Depression hit Augusta early

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The Great Depression that took the country by surprise in 1929 wasn't nearly as much of a surprise here in Augusta.

Workers at an Augusta textile mill line up at the "pay cart" in this photo taken around 1932, during the Great Depression. Augusta's mill workers benefited from a federal program that boosted wages from as low as $6 per week to as much as $12.  Special
Special
Workers at an Augusta textile mill line up at the "pay cart" in this photo taken around 1932, during the Great Depression. Augusta's mill workers benefited from a federal program that boosted wages from as low as $6 per week to as much as $12.

"For many Augustans, the Depression began personally long before the stock market crashed," said Lee Ann Caldwell, the director of Augusta State University's Center for the Study of Georgia History. "There was already a major problem with the boll weevil in this area."

Cotton was the South's economic engine, and Augusta was a regional hub. In the decade that followed the arrival of the boll weevil around 1915, Georgia's cotton crop was cut nearly in half.

"As the cotton crop began to fail, that had a spiraling effect on the economy of the area and ultimately led to more problems in the textile mills of the area," she said.

As the Depression unfolded in the early 1930s, the stage was already set for worsening problems.

Dr. Ed Cashin, Augusta's late historian and author of The Story of Augusta, summed it up this way:

"For the first time since this story of Augusta began, the zest went out of things. The mart no longer bustled, enterprise was discouraged, the vision of empire was lost, the Old South was a legend and the promises of the New South sounded hollow."

Augusta, he continued, had always prided itself on its ability to solve its own problems. But those problems had become far too great to solve without help. "Cotton prices were depressed, banks were failing and unemployment was rampant."

Augustans tried to cope with the Depression by creating an Emergency Relief Committee that raised $30,000 and created jobs for 4,300 people in 1931 and 1932, Dr. Cashin wrote. Storefronts along Broad Street were decorated with the blue eagle posters of the National Recovery Administration, with the words, "We Do Our Part."

The New Deal brought dollars to Augusta in the form of public works projects that included New Savannah Bluff Lock & Dam, completed in 1937. The Clarks Hill dam and lake project was approved in 1936, when Congress approved $21.2 million toward its construction.

Walton Way was paved, the airport was expanded, Olmstead Homes and Sunset Homes -- the city's first public housing centers -- were built and opened. Bell Auditorium was built with a $170,000 Works Progress Administration grant and a $200,000 bond issue.

Also under the national recovery program, mill wages were boosted from as low as $6 per week to $12, and agreements were forged to limit workers to 40 hours per week, and to stop hiring children younger than 16.

One of the lingering impacts of the Depression was a positive one, said Dr. Caldwell.

A Florida businessman named Commodore J. Perry Stoltz had announced plans to build a huge hotel on the Fruitland Nursery property on Washington Road, and the development plan called for razing an old plantation home on the property.

The combined effects of a coastal hurricane and the Depression wiped out the capital for the project, and in 1930, Fruitlands was resold for $70,000 to a group that developed the Augusta National Golf Club.

The first Masters Tournament was held there in 1934. The old plantation home, thus, was saved from demolition and survives today at the Augusta National clubhouse.

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119 or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.

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patriciathomas
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patriciathomas 03/01/09 - 05:37 am
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A very sad history of

A very sad history of Augusta, but it explains why the area is so steeped in government subsidy programs and why Augusta has so much trouble growing. The CSRA has been a socialist enclave since the early '30s. The heavy investment to "create jobs" has saddled Augusta with a subsidy problem that is almost always overwhelming for the area. We struggle to deal with this problem today. If Purdue and Sanford accept the "help" from the "stimulus", as happened in the '30s, I don't see how Augusta will ever move beyond the 2nd tier subsidy city we are now.

disssman
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disssman 03/01/09 - 08:59 am
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Well Patricia, seeing as how

Well Patricia, seeing as how both states are dead last already, maybe they should reject any help. Isn't that the CONservative way, keep the populace stupid and poor? Well I will bet that both governors will accept the help, because to deny it would end their most treasured asset - their political careers.

patriciathomas
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patriciathomas 03/01/09 - 09:56 am
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disssman, dead last in what?

disssman, dead last in what? Why is rewarding effort confused with failure by the left? Hasn't it dawned on you that maybe someone has been tricking you?

GACopperhead
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GACopperhead 03/01/09 - 10:27 am
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pt, the policies you espouse

pt, the policies you espouse definitely provided a brief "boom" during which those much wealthier than you got richer off of your tax dollar. But, just as in unbridled liberalism, it went too far in the conservative direction. Centrist, a combination of both sets of ideas is the only way, with one side balancing the other. There will always be some form of your so-called socialism. There will also be free market. Extremism on either side is fatal, as we see today. While Obama's budget addresses thing which I see as needed, I am concerned that it's too ambitious for one year's budget. Hope it snows.....

aaa
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aaa 03/01/09 - 10:43 am
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PT, well stated.I don't think

PT, well stated.I don't think anyone has ever been employed by a poor person. That leaves the successful entrepeneurs (rich people) as the source of employment or government as the source of subsidy and sustenance.

patriciathomas
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patriciathomas 03/01/09 - 10:48 am
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GaC, any time you punish

GaC, any time you punish success to reward failure, you harm success. This isn't being centrist. Confiscating for charitable reasons is confiscation.

gcap
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gcap 03/01/09 - 11:12 am
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PT, you make a good point

PT, you make a good point about Augusta being steeped in government. You should've explained it so dissman could learn something. Look at Augusta's economy: SRS, Ft. Gordon, MCG, University Hospital, GA Regional Hospitals are the biggest employers and all government. We have some manufacturing, not much. We are getting the low wage telemarketing companies. Not bad. Not great. We need to recruit some big manufacturing or distribution companies. Then the real economy, the local businesses, would thrive. But who wants to move their company to a place where education is so bad and political incompetence is thriving?

imdstuf
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imdstuf 03/01/09 - 12:41 pm
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Many cities are trying to

Many cities are trying to recruit the big manufacturers. One problem is the state of GA did come out with a law to try to get some businesses to come in other than in Atlanta by offering tax breaks, but they did not define Atlanta as the greater area that it is, so businesses moved in just outside of the technical city limits there. I am not sure if that has been corrected. Also, with so many states and cities around the country trying to offer tax breaks and other incentives what can Augusta do to bring business in? Our transportation network is not the most convenient. If businesses want to fly privately our airports are sufficient, but if they want to fly commercially then what services we offer are limiting.

gardez la foi
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gardez la foi 03/01/09 - 03:44 pm
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I dunno, it hit me for the

I dunno, it hit me for the first time when I was about 35. giggle.

Lou Stewall
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Lou Stewall 03/01/09 - 04:01 pm
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Another reason people got

Another reason people got depressed was the levee was built 1914-18. The city has been on the dole ever since. Tear down the levee and sell the downtown riverfront to developers to inject some growth hormones into the old gal.

williamhitt
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williamhitt 03/01/09 - 06:42 pm
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Most of the adults in my

Most of the adults in my family survived by working in the local textile mills and many of us lived in mill "houses". I knew several teens who went to the CCC camps. All of these men then served in WWII. All federal, state, and local programs are not bad. Many are.

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