As the national debate rages over the federal budget and controversial bailouts, it’s worth remembering the impact of federal spending in Utah during the Great Depression.
The Great Depression of the 1930s hit Utah harder than most states. Between 1932 and 1940 Utah's unemployment rate averaged 26%, and reached a high of 35.8% in 1933. Only three other states in the Union suffered more severely. The federal government met this national economic crisis with a series of programs dubbed “The New Deal” and its relief efforts were extensive in hard-hit areas like Utah.
Per capita federal spending in Utah during the 1930s was ninth in the nation, and the percentage of Utah workers employed on federal relief projects was far above the national average. For every dollar Utahns sent to the nation's capital in taxes, the government sent back seven dollars through various New Deal programs.
Many of these programs involved building construction, and the 1930s and early 1940s saw 233 public facilities built in Utah with federal dollars. One such building was the Minersville City Hall in Beaver County, which was constructed in 1935 to house the town's municipal offices, post office, library, and Daughters of the Utah Pioneers camp. To save costs, stone for the hall was brought from the nearby Murdock Academy, which had been standing vacant for more than a decade. Crews employed by the Civilian Conservation Corps dismantled one of the buildings and hauled the stone to Minersville.
To the north, in Brigham City, the Box Elder High School Gymnasium was one of twenty school gyms built in Utah during the 1930s. Its construction provided employment not just for Brigham City laborers, but for the architects, the general contractor, the plumbing, heating and ventilating contractors, the roofers, not to mention the city building inspector.
Neither the Minersville City Hall nor the Box Elder Gymnasium – nor, for that matter, the other 231 courthouses, city halls, fire stations, armories, and school buildings that went up in Utah during the Depression – would have been possible without New Deal assistance.
Image: Minersville City Hall. Built in 1935, the City Hall and Post Office is on 60 West Main Street in Minersville, Utah. Courtesy of J. Willard Marriott Library.
See Becky Bartholomew, “New Deal Agencies Built 233 Buildings in Utah,” History Blazer, June 1996, accessed at http://historytogo.utah.gov; John S. McCormick, “The Great Depression,” in the online Utah History Encyclopedia at www.media.utah.edu/UHE; and Nomination Forms, National Register of Historic Places, for Minersville City Hall and Box Elder High School Gymnasium in Preservation Office files, Utah Division of State History.