By Don McAlavy: Local columnist
President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal initiatives transformed the economic landscape of New Mexico, employing upwards of 40 percent of N.M.’s population during the Great Depression of the 1930’s.
Fifteen million Americans had no jobs in 1933. In Curry County the currency and the banks were unstable, farm prices were low and many people were about to lose their homes and their farms.
For many of the population living conditions were desperate. In 1932 when Franklin Roosevelt was elected at President he initiated many programs to put people to work – programs known by their initials, the CCC, the TVA, The AAA, and the WPA (Works ProgressAdministration).
Foy Bailey of Clovis, a farmer, worked for the WPA and PWA.
“My first job,” he said, “was building the 1937 beautiful new Deco enhanced courthouse at 7th and Main. Then Bailey and others worked on the Pecos River dam northwest of Fort Sumner. Wages were all of $21.50 a week!”
WPA put many to work building roads, dams, and schools, planting trees, and even painting murals, producing plays, and writing state histories.
Vernon Hunter was the director of the Federal Art Project for New Mexico.
He was from Texico, and two other WPA artists, now deceased, were James Ridgley Whiteman (formerly of Portales, later in Clovis) and Pedro Cervantes.
“The 30s was our golden age, the only humane era in our history, the one brief period when we permitted ourselves to be good,” said Edward Laning, WPA muralist. The WPA mural by Paul Lantz depicted the main street in Clovis in 1906. That mural was done on the wall inside the old Post Office at 4th and Mitchell. It got to be called the “Three Legged Horse” and most people thought it was a painting of Texico and Farwell.
The “Dirty 30s” is what some called it, others called it the
Depression, or the Great Depression. Our country had financial panics and depression since its birth, but the one in the 1930s beat them all to date.
A 1933-1937-1940 Mayor, L. J. Stone, had a vision of a beautiful park in the arid country east of town that was higher than the rest of the town.
He commanded the WPA workers on probably the largest project in Curry County. A huge beautiful rock archway was built for visitors of the park to come and go. (Yes the railroad furnished support rails for the archway.)