In this interactive activity, you are going to explore the town of Chesterfield to see how the Great Depression is affecting your community and your family. As you explore think about your options. Can you help your family survive these hard times?
The People of
You are walking home from town where you have spent the day looking for work. You left school two years ago to work for a farmer, but between the drought, the dust storms, and no credit at the seed store, the farmer has no more work for you.
You are the oldest of five children. You live with your parents and grandparents in a small house on the outskirts of Chesterfield. You are one of the lucky ones because your grandparents own their house. Every day you see your parents doing all they can to feed your family.
Your search for work has been unsuccessful again–not even the small, temporary jobs you used to be able to find filling feed sacks or carrying luggage at the hotel. Today, in town, you saw the poster for the Civilian Conservation Corps again. You heard about a couple of guys who joined up and are off somewhere working in the woods and living in tents. You know you aren't old enough, and you really don't want to go away from your family, but you've heard how the money they send home is making a difference for their families.
You are thinking very hard about your family and the situation you all are in.
Can you help them survive these hard times?
Your Dad has taught you everything you know—well at least the important stuff! How to fish and hunt; how to mend fence and tune an engine so it purrs like a kitten. He should be home from work soon and maybe he'll have good news from the Flour Mill. He's one of the few dads you know that still has a job. People gotta have flour, right? They couldn't close the mill, could they? You could ask them for some work.
You knew as soon as you saw him walking down the lane that something terrible had happened. You could tell by the way his shoulders sagged and his head hung. As he approached the house he looked up and shook his head. You followed him in the house to hear him tell your ma that the Flour Mill had shut down production.
Did you talk with all six of your family members? Think about about the perils your family had to endure just to make each day survivable. Continue scrolling to explore the town in which you live...
The Town of Chesterfield
Chesterfield is a small town located about 100 miles from any major cities. It's 1934 and Chesterfield is feeling the full impact of what would forever be known as the Great Depression.
As you walk the streets of your hometown you realize the Great Depression is everywhere. You remember coming to town with your dad when you were a young boy, those coins from your Grandmother burning a hole in your pocket until you could get to the General Store for your favorite candy. Your dad would take you by the Flour Mill where he worked and you’d stop off at the Materials Company to say "hey" to your Grandad. Your old school is there too and the restaurant where you could get a root beer float.
In this interactive activity you are going to explore the town of Chesterfield to see how the Great Depression is affecting your community and your family. As you explore, think about your options. Can you help your family survive these hard times?
Church has been something your mom and dad have talked about a lot. Your dad just wants to stay home on Sunday since he doesn't have a single dime for the collection plate. Your mom says that in hard times we need the comfort and fellowship even more. The Church has always had an active Charity Committee that helps folks, especially at Christmas. They've been sending out pleas for donations but you don't know where it would come from. Most folks need all they have!
It's kinda weird, but with all the unemployment, enrollment at the school has actually gone up. Kids who quit to find work are figuring if there's no work they might as well go to school. That's put an extra burden on the teachers, but they just keep at it even though their pay has been cut. Guess they are just happy for a job. You realize the importance of an education and even though you'd never admit it, you miss school. But right now, the thing uppermost on your mind is finding a way to help your family. The future will just have to wait.
Just about anything you'd ever need could be found in the General Store. Mr. Hopkins used to keep everything from kerosene to fancy fabric and laces in stock. But as you wander through the aisles you see that his inventory has fallen off—empty shelves and just the basics. But at least he's still here for that. Mr. Hopkins's wife and sons are working at the store now; he's let the rest of his staff go—more unemployed. As you leave you notice the poster: "Join the CCC," it says, "A Young Man's Opportunity to work, to live, to learn, to build— and to conserve our Natural Resources."
As you enter the Pharmacy, Mr. Robbins greets you and asks about Priscilla's cough. "Well," you say, "she still has spells." Mr. Robbins advises you to take her to the doctor and although you know he's right, you also know there's no money for that. You browse the medicines wondering if there's anything that would help without having to see the doctor. Meanwhile, Mrs. Spitler comes in with a prescription for her daughter. She and Mr. Robbins have a conversation that ends with him accepting a baked chicken in exchange for the medicine.
You notice the men hanging around the railroad tracks. Idle men, just hanging around town—that's something new. They watch the trains intently, wondering where they're going; wondering if things are better there. You daydream, for just a minute, that you could jump that train and end up somewhere with a great job making lots of money that you could send home to save your family. You know some guys who have tried it, but no one's struck it rich that you know of. But if you went, at least that would be one less mouth to feed.
