The Garth Years Projects


The Works Projects Administration

Briefly, the WPA was "one of the five principal New Deal emergency relief and public works agencies [established] during the 1930s . . . ." [9] Called the Works Progress Administration until 1939, the WPA provided jobs for the unemployed; oftentimes they assisted the National Park Service. The highpoint of the WPA and other government relief programs was the 1930s; as World War II loomed closer, relief funds declined sharply. In 1941 the WPA program was reduced approximately 30 percent in funds and workers and 43 percent in operating projects from the previous year. [10] It was during this time of cutbacks that the WPA worked at Whitman National Monument.

Planning for this WPA project began in January 1940, when Herbert West inquired of Ronald F. Lee, Supervisor of the Historic Sites Branch, Washington, D. C., about the possibilities for establishing such a project at the Whitman Mission. [11] Lee's response to West was encouraging: "On examination of the Master Plan, it appears to me that the W. P. A. will probably be able to carry out certain portions of the work for the monument if proper supervision can be secured." [12]

In February, West received a letter from Arno B. Cammerer, Director of the National Park Service, supporting Whitman's WPA project. [13]

On February 23, Carl W. Smith, Acting State WPA Administrator; Regional Historian Hagen; Associate Engineer C. E. Drysdale; and Regional Inspector Primm attended a conference in Seattle to determine the feasibility of a WPA project at the monument. Results were positive:

Smith assured the group that a WPA project could be initiated during the current fiscal year provided that the sponsors could contribute 25 percent of the cost of the project in money, equipment, plans, or general supervision. [14]

Eventually a program was developed whereby all interested parties shared some responsibility for the project. The labor, the salaries and miscellaneous supplies, tools and equipment were provided by the WPA, the National Park service provided gasoline, engineering plans, and an archeologist to supervise the labor; the Walla Walla County Commissioners donated 2000 cubic feet of land-fill and a truck; while the Whitman Centennial, Inc. provided the truck drivers' salaries. Given this elaborate plan, it is not surprising that even the supervisors were confused about who was responsible for the salaries and supplies.

WPA supervisors spent from February 1940 until April 1941 determining laborers' duties. Based on the suggestions of West, WPA Engineer Hill, and WPA Project Supervisor Morrison, the project included these ambitious goals: constructing the new entrance road and parking area, fencing the mission and monument tracts, removing the barbed wire boundary fences, obliterating the existing entrance road, cleaning, and re-sodding. [15] A later addition to the proposal included "labor and equipment for archeological work." [16]

Unfortunately, the WPA accomplished only a fraction of this work since the project lasted only three months--from April 8 to June 27--before funds were terminated. Six men were employed the first month, 10 the second, and 4 the third. They accomplished small projects such as brush clearing, smoothing roads, and demolishing a fence but they had neither the equipment nor the manpower for the larger projects. As Tom Garth said, they were "kind of marking time" [17] so he took advantage of the labor and made 2000 adobe bricks for construction of a shed for tools and specimens. The adobe structure was almost complete when the project terminated, leaving Garth to finish the roof with the help of Walla Walla College students. The WPA also did some minor exploratory excavations before the project ended:

They dug one big long trench clear across the site and found the old irrigation ditch . . . also found the mill stone that probably came from the Whitman mill . . . it was actually found by one of the workmen who didn't let me know about it. He spirited it off! We later got wind of what had happened and were able to get it back. So we don't actually know exactly where it came from. [18]

Perhaps more development progress could have been made during these early years had not the monument's WPA project begun at a time when the organization was "forced to make a reduction of 40%" [19] to conform with the Emergency Relief budget cuts. As it was, WPA labor only worked three months, their contributions were negligible, and Tom Garth ended up doing the majority of work, anyway. The WPA's dubious accomplishments foreshadowed delays in the monument's grounds development that lasted for approximately 20 years.


Last updated: March 1, 2015

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