Living New Deal

So for HIST 397Z, we had to make a digital history contribution in one of three ways: 1) by investigating a building or memorial for Lost UMass; 2) contribute to Living New Deal by updating or creating a new entry; or 3) create a Document Deep Dive with a primary source found in the Five College archives. I chose the middle one, hoping to make an adventure out of finding one of these locations.

Living New Deal is a project hosted by the Department of Geography at the University of California, Berkley. The New Deal was a massive collection of federally sponsored projects that helped restore the American economy during the Great Depression. It supported numerous public works across the nation, like industrial infrastructure, murals and artwork, gardens, schools, and thousands of other projects. The Living New Deal’s goal is to build a national database of these public works, recognizing preserving their presence for generations to come. Check out the Living New Deal to see if there’s anything in your area. 

While I was home for the long weekend, I tried to find a site for the project that was close by. Looking over the map, I realized there weren’t a lot in my area. This was sort of a surprise, as I knew my old high school was partially built as part of WPA project. (I didn’t use my high school for my contribution, though, as it’s in the process of being torn down.)

Continuing with my research interests in New Bedford, I started reading into projects in and around the city. What I found was really fascinating – New Bedford was a city filled with WPA (Works Progress Administration) projects. Already on the fringes of economic recession due to the decline of whaling, the Great Depression severely affected New Bedford. At its peak in 1939, twenty-nine percent of its labor force was unemployed. The city’s mayor, Charles S. Ashley, used federal funds from the WPA to establish a number of city emergency work projects.

As I came to find out, New Bedford is actually a fascinating case of the WPA in action of a local level. Read this article, or this chapter from Christine’s _Writers, Plumbers, and Anarchists: The WPA Writers’ Project in Massachusetts _to know more – but the summary of it was that while the WPA provided funds for dozens of projects that helped city maintenance, actually joining the WPA was seen as a social stigma to most New Bedford citizens. I’d love to spend more time researching this social reaction & contributing to the Living New Deal with New Bedford projects – maybe I can get around to it over winter break?

The project I decided to focus on was the New Bedford Regional Airport. (It’s also called the Municipal Airport – I’m not sure which one is correct.)  Initially proposed for recreational use, the airfield was built between 1940 and 1942. At the time of its dedication, it was consisted of two 3,500-foot runways, with minimal lighting. Less than a year later, the airport was turned over the U.S. Government for World War II. Both the Army Air Corps and U.S. Navy used the space, expanding the airfield into a full-fledged airport. After the war, the space was returned to the city of New Bedford, which uses the airport as a regional passenger hub & for flight school operation.

I went to the site, visited its observation deck, and took a few pictures to add to my report. I’ve submitted this site to the Living New Deal about a week ago, so my part of the project is over. I’m not sure how long it takes for submissions to be posted, but I hope it’s soon!

revision history for this page