Monday, February 22, 2010

WPA and PWA projects in Hopkinsville, KY

How some Depression-era projects were funded

Recently, I read some grumbling on the Hoptown Hall about a couple of grants that supposedly are approved for Hopkinsville. Some citizens are unhappy about the amount of local matching money that will be required to construct a foot bridge over Little River and a public restroom along our future rails-to-trails project.

These are Federal "stimulus" grants (I think, could be wrong), so I wondered how the 50/50 ratio of Federal to local funding compared to the Depression-era projects of the W.P.A., P.W.A., etc. that were completed around Hopkinsville.

In the Google News Archives, I found a Kentucky New Era article from January 1, 1937. It lists many public projects underway and in planning. The article states that the mayor intended the improvement of Seventh Street "from city limit to city limit" (U.S. Route 68) to be financed entirely with federal funds.  Other projects mentioned in the article include:

→ Sewer system and disposal plant improvements
Total cost: $405,000 / Federal funding: $182,454

→ High school auditorium with seating capacity of 900; Virginia Street School auditorium and four classrooms
Total cost: $55,000 / Federal funding: 45%

→ New bridge on North Main; street improvements on North Main; street improvements on South Main from 1st to 9th Street (downtown area)
Total cost: $79,000 / Federal and state funding: $70,900

→ War Memorial Drive built in Riverside Cemetery
Total cost: $2000 / Federal funding: $1800

→ Ninth Street Bridge
Total cost: $26,000 / Federal funding: $22,000

The article also listed some WPA projects that were approved, though not yet begun. No breakdown is given of the origin of the funds, but it's interesting (as a resident of the area) to see what the projects were.

Completion of Walnut Street from the bridge to the Twenty-first Street intersection; and Tenth Street from Walnut to Campbell; Virginia Street from Sixth Street to Twenty-fourth Street; Main Street from Ninth to Alumni Avenue; Canton Street from Fifteenth Street to city Limits; Jessup Avenue from Seventh Street to city limits; Fourteenth Street from Main to Walnut; construction of a stone building at Ninth and Belmont Streets as a permanent home for the Red Cross with the total cost $3450; painting, roofing and general repair work on the Public Library, total cost of $2886; on Fire Station, total cost $1809; on jail-workhouse, total cost $921. (Source: "Many Have Work on City Projects", Kentucky New Era, January 1, 1937)

Some of Hopkinsville's residents contributed directly to street work as well as contributing through taxes. In March 1938, the Kentucky New Era reported that residents of Virginia Street would pay 87¢ per foot for the curbing and guttering along their property fronts, as part of the street improvement project. The total cost to the city for the paving was expected to be $12,000-$15,000.

In April 1938, local officials announced that the Virginia Street project had exhausted current city funds for street-building. Main Street residents would pay considerably more for their curbing and guttering than the Virginia Street residents had paid -- if the project ever came to be.

The citizens of Hopkinsville in 1937 couldn't rant on an internet forum, but I'll bet the street-building projects were discussed thoroughly in every public forum of their day.


At right: South Main Street in Hopkinsville, today. Looking north toward the intersection of 9th and Main.


RunAwayImagination said...

It's also instructive to consider the value of those infrastructure investments in today's dollars. According to a table publised by Oregon State University (, the sewer system that cost $405K in 1937 would cost over $6 million today, and the high school auditorium that cost $55K in 1937 would cost about $821K today.

Genevieve said...

That's very interesting, RunAway. Thanks for looking that up.

John Ruberry said...

Quite a bit of CCC, Civilian Conservation Corps, work was done near me. A swamp was transformed into the Skokie Lagoons, some limestone picnic shelters were built as well.

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