Tuesday, February 20, 2007

FDR and Rockford

For the past few days, much of the chatter on Rockford radio station WNTA, a news-talk outfit, has been about presidents of the United States and their relative rankings. Naturally, mention was made of Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal domestic programs.

The point could have been made that FDR virtually saved Rockford, which had been hit as hard by the Great Depression as any city in America. The story is told in part by these passages from the book "Rockford -- Big Town/Small City":

"The onset of big trouble for Rockford was indicated soon after the 1929 stock-market crash.

"In 1930, only 158 local building permits for housing were issued, less than half the number in the previous year. When the implications of that decline were felt in the workplace, the trend snowballed. In 1933, just 11 building permits were issued; the next year, only two.

"Untold thousands of people in the Rockford area lost their jobs. In the city, factory payrolls fell to barely 10 percent of the population of more than 85,000. Welfare rolls peaked in 1935 at more than 8,000 people, but many more were on relief at one time or another...

"(In the early years of Roosevelt's first term,) the Federal Civil Works Administration put hundreds of local people to work planting trees and installing new street lights at an average weekly wage of $15. When that program was replaced in 1935 by the Works Progress Administration, the city was ready with a list of road improvements, bridge and culvert construction, school repairs and flood-control projects...

"By the following spring, 4,153 people were on WPA payrolls in Winnebago County.

"In all, WPA projects in the Rockford area included: an 800-foot flood-control dam on Keith Creek; a disposal plant in Pecatonica; 44 miles of sanitary sewers and 31 miles of storm sewers; 22 miles of streets and alleys; 12 miles of curbs and gutters; 11 miles of water mains; 31 miles of sidewalks; a pedestrian underpass at Highland School; 46 other schools repaired; 200 street lights installed; and 4,500 maples trees planted and 5,000 dead trees removed."

Soon, Rockford experienced an economic comeback, and the worst of the Depression was over.

One shudders to think what would have become of Rockford and the country as a whole without FDR and the New Deal.

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