Mr. Chester greets you as you enter the empty hotel lobby. The floors are gleaming and the furniture looks inviting, but there are no guests enjoying the beautiful room. You immediately know it's no use but you ask anyway. "No, son, there's nothing here and you're the 5th person to ask for work today. As a matter of fact, I've had to lay off my entire staff. Mrs. Chester and my sons are helping me out." You start to speak and he interrupts, "I know what you are going to ask, and no, my son Mark's job at the General Store is not available; he got laid off too. He's thinking about applying for the CCC. I'd hate to see him go away, but it sure would help. I hear they send $25 a month to each enrollee's family."
Burke's Restaurant serves the best root beer floats. Not often, but on special occasions, your family would have dinner at Burke's. But those celebrations are no more with things being as they are. There are people sitting at the counter, but mostly they are just talking about the Depression; nobody seems to be buying. Wonder how Mr. Burke's keeping the place going? You notice his wife is working the counter—geez, she used to volunteer at the hospital.
Like many banks in the region, Western Frontier Bank failed. The drought and dust storm ruined the farmers' crops so they were not able to pay their seed loans. Nor were they able to get new loans to plant new crops. When the townspeople became nervous about the health of the bank they began withdrawing their money and hoarding the cash. This took even more cash out of circulation. With depositors taking the available cash out of the bank and the farmers unable to pay the money loaned to them, the bank simply ran out of money.
The Walter & Sons Textile Factory was the largest employer in the county. It was the first of the area's industries to go leaving nearly 200 people jobless. You remember when it happened; everybody was talking about it and several of your friend's families ended up moving to the city. You didn't realize it at the time, but that factory closing was what started it all—the squeeze to find jobs, people leaving the county. It's like dominoes—one goes down and the rest keep falling.
You stand across the street and watch as the few remaining workers prepare for the shut down. You can't believe it. For starters, 50 employees, including your dad, have no work and no pay. Then, to get flour everybody will have to buy it already milled at the General Store. No more trading part of your wheat for milled flour. Where will the cash come from? It's a never ending cycle. There's got to be something you can do.
The Mims Materials Company supplied building materials to the entire region. However, with the economic slowdown nobody is building anything. The demand for construction materials has dropped to almost nothing. The Mims family has been forced to shut their doors, laying off their 40 employees. The few people who need building materials and have the money to buy them must travel to the city to get them. Some of the Mims former employees have also gone to the city to try to find work; others are unemployed with no income at all. In 1934 there are very few aid programs to help the unemployed and their families. Local charities are doing the best they can.
Just then the magistrate, Mr. Strickler, comes through the Court House door. He greets you and asks about the family. You say they are fine, but he knows better. You've known Mr. Strickler all your life—you went to school with his daughter, Iris.
"So, Mr. Strickler, tell me about this CCC," you say.
"It's a deal, alright," He answers, "a buck a day, three hots, and a flop!"
At your puzzled look he explains. "They hire you for 6 months, send you to the forest to do conservation work. They pay $30 a month, plus you get your meals, and a bunk in the barracks. It's set up a lot like the army. You get $5 a month for yourself and they send the rest home to your family. And they have classes so you can learn a trade. I tell you, son, it's a deal.
"It would be hard to go away for that long, but geez, we're just about out of options" you say.
"Well son, you're too young anyway‐gotta be 18 to join. Besides, I've got my quota this month. I'm fixin' to drive the boys up to Hinton to fill out their paperwork now. Want to ride along? I'll give you 50 cents for helping me drive."
All the way to Hinton you listen to the guys' excited chatter. They wonder where they will go, buy mostly they talk about the money they will make. At Hinton they pile out of the truck and get in line to enroll and take their physical. Some time later you're leaning against the truck chatting with Mr. Strickler when the man from the enrollment center approaches.
"Sorry, Mr. Strickler," he says, "but we're gonna have to reject one of your guys; he didn't pass the physical."
"I hate to hear that," replies Mr. Strickler, "that makes me short on my quota."
The enrollment man turns to you and says, "How 'bout you son? Don't you want to join the CCC? It's the opportunity of a lifetime."
You quickly look at Mr. Stickler. He shrugs and you realize he's not going to mention your real age. All's you have to do is fudge a year (and a half) on the application and that's $25 a month for the family—the doctor for Priscilla, a little meat for the table and sugar and flour for Grandma's pies...