How President Franklin Roosevelt Helped Fix the Sidewalks of Milford
By Norm Werner
If you’ve strolled the sidewalks of Milford you probably seen the inscription below stamped into the concrete.
If you’re old enough to remember at least back to President Eisenhower or earlier you may have a good idea what the WPA that is stamped into the concrete means. I set out to find out more, even though I had a pretty good idea what this was all about.
From the late 1920’s until really the middle of World War II, the United States was a part of what has been called The Great Depression. In some scholarly articles that I found this general worldwide economic malaise lasted from the late 1890’s until 1943.
In the U.S. we had the Roaring-
His successor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, believed more in government taking an activist role in trying to pull the U.S. out of the depression, so he invented a number of programs to create publicly funded jobs. There were massive public infrastructure programs and work camps and the Work Projects Administration or WPA, which was a funding source for local projects that would put people who were on public assistance to work. I noticed in my research that the WPA was also referred to as the Work Programs Administration by some, even some governmental groups. The following was taken from one of the government sites that came up when I did a Google search on the initials WPA…
Work Projects Administration (WPA), former U.S. government agency, established in 1935 by executive order of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the Works Progress Administration; it was renamed the Work Projects Administration in 1939, when it was made part of the Federal Works Agency. Created when unemployment was widespread, the WPA—headed by Harry L. Hopkins until 1938—was designed to increase the purchasing power of persons on relief by employing them on useful projects. WPA's building program included the construction of 116,000 buildings, 78,000 bridges, and 651,000 mi (1,047,000 km) of road and the improvement of 800 airports.
Also a part of WPA's diversified activities were the Federal Art Project, the Federal Writers' Project, and the Federal Theatre Project. Close to 10,000 drawings, paintings, and sculptured works were produced through WPA, and many public buildings (especially post offices) were decorated with murals. The experiments in theatrical productions were highly praised and introduced many fresh ideas. Musical performances under the project averaged 4,000 a month. The most notable product of writers in WPA was a valuable series of state and regional guidebooks. WPA also conducted an education program and supervised the activities of the National Youth Administration.
At its peak WPA had about 3.5 million persons on its payrolls. Altogether WPA employed a total of 8.5 million persons, and total federal appropriations for the program amounted to almost $11 billion. There was sharp criticism of the WPA in a Senate committee report in 1939; the same year the WPA appropriation was cut, several projects were abolished, and others were curtailed. A strike of thousands of WPA workers to prevent a cut in wages on building projects was unsuccessful. Steadily increasing employment in the private sector, much speeded just before and during World War II, caused further drastic cuts in WPA appropriations and payrolls. In June, 1943, the agency officially went out of existence.
So, obviously the WPA had been involved with the sidewalks of Milford and the date 1938 in the stampings established when this occurred. I set out to find out how this was reported at the time in The Milford Times, the best source that we have locally for written documentation of our history.
The first mention of the project occurred in the April 1, 1938 issue tucked away
in the weekly feature “Little Items of Local and Nearby-
“Councilmen and township officials are looking for WPA projects which may be advantageous to Milford, and it is likely that one or two will be found I the near future. At the council meeting Monday night, a sidewalk project was suggested, whereby badly needed repair in village walks could be made. Whether this work can be done through WPA was not known but a delegation of councilmen will endeavor to find out. According to Mayor W. S. Lovejoy, WPA funds are available now, and a project can be had if a worthy job is found.”
Apparently the aforementioned delegation wasted no time in approaching the WPA, since the paper two weeks hence, of April 15, 1938 carried the following front page headline…
VILLAGE SEEKS TO PUT SIDEWALK PROJECT THRO WPA CHANNELS
“The Council has been working toward setting up a WPA project in the village and selected as one of the most needed jobs the improvement and repair of sidewalks. That many Milford sidewalks are in very bad condition is recognized, and the council has been frequently urged to do something about it, and the present outlook for securing the work through WPA looked like the opportunity, according to the councilmen.
Following a conference last Thursday morning in Milford with V. E. Dangerfield, of WPA administration, Pontiac, who gave tentative approval, plans have been under way to get the project ready for submission to WPA authorities. As outlined roughly the project will embody the expenditure of $11,000 by the federal agency for labor and the village will supply materials costs of about $900. Much of this will come back in the form of sidewalk assessments, however, it is said.
Since Monday village men have been checking over streets in town to ascertain how much work will be required. As understood now, the program contemplates putting in repair walks that have been badly broken or raised by growing tree roots, blocks sometimes being heaved several inches to cause serious hazard to pedestrians; also building of connecting links of new sidewalk where none now exists, between nearby sections already built. There are several such sections in the main part of town, as has been pointed out.
