression there was a job shortage much as exists today.

There were millions out of work, and money was short everywhere. The economy then was a worry on everyone’s mind, just as it is these days with unemployment applications running in the millions daily.

In those days, there was no thought of outright payments of money to keep people afloat, families often with medical expenses, such as ours was, scraped and did their best to make ends meet for their everyday living.

Along came WPA

Then, during the Roosevelt administration came the Works Progress Administration (WPA) that began to build needed public projects throughout the United States. Small towns benefitted with the WPA as well as metropolitan areas in hiring both skilled and unskilled personnel, putting cash in their pockets and in most every case, food on their tables.

To the best of my memory, there were no frills to be had under this program, but it did soften the blow on securing some pretty expensive medication coming into our house at the time.

During the height of the program there was never any indication concerning who was or who was not on the program. There was no concern among our friends or associates that WPA, or the government, was making life a little easier for our family or for that matter many of our friends.

First sewer system

Cassville’s first sewer system came into being during those days, and my dad served as timekeeper on the project.

Supposedly marking an end to the “outdoor privies,” the disposal plant was located adjacent to Flat Creek. The location is now a part of the R-4 campus just east of the practice football field. Compared to the modern plant of today, that facility was small but served the purpose of those days.

While the system did help with modernizing lifestyle in Cassville, it did not immediately make all the “privies” go away. The middle hole and Sears catalog were still around in many households.

It took subsequent programs and years to bring Cassville to the point of making it illegal to have a workable “privey” for a household. The absence of these structures throughout town resulted in a change of plans for many youths on Halloween as “tippin’ privies” was usually an immediate after-dark target. Members of our family were scheduled to stand guard over our “three-holer” at Ninth and Townsend.

Rock gym also

The rock gym on the R-4 campus, in later years named the J.C. Duncan Gym, was a WPA project and served the community for several years.

During the construction of the project, scaffolds for the rock walls provided an outstanding location for youngsters to watch Cassville’s Blues, a semi-pro team in the KOMA league. The seating was free, and occasionally there was a baseball that came that far out of left field.

That league, representing the four-state area, lasted far beyond Cassville’s participation, even giving the former Yankee great, Mickey Mantle his start in Independence, Kan.

The gym was a great improvement over the Municipal Building on the west side of the square. That floor was an oiled type and frequently would give you a splinter if you fell just right.

Legend coached there

My arrival at that campus from atop the Seventh Street hill was in the fifth grade and it was a big deal after school to step next door and watch the big boys in varsity practice.

It was also a delight in the sixth grade to get a chance to play in the “modern” gym, which was also delegated for use by the grade school athletics and physical education.

John Q. Hammons, who became an Ozarks legend during his tenure in Springfield, coached there three years.

CCC hired area young men

Also in the picture to provide financial assistance to families of this and other areas was the Civilian Conservation Corps, which brought young men out of communities and put them in an Army-like environment for a slight compensation.

Cassville’s Ozark Theater on the south side of the square was a packed location for Saturday night programs when the CCC boys were permitted to make the trip to Cassville. Their revenue was much appreciated by owner Mrs. Nolan.

Much of their work at Roaring River State Park is still visible although much has been done in modernization over the years. The CCC was also responsible for the camp off YY Highway near Shell Knob, which is used these days as a community project for that area of Table Rock Lake.

This particular location was used extensively by Ozarks Council Boy Scout troops for camporee sites. It was an ideal distance from the main highway for packing gear to the designated campsite for each participating troop.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.