In November of 1927, a disastrous storm hit the State of Vermont. Severe flooding in the Winooski River Basin area resulted in the loss 55 lives and damages totaling over $22 Million. A Corps of Engineers study was initiated soon thereafter to investigate “the improvement of the Winooski River for the purposes of navigation in combination with the development of waterpower… and the control of floods.” The report presented a comprehensive plan for flood control and power development, consisting of: the construction of seven reservoirs; the installation of seven new hydropower plants, and the enlargement or improvement of 12 existing plants. Construction of the Waterbury Dam and Reservoir began in 1935 and was completed in 1938. The dam and reservoir were designed and built by the Corps of Engineers using contract services and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) labor, all thanks to the New Deal legislation enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The gatehouse at the top of the dam’s embankment is a rare example of Art Deco architecture in the state of Vermont and was completed in 1938 as the last piece of the project. The building and dam remain today as part of the Little River State Park and are a great example of Engineering History and a look into human intervention in the natural landscape.
New Deal Projects
Kennebunkport Post Office // 1941
During the Great Depression, the federal government built over 1,100 post offices throughout the country as part of the New Deal’s Federal Works Agency. Many of the post offices funded and built in this period were designed by architect Louis Simon, Head of the Office of the Supervising Architect for the U.S. Treasury. Few architects had such a role in designing buildings nationwide than Federal architects who designed buildings ranging from smaller post offices like this to courthouses and federal offices. They really are the unsung designers who impacted the built environment in nearly every corner of the nation. As part of the Treasury Department Section of Fine Arts, artists were hired to complete local murals inside many post offices built in this period, depicting local scenes and histories of the towns they were painted in. In Kennebunkport, artist Elizabeth Tracy who submitted a preliminary sketch of her piece “Bathers” which was approved depicting a beach scene, though the townspeople had not been consulted. Unfortunately, the opinion of a vocal part of the Kennebunkport populace was highly negative to Tracy’s painting, largely due to the fact that her beach scene depicted people on a beach in adjacent Kennebunk, not Kennebunkport! Within a few years, the townspeople gathered funds to hire artist Gordon Grant to paint a satisfactory replacement mural in 1945. The new mural remains inside the post office.
Oak Hill Middle School // 1936
In the 1930s, America was in the throes of the Great Depression, and towns and cities struggled to provide services for the ever-growing populations, all the while suffering from lower tax revenues. The New Deal was enacted as a result, which provided a series of programs, public work projects, financial reforms, and regulations enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt between 1933 and 1939. One of these programs was the Public Works Administration (PWA), which funded and built large-scale public works projects such as dams, bridges, hospitals, and schools, to provide jobs and bolster local economies. In Newton, the developing Oak Hill Village required a new public school, and the town received funding for the Oak Hill Middle School in 1935. Architects Densmore, LeClear, and Robbins were hired to provide designs for a new school, and builders completed the building the next year. The Georgian Revival building is constructed with red brick with cast stone trim. The 16-over-16 windows and cupola also work to showcase the beauty of the design.
Do you know of any PWA projects near you?