New Deal Roadside Landscape Features

CCC enrollees build the massive Gooseberry Falls Concourse on Lake Superior. Courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Hughes and Prudhomme Collection.

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Historical Overview + Documentation
New Deal Era

The Minnesota Department of Highways was an enthusiastic recipient of the unprecedented federal funding and tremendous manpower offered by the federal relief programs of the New Deal. These programs included the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and the National Youth Administration (NYA). The partnership worked well because highway work and roadside development projects could utilize large numbers of unemployed workers who could be put to work quickly and with minimal training.

Four of Minnesota's CCC camps were established specifically for roadside development work, and a number of other camps were also involved in highway projects. Camp SP-13, established in 1934 near the Cascade River on the North Shore of Lake Superior, was the first MHD-sponsored CCC camp. Both the Roadside Development Division and the National Park Service supervised the CCC work crews.

 

During the New Deal bronze plaques were often installed at roadside development facilities to commemorate their construction. This stylized plaque is located at a wayside rest built on the Mississippi River by the National Youth Administration in 1939. Photo courtesy of Rolf Anderson.

The 200-man CCC camps were ideally suited for the construction of large-scale roadside development projects such as the Cascade River Wayside, the Gooseberry Falls Concourse, the Garrison Concourse (part of a series of waysides, overlooks, and bridges near Mille Lacs Lake), and a large stone overlook on Willow Lake near Remer. Programs like the WPA and NYA, typically working with smaller crews, constructed dozens of other roadside facilities in the state.

An important aspect of the success of the New Deal projects was their highly collaborative nature. Skills and resources from various agencies were usually combined. At the Garrison Concourse, for example, a bronze plaque credits involvement from the Village of Garrison, the National Park Service, the Minnesota Department of Highways, and the Civilian Conservation Corps.

With New Deal assistance, the Minnesota Department of Highways was able to successfully launch a comprehensive roadside development program and fulfill many of its early goals. In a few short years, the MHD built an extensive collection of roadside facilities and improved miles of highway. The recent Mn/DOT study found that more than half of Mn/DOT’s historic roadside development properties were built during the Depression by New Deal programs. It was speculated that without the New Deal programs, this roadside development would have been delayed until at least the end of World War II or perhaps as late as the 1960s.

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