By Vanessa N. Hanvey, M.A.
Transportation Archaeology Review Liaison
Kentucky Heritage Council
The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was a part of the massive infrastructure program created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to provide employment during the Great Depression. Part of a set of programs called the New Deal, the WPA was an agency funded through the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act (1935) to offer “some skills training and almost 8 million jobs to the unemployed” (UK Research Guides).
The WPA philosophy was to put the unemployed back to work in jobs which would serve the public good and conserve the skills and the self-esteem of workers throughout the U.S.Lou Ann Speulda and Rhoda Owen Lewis, 2003
Public buildings and transportation networks were constructed across the United States along with the development of arts, literacy, and cultural heritage programs. Public works projects focusing on cultural heritage included massive archaeological excavations. There is no community in the U.S. that is not effected by the works of the WPA, as the staff of the Kentucky Heritage Council recently found out!
WPA archaeological projects were conducted across the state of Kentucky! Though many may not be aware of the impacts of the WPA, its contributions to the Commonwealth are still felt today. While going through archival boxes at the Kentucky Heritage Council (KHC), the author of this blog found a CD mysteriously titled “WPA Video 02-19-2002.” On this CD were 212 old photos named after archaeological sites across the state of Kentucky.
The deprivations of the Great Depression continue to influence those born decades and decades after that very desperate time.Janie-Rice Brothers, 2017
It took KHC staff a little bit of snooping to figure out what all these photos of WPA archaeological projects in Kentucky were doing on this forgotten CD! This CD is likely associated with the short documentary WPA Archaeology: Legacy of an Era. This 25 minute video was produced in 2002 by KHC to showcase the impacts of the WPA across the state of Kentucky. Have you seen it yet?
The photos on the CD are from the William S. Webb Museum WPA/TVA Photograph Archive. Though there are significant reminders of the WPA across the state in the forms of ferry crossings, bridges, national parks, and state parks, we should not forget the impacts this initiative had on our understanding of Kentucky’s history! For more information on the WPA and its impact across Kentucky, check out the resources below or watch WPA Archaeology: Legacy of an Era
Almost every community in the United States had a public building, road or bridge created by the WPA.UK Research Guides, 2019
- Notable Kentucky African Americans: Works Progress Administration (WPA), Kentucky, Photographs
- University of Kentucky: WPA Construction Projects in Kentucky: Kenton-Muhlenberg Counties & The Works Progress Administration
- Gardens to Gables: The WPA Builds: Swampton School, Magoffin County, Kentucky
- U.S. Archives: Records of the Work Projects Administration (WPA)
- Kentucky Women: Kentucky Women in the Civil Rights Era, WPA
- William S. Webb Museum: WPA/TVA Photograph Archive
- 30 Days of Kentucky Archaeology: WPA Archaeology in Kentucky, The Green River Valley Shell Midden Archaic, The Adena Landscapes Project and the Construction of Geometric Earthen Enclosures in the Bluegrass, Archaeology in Kentucky’s State Parks