When and if the final approval will be given, and work can be started, is not known now. Following the survey, to be finished this week, the project will be set up in required form and started through the rounds of regional, state and finally federal authorization. This takes normally five to six weeks. The project is contemplated to be drawn up to give employment to as high as 60 men.”
About five weeks later this article appeared on the front page of the May 27, 1939, Milford Times…
MILFORD’S SIDEWALK PROJECT APPROVED BY WORKS PROGRESS
“ Milford’s new WPA sidewalk project is assured, and theTimes has the following letter from Congressman George A. Dondero in regard to the matter:
‘The Works Progress Administration has notified Rep. George A. Dondero that a project carrying an allotment of $20,951 for sidewalk construction in Milford, has been approved by the President. A detailed description of the project follows:
Milford Project O.P. 465-
Village officials are waiting further word from local WPA sources. As yet no information as to when the project will be started as been given here.”
Almost a month passed before the next mention of the project – another front-
$24,801 WPA SIDEWALK PROJECT WILL BEGIN HERE JUNE 30
“Village President W. S. Lovejoy has received official notification of the acceptance of the Milford WPA project to maintain and construct village sidewalks, the confirmation coming Wednesday morning from V.E. Dangerfield, WPA official for this area. Work is scheduled to begin on Thursday morning, June 30.
The project calls for the expenditure of $24,801, of which the federal government provided $20,951. The sponsor’s contribution is $3,850 and is used mainly in the purchase of material. The projects is set up to employ 43 laborers, a superintendent and timekeeper, and is laid out to last for five months, or 25,800 man hours. WPA workers put in 120 hours per month, divided up to include five working days one week and three days the next. The WPA wage is $60 per month.
Milford walks are in notoriously bad condition and about six weeks ago, officials filed application for the sidewalk project. This work has been contemplated and discussed many times at council meetings, and an attempt made to get the job started last year never materialized.
In charge of the project, as superintendent, will be Floyd Sands, who handled the disposal tank and laying of water mains, both done under former WPA grants. He states that he is not sure as yet just where the work will start, but it will probably be in the vicinity of Main and Detroit streets.
It is the intention to put the walks in good shape, as the project calls for removal and construction of sidewalk, broken blocks will not be patched but torn out and replaced with new. In one or two instances stretches of new sidewalk will be put in, one along General Motors road from the S turn west; a section on north Hickory street south of Summit street, and a section on North East street. It is estimated that 1,500 barrels of cement will be used.”
The next, and as far as I can tell the last, mention of the project occurred the week of July 1 with this article in the Milford Times…
MILFORD’S SIDEWALK PROJECT STARTED THIS THURSDAY
“ Milford’s $25,000 WPA job for maintenance and construction of sidewalks began this Thursday morning when a large number of WPA workers from this and nearby sections reported for work. In all some 56 workers have been assigned to the Milford job. Most of the men have been on other projects and were transferred here.
Work was begun on Detroit Street at the corner of Main Street, along the former S. L. Rowe property now owned by Leroy Darling. By afternoon, section on Detroit street between Union and Hickory had been taken out, preparatory to rebuilding.
It will be several days before the job is really underway and running smoothly, according to Floyd Sands, foreman of construction. Lack of trucks and working tools kept many of the men in idleness this Thursday. Many of the men received transfer slips, and were therefore not eligible to be put on the job Thursday.
The project is set for five months and the federal government provides funds for all the labor, totaling $20,951. The village supplies the material at an estimated cost of $3,850. Village officials state that they have no jurisdiction over who is hired by WPA. According to regulations, WPA labor is taken from relief rolls, and all applicants for work on the job at Milford should apply at the relief office in Pontiac.
A load of concrete and more tools arrived this Thursday afternoon.”
Now you know what the WPA 1938 stamped in our sidewalks stands for. The rest, as they say, is history. The sidewalk project resulted in great improved walkways for Milford pedestrians. Many sections of the sidewalks that the WPA workers constructed in 1938 are still in good repair today. So, as I see it, President Roosevelt, through his WPA initiative and funding provided for the renewal of the sidewalks of Milford.
The picture below is off the Internet and shows WPA workers on a project, in this case it appears that they are laying drain pipes or water lines alongside a road. If anyone has any pictures of the WPA sidewalk project or any of the other WPA projects that took place during the 1930’s, please contact the Milford Historical Society so that we can preserve that piece of our Village history.